Dinghy Decisions – Choosing a Tender for A Small Boat

As I moved to an anchoring mindset with my 1985 Pacific Seacraft Flicka 20, Sampaguita, I was going to need a dinghy. The main questions? What would it be, and where would I store it? At 20 feet, the storage space above and below is limited. After considering my options and values, I created a list of criteria I would need from a dinghy to suit my situation and narrow the focus.

A dinghy would need:

1) to stow below decks.

2) to carry two people and gear. 

3) to double as a life raft.

4) to be durable and reliable.

5) to not detract from my sailing style.

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The first criterion determined my dinghy would be an inflatable, and most likely, a kayak. Obstacles and clutter on Sampaguita’s deck would not be seamanlike. Therefore, it should be light and compact enough to wrangle down below, which would also mitigate UV exposure. 

The second and third criterion defined that it needed to be conventional in function. SUP’s need not apply.

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The fourth demanded robustness. A quality made item I could beach, use in adverse weather with confidence, and would not easily succumb to the abuse I was likely to give.

The last was more about my cruising style. I have hank-on headsails and prefer sailing over motoring to a fault, reinforcing the first criteria of no deck storage. If I chose to tow it, drag would be an unwelcome factor. Minimal electricity availability and use meant inflation would be manual. So would motive power. 

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With my options narrowed, I began to focus on inflatable kayaks. A friend invited me to test paddle his. We went through the process of inflation, launching, paddling, deflation, rinsing, and storage, and he gave a helpful review of the plusses and minuses. In the end, I decided on an Aire Lynx II, inflatable, sit-on-top, white-water kayak with a simple, light-weight, and floating hand pump.

Has it fit my criteria?

1) I store the kayak down below in a large rubber tote. It catches any residual water after use and deflation. I then put a freight crate upside down on top of that, allowing ventilation for drying, and doubles as a table. Since I store this just aft of the v-berth, it centers the 40 pounds of weight low and directly over the keel. I keep the accessories in a separate bin.

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2) It is a two-person kayak for when I have crew, though more often I use it solo. I am then able to carry lots of gear. An unforeseen advantage is that solo, the kayak sits high in the water, keeping me dry, even with self-bailing scuppers.

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3) As a life raft, the kayak is questionable. I can inflate it on deck in about fifteen minutes, but this is awkward and impractical in an emergency. If already in tow, it could be a go-to. 

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4) The kayak is PVC with three bladders on the inside. As a white-water kayak designed to take the punishment of river rapids, I can beach it without worries. It paddles easier than a standard inflatable dinghy will row. Windage is manageable to a point, though chop makes for a pounding and wet work out. 

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5) The simplicity of manual inflation and motive power suit my style and economics. When towed, it creates little drag as it skims across the water, its width aiding its stability. If below, it serves as ballast and furniture. Either way, the deck is kept clear.

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The challenge of having a dinghy on a small keelboat is a common dilemma. While the criteria were specific to my style and Sampaguita’s size, the process may aid other small boat owners in their decisions. There will be compromises, as always with boats. I believe the freedom to explore beautiful, remote, and quiet anchorages is worth the mental and physical exercise. Bon Voyage. 

6 Comments on “Dinghy Decisions – Choosing a Tender for A Small Boat

  1. Josh, totally agree, my AIRE Superlynx is now about 12 seasons old, two months a season, towed by the Dana 24, or partially inflated on deck. Looks almost good as new, apply 303 Marine UV Spray 3 x per season, tow w a harness that has multiple attachment points. Rinse zippers w fresh water when available. Awesome product. – Jim S


    • I have seen those around but have yet to have an experieince with one. That is quite a review. It might work on a Flicka but I think its too big and awkward, and difficult to stow, on a Flicka under sail. At least for my taste. The mothership pictured is much bigger. 10ft is half the length of a Flicka. Even a smaller 8ft one would be cumbersome.. They would take up the whole deck. The stantions aren’t an option because of curvature. I tried some smaller hard shelled kayaks on the Flicka to try them on for size. They will look bigger on the boat than off.


  2. I like you sail solo and that kayak looks like the way to go. Just one question..when upon returning from shore in heavy chop, is the kayak stable enough to transfer yourself to your boat. When I was younger that wasn’t a problem but now in my 70’s it is.


    • The Flicka freeboard is pretty low. Making the kayak go in heavy chop may be more of the challenge. I find the kayak as a platform to get on the boat to be very stable.


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