The Definitive Guide to Different Types of Dinghies

If you’ve ever gone out sailing or are just starting out, you’ve probably had the opportunity to get onto a dinghy to scoot yourself around. Dinghies can be extremely useful and fun at the same time whether you’re on a sailing dinghy or a power dinghy. The first time I ever got on a dinghy was a two person sailing dinghy, which is exactly when I started learning how to sail.

So what are the different types of dinghies? The different types of dinghies include sailing dinghies and power dinghies. Sailing dinghies have sails and do not have any type of motor attached to them and power dinghies have no sails and rely on motor power to move through the water.

When it comes to a dinghy, don’t let the size fool you. These little vessels can catch some serious speed and are central to many boating competitions around the world. However, sailing dinghies and power dinghies usually serve different purposes, so let’s dive into the different types of dinghies to get a better understanding.

Sailing Dinghies

Sailing around on a dinghy is one of the more overlooked styles of sailing since everyone seems to want to get on a bigger yacht. While there’s no arguing against the feeling of sailing on a larger vessel, dinghy sailing is a lot of fun which requires a good understanding of sailing fundamentals and an eye for precision.

High-Performance Dinghies

A high-performance sailing dinghy is as the name suggests; high-performance. Its design is optimized to produce a fast and powerful sailing dinghy that can perform well in many environments and is often found in top regattas around the world. As you’ll soon realize, most sailing dinghies are constructed using fiberglass.

High-performance sailing dinghies usually have a spinnaker that can be attached to the sailboat so as to improve the speed of the boat under the right conditions. Along with that, these sailing dinghies have what’s called a trapeze which is a wire that’s attached to the top of the mast and comes all the way down to the sailor’ harness. This allows you to balance the force of the wind against the sail when the weather really kicks in.

Racing Dinghies

As you might have assumed already from the name, racing sailing dinghies are used primarily in racing environments. While not too dissimilar to a high-performance sailing dinghy, there are some differences in terms of size, weight, and shape of the hull. The design of a racing sailing dinghy is very important, but the skills of the crew on-board are usually what matters the most. Again, these types of sailing dinghies are made out of fiberglass.

The tactics implemented by the crew on a racing sailing dinghy are incredibly important. A racing sailing dinghy allows for crews to take advantage of the dinghy’s design so that they can tack and jibe much faster and more fluid than other dinghies. On top of that, the hull of a racing sailing dinghy is quite flat which allows it to plane much easier resulting in a reduction of hull surface area touching the water.

Cruising Dinghies

If you’re not looking to compete with a racing or high-performance sailing dinghy, then you’re more likely to be sailing around in a cruising sailing dinghy. As the name suggests, they are made to cruise around the water and comfortably at that. Designed for stability and safety in mind, cruising sailing dinghies are one of the most leisurely dinghies to take out on the water. Cruising dinghies are almost always made out of fiberglass.

As opposed to the previous sailing dinghies, cruising sailing dinghies generally have smaller sails and a more round hull. As you might have guessed, the smaller the sails the less potential energy (and thus speed) your dinghy has. The smaller sail also makes it easier to handle while cruising along. When it comes to the hull, a rounder hull also brings stability to the sailing dinghy as well as a very low chance of planing since there’s more contact between the hull and the water.

Cruiser-Racer Dinghies

If you have an inkling for racing but want to just cruise around comfortably from time to time, using a cruiser-racer sailing dinghy is an excellent choice. These sailing dinghies are perfect for many different sailing environments and are my preferred type of sailing dinghy. It’s extremely common to find cruiser-racer dinghies made out of fiberglass.

Just like a cruising dinghy, the experience of being on a cruiser-racer dinghy is comfortable and provides good stability when out on the water. However, if you want to turn up the notch and get it moving quickly, you can do just that since they have flatter hulls and generally larger sails. In the end, a cruiser-racer dinghy is right smack dab between a racing and cruising dinghy.

Classic Dinghies

If you’re looking for a classic experience on a sailing dinghy, then why not try out a… classic! Classic dinghies can be found more often than you might think and can be fun to learn on when just starting out. While you definitely won’t get the same performance as the other types of sailing dinghies, they’re quite comfortable and easy to use. As opposed to most sailing dinghies, classic dinghies can be found to be made out of wood but usually they’re made from fiberglass.

Classic dinghies are unique in the sense that they have a cat sail and mast configuration. A cat, or “catboat”, has a single sail connected to a mast positioned at the bow of the sailboat. Again, this makes them very easy to use and can be a great way to start learning how to sail. Also, I think they look rather nice, so beauty definitely plays a bit of a role in using a classic dinghy.

Power Dinghies

Before setting sail and exploring the beautiful waters of the world, you’ll want to make sure you know what kind of dinghy you have on-board. As opposed to sailing dinghies, larger sailboats often times will have a power dinghy on-board in case you and your crew need to scoot around the local area quickly and easily. Also, if you ever plan on anchoring out anywhere, it’s helpful to have a power dinghy to get to and from shore or to simply explore the surroundings.

Motors

The main differentiating factor between one power dinghy and another is the type of motor. More often than not, you’ll find dinghies with outboard motors, but that doesn’t encompass ever power dinghy out there.

Outboard Motor

As I just mentioned, the most common type of motor you’ll find on a power dinghy is an outboard motor. Simply put, an outboard motor is attached on the backside of the power dinghy by means of a stern bracket and clamps or by bolts and nuts. Most outboard motor are powered by gasoline/petrol, however I’ve been on plenty of electrically powered dinghies when out fishing.

Outboard motors are popular because they’re relatively easy to maintain and can be replaced quickly if they crap out. They also can be tilted up while still propelling your power dinghy forward, which allows you to cruise around shallow water without having your motor’s propellers hit the ground.

Your outboard motor can be either 2-stroke or 4-stroke. A 2-stroke motor requires mixing the gasoline/petrol with oil (most of the times this is automatic) and are generally less expensive to purchase. A 4-stroke motor doesn’t require an oil-gasoline/petrol mix and is usually quieter, smoother, and more environmentally friendly, however more expensive to buy.

Inboard Motor

It’s not common that you’ll find a power dinghy with an inboard motor. However, you might see them if you’re on a power dinghy that holds 10 or more passengers and if the power dinghy is heavier in weight. An inboard motor is fitted inside the power dinghy, so working on it or replacing it is a much larger hassle compared to an outboard motor.

Since power dinghies with inboard motors are quite heavy, you won’t find them on most sailboats. You will see them on shores where people are being taxied around as well as on-board much larger water vessels like megayachts.

Jet Drive Motor

Another type of dinghy motor is the jet drive motor, which, like the inboard motor, isn’t the most common type of motor to see on a power dinghy. Similar to an inboard motor, a jet drive motor is generally built into the power dinghy making it more difficult to maintain and replace.

However, having a jet drive motor has its advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is one of safety being that, similar to a jet ski, a power dinghy with a jet drive motor doesn’t have propellers meaning nearby swimmers are much safer. A major disadvantage to jet drive motor is that they can easily get items stuck inside of them, like plastic bags, jellyfish, and more, resulting in the motor shutting down.

Dinghy Materials

Apart from a power dinghies motor, another major differentiating factor when it comes to power dinghies is the material it’s made out of. While the most common types of power dinghy you’ll find nowadays are inflatable, there are still plenty of solid material power dinghies out there.

Inflatable

If you’re on a power dinghy, there’s a good chance that it’s an inflatable power dinghy. There are several advantages of using an inflatable power dinghy especially that they’re easy to stow and less likely to damage vessels when they coming alongside. A major disadvantage to using an inflatable power dinghy is that, unlike solid materials, they’re easier to puncture by reefs, sticks, and other sharp debris.

Fiberglass and Metal

Power dinghies that are made out of solid materials are often made out of either fiberglass or metal. While these types of materials aren’t as common nowadays for a power dinghy onboard a sailboat to have, they certainly aren’t rare. The main advantage of having a power dinghy made out of fiberglass or metal is that it’s highly unlikely to be punctured compared to an inflatable power dinghy. Some disadvantages include the fact that they can be heavy and they can scratch a sailboat’s hull when coming alongside.

Wood

Unless you’re a collector of classic dinghies, whether power or sailing, you won’t find many dinghies made out of wood nowadays. Certainly, they exist but on much rarer occasions. The main advantage of a wood power dinghy is that it can look classy and antique-like while also not easily puncturable. However, the downsides include those of the fiberglass/metal power dinghies as well as it being susceptible to leaks and having a greater maintenance cost compared to other power dinghies.