Here are some pros and cons for inflatables:
They’re compact when you deflate them.
They’re fast even with small outboard motors.
One of their best attributes is that it’s easy for swimmers to climb (or launch themselves) aboard.
For their size, they can carry heavy loads.
Because they are just big fenders, they won’t damage your topsides.
Barnacles on the rocks will puncture them.
A screwdriver in the back pocket of your jeans will puncture them. (Don’t ask. It still hurts.)
They are mostly pretty wet and bouncy under power.
It takes time to inflate or deflate them.
They’re fairly expensive.
They don’t stand up well to everyday hard work in tropical climates.
They are very attractive to thieves.
Here are the pros and cons for hard dinghies:
They’re better sea boats.
They’re much easier to row — and even sail, if you want.
They’re more durable.
They tow better behind your boat, with less drag.
They’re better able to withstand abrasion.
They’re less stable than inflatables.
They’re heavier and bulkier.
They need more stowage space on deck or on stern davits.
On a 27-foot boat like my friend’s, there is simply no space on deck for a hard dinghy. He doesn’t have a roller furling jib, so he needs the foredeck space.
L. Francis Herreshoff listed his requirements for a hard dinghy as follows:
► It should row easily, light or loaded
► It should be light enough to be hoisted aboard easily
► It should be constructed strongly so it will not leak, and take some abuse
► It should tow steadily, always holding back on its painter and never yawing around.
I’m not sure it’s possible to find a dinghy like that, especially one that will always hold back and never yaw around. But it might pay to keep looking. Miracles do happen, they tell me.
For she IS such a smart little craft,
Such a neat little sweet little craft —
Such a bright little,
Slight little, Light little,
Trim little, slim little craft!
— W.S. Gilbert, Ruddigore
“Let’s stop here. This looks like an ideal place for a picnic.”
“It must be. Fifty million mosquitoes can’t be wrong.”
(Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday — a new Mainly about Boats column.)