Dinghy Upgrade

 There are a lot of opinions out there about this topic. After my first year of owning a boat and experimenting with several different sizes and usages of our tinder, I have decided to upgrade our dinghy. I would say this has been the most significant upgrade we have made in terms of cost and utility since we purchased Tusitala.  Before we dive into that I'd like to run through some thoughts about dinghy size and function. 

One common opinion I have seen expressed is to get a small dinghy. A dinghy you can row, beach, and lift easily. This is certainly a valid approach, we have had some positive experiences with a small dinghy. On our first charter, we used a very small 4 man inflatable rib powered by oars. You can read about it here. Aside from being light enough to drag onto the rocky beach, it was small enough to swim through small surf. Looking back I think paddleboard would have made a more capable landing craft for that adventure. 

When we bought Tusitiala it came with a 12 foot AB Inflatable with a 9.9hp outboard. At this size moving the boat via oars is not an option with our family of 7. Aside from that, the max person limit was 6 so technically we were overloading it even though some of our people are quite small. The 10hp outboard would push a single adult about 13 mph, but with all of us on board, it would struggle to push the boat past 6 mph, and not at all through a swell of any size. Ultimately we decided this tinder was just too small for our needs. 

I came across this great blog post from Leopard about choosing the right size dinghy. Our first concern was to select a dinghy that was under the weight limit of our davit system, about 440lbs. With that consideration, I was shopping for a 13 foot AB inflatable with a 30hp engine. I got a quote for this setup from Trade Wind Inflatables out of Santa Ana, CA. The price came to about 14,600$ YIKES. And to make things worse the lead time to order was 4 months, so If I placed the order in December I wouldn't see the boat until April.

As a rule, I prefer to buy used over new for just about everything. Boats in particular lose a ton of value as soon as they hit the water for the first time. I only began looking at new boats after 6 months of looking had yielded very little results. My requirements of a 13-foot boat with a 30hp outboard left me with few options on the used market. Facebook marketplace and Craigs List are my go-to for searching for used gear. 

I was looking for a very specific dinghy:

  • RIB
  • 13 Feet
  • 30 HP Evinrude ETEC
  • Under 440lbs 
  • No center console
The center console is nice for comfort, but it adds weight and takes up space, both of which are negative for our family of 7. We need all the room on board we can get for gear, and the total weight limit of 440 lbs, rules out the extra 150ish lbs added by a center console. At 13 feet most yacht tinders seem to prefer a center console. I also was looking for a 30 HP Evinrude Etech or even a Yamaha Enduro. Both of these engines are two-stroke which means more power, less weight, and more reliable engines. Two strokes have fallen out of favor as they have poor emissions standards. However, the ETECH has such good emissions that it qualifies as EPA 2013, CARB 3 STAR  compliant. It also outperforms Yamaha, Honda, and Tohatsu 30 HP engines by a long way.

After months of searching eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook marketplace I came across the perfect boat. This is an Ocean Runner RIB. I had never heard of ocean runner before, but I was impressed with the quality. It is a CSM (Hypalon) 13'9" boat with a total weight of 420 lbs, so just under the weight limits of my davits.  The advice from Leopard was to get as large of a tinder as possible that would fit the weight limit.  At almost 14 feet it is more difficult to launch and lift, but with a little technique and practice it works out great and it rides nicely on the davits under sail. 

The difference in performance between the two is massive. We tested the new dinghy with 5 large adults. With well over 1000lbs of human cargo, the 30hp outboard was able to plane quickly and push us to 22mph. Riding solo I was able to hit 28 mph. On our first outing to Catalina island, we used it to whale watch and explore the island, making many miles on the open water comfortable and safe.



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