These days dinghy theft is a
fact of life in many foreign harbors. In a few it’s positively
rampant. Whether the thieves are poor, moonlighting fishermen or
regular professionals, they’re mainly after the outboard motors,
which are easy to resell for big bucks. Stolen dinghies are
occasionally found a day or two later, engineless, adrift or
ashore. Still, someone might just swipe a dink without a motor
if it’s an easy mark.
Dinghies sometimes disappear
from docks in broad daylight. Locking yours to something solid
every time whether or not others are doing it, ideally with
chain rather than cable, is the best deterrent. Be sure to also
lock the gas tank and especially the outboard.
Most stolen dinks disappear
from anchorages late at night, but locking your dinghy astern
does little good. The bad guys have cable cutters. Stainless
steel chain is the most cut-resistant tether, but even that is
not an absolute guarantee. That’s why prudent cruisers lift
their dinghies out of the water overnight in all but the most
historically secure ports. In some places it’s not even an
option. You either lift it or you lose it, period. It’s
inconvenient, but much less so than having to replace a dinghy
There are several ways to
raise a dinghy for the night, with variations ad infinitum.
It’s worthwhile figuring out in advance what works best for
you since some arrangements call for a bit of customization
and experimentation. Most importantly, the process needs to
be as quick and easy as possible so that you’re never
tempted to let it slide - because that may well be the night
dinghy thieves single you out.
Obviously, if your boat
is equipped with sturdy davits you’re all set.
Alternatively, some sailors simply hoist their tenders onto
the foredeck with a halyard. This necessitates removing and
stowing the outboard and then re-deploying it in the
morning, an onerous chore to repeat 7 times a week,
especially if the motor is larger than a few horsepower.
That’s why most skippers prefer to lift the dinghy and motor
together alongside their vessel.
You can hoist the tender
alongside a sailboat with a halyard, or with the main boom and
sheet. Either way you’ll first need to purchase or devise a 3-
or 4-point lifting harness and the means for attaching it to the
dinghy. This harness can be made up from strong lines, webbing,
or stainless steel cables radiating from a beefy central,
vertical lifting loop or ring. The harness needs two attachment
points aft, spread well apart. These are typically on the
transom - thru-bolted eyebolts or padeyes work well – but straps
that encircle an inflatable’s pontoons aft will also serve. Then
you’ll need at least one harness connection forward. Some
larger, hard-bottom inflatables come with forward lifting rings
in the sole. If your dinghy’s sole won’t support these, then use
the port & starboard (or the midship) towing rings on the bow.
Wide webbing will spread the stress and chafe across the
pontoons better than cable or line. Alternatively you can make
up a broad lifting strap that passes entirely beneath the
dinghy’s bow section.
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However you accomplish the
attachments, the key is to position the harness’ lift ring so
the raised dinghy sits level athwartships, but with the bow
slightly higher than the stern to encourage rainwater to run out
through the transom drain. If there is no drain at the center
base of your dink’s transom, you’ll need to install one.
Otherwise an overnight deluge can fill it, adding hundreds of
pounds to its weight - a quick way to find the weakest link in
your hoisting system. Even an empty dinghy & outboard motor will
put a lot of strain on the hoisting gear, so be sure that all
the components – blocks, straps, lines, lashings and attachment
points - are oversized and extra strong.
Finding the optimum position
for the central lift ring takes some experimentation, so your
harness lines have to be adjustable at least in the beginning.
Because the weight of an outboard motor naturally makes the
dinghy very stern-heavy, the lifting point needs to be well aft
of center to compensate. If you’re using a direct halyard (as
opposed to a boom crane), it will lift the dink from a slight
angle, not straight up. In that case the lifting ring must be
offset athwartships over the dinghy, towards the mother ship a
couple of inches. Set up what seems about right, lift your
dinghy enough to clear the water, and look at how it sits. If
the stern hangs dramatically lower than the bow, lower the boat
and reposition the lift ring a little farther aft by adjusting
the harness lines. If it hoists bow down, shift the ring
forward. Make small adjustments. You’ll be surprised what a
difference in balance it makes just moving the ring an inch or
To use your boom to raise the
dinghy, swing it out more or less perpendicular to the vessel
and secure it there with guys fore & aft. Be sure the topping
lift is strong and adjusted so that the boom is angled up a bit,
ideally bisecting the angle between the vertical lift and the
masthead. Once the dinghy is raised, reposition the boom inboard
just enough so the dinghy rests gently against hull fenders,
stanchions or shrouds to brace it against swinging in a chop or
wake. Alternatively you can rig up bow, stern and spring lines.
It’s handy to use the
mainsheet to hoist the dink via the boom since it’s often
already run through multi-purchase blocks to a stout winch. If
you put a snap shackle on the sheet’s base block you’ll be able
to transfer it quickly between its usual deck fitting and the
dinghy harness lift ring. Note that if the mainsheet is normally
positioned well forward of the boom’s after end, then the weight
of a dinghy & motor may cause undue flexing or bending of that
spar. Alleviate this by temporarily moving the topping lift to
the same position on the boom – a simple lift strap around the
boom will be useful here - or by moving the sheet block aft so
the two forces are in opposition.
If your boat is equipped with
an electric windlass or a large power winch, or even a big genoa
sheet winch, consider leading the hoist line, whether mainsheet
or halyard, to it using one or two heavy-duty snatch blocks
secured to strong deck fittings. Raising a full size dinghy and
motor with an undersized winch is hard work!
A boom hoist will hold the
dinghy away from the mother ship, but if you’re lifting with a
halyard the tender will rise up hard against the vessel’s
topsides. Protect the finish by removing the dink’s inboard oar
and/or any fittings that might scrape, and by hanging a mat or a
couple of small fenders against chafe. Then secure the dink’s
painter snugly to the nearest cleat forward. Otherwise a
blustery squall might lift its bow precariously. Finally, lead
the dinghy’s cable or chain to a deck fitting and padlock it.
Once you’ve worked out a
quick & easy system for lifting and locking your dinghy, it
becomes an end-of-the-day routine that pays a big dividend. As a
fringe benefit it deters bottom growth, but mainly you’ll sleep
better knowing your precious tender will still be there in the