Your cruising yacht may be a capable piece of machinery that will get you from here to your dreams, but it won't get you to shore in a dry manner. Sailboats need underwater appendages to grant them the ability to sail to windward, and these appendages create a requirement for draft of the yacht. This means that your yacht might be able to get close to shore, but it will always require some water to float in and will never get "on" shore.
If you simply anchored and jumped off your boat, you could technically swim to shore, but you would arrive soaking wet! If you have a shallow draft boat, you might be able to wade from yacht to shore, but you would still need to get into the water to make the distance.
This is where a dinghy comes into play. A dinghy is a small craft that connects your yacht and shore in an easy and dry manner. A dinghy will have a very shallow draft, allowing it to get right up to the waters edge. This decreases the distance you will need to jump and will allow you to jump from the dinghy onto a dry beach!
Dinghies come in various styles and materials, offering different options to those who use them. The most popular dinghy of choice is the inflatable dinghy!
Inflatable dinghies are light weight, very stable, and can carry a lot of weight for their size. They are called inflatable because they are made of large tubes that are filled with air. The air displaces a lot of volume which gives the dinghy its bouyancy and stability with nearly no weight. The problem with inflatables though is that they rely on keeping the air in them to work and if they were to form a hole by which air could escape, they would soon begin to deflate and sink.
Inflatable dinghies have a rather short lifespan, but their life is filled with ease of use and plagued by fears of leaks. Being such popular choices leads to inflatables having a very high demand which then summons a high price as well! This makes inflatable dinghies rather expensive for what you get and highly prized on the black market since they will sell quickly, leading to a lot of dinghy theft.
The alternative to inflatable dinghies is to get a rigid dinghy. Rigid dinghies are made out of wood, metal, or fiberglass, and have a lot to offer even though they are wildly unpopular.
Rigid dinghies can be rather expensive to purchase new, as they do cost a considerable amount in raw materials to create. While new dinghies are expensive, they will loose their value almost instantly as no one else wants to purchase them. This increases the supply of used rigid dinghies and with nearly no demand for them, drives the price way down! We recently purchased a used rigid dinghy that could fit on our deck for $300. The dinghy cost $1,700 a few years ago when it was new!
The low demand for rigid dinghies also means that there is a low risk of theft, as the thief would have a hard time selling the dinghy to earn some fast cash.
While the durability of a rigid dinghy is vastly greater than the durability of an inflatable, so is the weight! Our inflatable dinghy is 8 feet long and weights less than 50 pounds. Our 7 foot rigid dinghy weighs around 120 pounds!
The choice of which dinghy to purchase is ultimately up to the individual cruiser, but we have found a few key differences while cruising with both.
An inflatable dinghy will weigh almost nothing so it will also blow off the deck in a light wind if not tied down. It can be launched and recovered by hand by one person with no need for assistance. It is very stable and will not tip over. It needs to be pumped with air every few weeks as even new, air will seep out. It doesn't row very well, so we have to each take an oar and paddle like if we were in a canoe.
A rigid dinghy will be heavier and will need the assistance of a winch and hoisting mechanism to launch and retrieve it. It will not blow off the deck in a light wind. Stability depends on the design, some being very stable while others being very tender. You will never need to worry about air leaks again, but you still need to worry about hull punctures, just like with any boat. They row very well and can be rowed long distances efficiently, even into strong winds and waves.
We currently use both dinghies, each for the purpose that we find them best suited. The inflatable is wonderful in the ICW where land is always very close and the ease of launching and retrieving the dinghy is worth it. We do feel like we are sitting in an inflatable pool toy though, as it doesn't feel very solid when we stand in it. We use the rigid dinghy when we are in more open areas and need to row farther distances. It is a bit troublesome to launch but makes the rest of the journey with ease.
If you have the space for a rigid dinghy, I would suggest getting one used and carrying it with you on your deck. Inflatables are for sale everywhere, but I would try to get the smallest and most affordable new inflatable you can, that way you get the most time out of your investment since a used inflatable will cost close to the new price. Our new inflatable was around $700 from West Marine, while our used dinghy was around $300. Having both lets you use the one that is best at that moment, but if budget doesn't permit, then get which ever dinghy you can afford at the moment and go cruising! You can always change dinghies along the way as you stumble upon great deals!