'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch

“Tender” – the A to Z Challenge


A2Z-BADGE 2016-smaller_zpslstazvib The A to Z challenge continues, with the letter “T”

“Tender” is the fancy name for a dinghy,  and a dinghy is a small boat, used to service, commute to, and haul to the mother ship.  In the case of cruisers, though, it becomes something more than just your way to the boat – it’s the family car.

The need is obvious. The larger the boat, the deeper its hull extends into the water, and the farther from shore it may need to stop if it’s not to run aground.

And running aground is never, ever a good thing.

Well ok, that’s not quite true. If you have a boat with a flat, long full keel, you might actually sometime want to deliberately run it GENTLY aground and allow it to “dry out” as the tide falls, giving you access to that part of the hull that’s usually under water.  They actually build boats in Europe with twin keels precisely for that purpose – the boat can take the ground and not tip over as the water recedes.

But that’s unusual.  Generally you try to keep the boat floating in at least a couple feet more water than it needs, so getting ashore now becomes a choice of swimming (in April in Maine’s 35 degree water?? I don’t think so!) or using a little boat to row or motor between the mother ship and shore – and so the tender.

So, what makes a good tender?  Depends who you ask.  If you look around the docks, you’ll find that probably 95% of cruisers have inflatable tenders, and there are good reasons for that. Inflatables look like a little pontoon boat, and because they’re soft sided, they can bump into things – like the mother ship or a dock piling – and do no damage in either direction.
Inflatables are also very buoyant and stable, which gives them the ability to carry a large payload, and to remain properly upright if the water in the anchorage is a bit rough.

On the down side, inflatables are eventually going to become DE-flatables, refusing to hold air, and since their cost is fairly high ($2-$3,000 for a very basic one without motor), that can become a significant recurring cost.
Inflatables also don’t row worth beans.  No, beans would probably row better. If there’s even a moderate breeze blowing from the direction you need to go, rowing an inflatable will get you in really, really good shape, but it won’t get you to your destination. They need a motor.  So add another $1500 to the cost, at a minimum, and more likely $2500.

So what’s the option?  A rigid dinghy – a craft made of wood or fiberglass that’s actually shaped like something intended to move through the water. Not quite as stable, usually, and not quite the payload capacity, but much less subject to damage, and quite reasonable and fun to row in all but the most challenging anchorage conditions.
And so we’ve made our choice – but not quite.  Two things we’ve changed:
First, last year we drank the kool aid and bought a used, 3.3 horsepower outboard for our dinghy.  It wasn’t really a thing we wanted to do – an outboard motor is a notoriously labor intensive piece of equipment, and in the salt water environment, even more so.  But I’ve developed a bit of tendonitis in my elbows, and much as I enjoy rowing, darned if that isn’t one of the things that makes it worse…   We still keep a set of oars in the dink, though, just in case.

And second, this year we’ll be installing a set of “sponsons”.  Basically an inflatable collar, 6″ in diameter and 7 feet long running from bow to stern on each side, just above the water.  Those should make the dinghy much more stable, allow it to carry more weight safely, AND make for a dryer ride as they deflect the splashed water from our passage through the waves.  They’ll also keep it from chipping the paint on Sionna while we’re getting in and out – a win-win situation.

All hail the mighty Tender!

Author: s/v sionna

Living the dream in 32'. We left Maine on August 18th, 2016, and have gradually worked our way south until we felt warm enough. After spending the summer in Maine, working to replenish the cruising kitty, and rehabilitating an old house. we’re headed back on the boat, bringing Sionna back home to northern waters. Follow our blog here!

10 thoughts on ““Tender” – the A to Z Challenge

  1. Our boat (Moody 346) comes in a twin bilge keel version. Very popular in the UK.


  2. Cambria was built by Westerly in the UK; and whenever people find out her make, their first question is whether or not she’s a bilge keeler. She isn’t, but it’s what Westerly is known for.



  3. I’ve never seen a Westerly boat I didn’t like. In terms of tenders, we are still in the market. Probably will spring for a Portland Pudgy because we like to row, you can sail it and that would be fun, and it can be a life boat as well. I like the looks of your dinghy. Looks like a good rower.


  4. I hadn’t thought of an inflatable being more stable, but I guess that makes sense given the larger surface on the water. I hadn’t even heard of sponsons, but they sound like the perfect compromise between the two tender options!

    Thanks for stopping by at Black Boots, Long Legs!



  5. We have one of those “gray rubber boaties” as the Bahamians call them. I still miss our rowable Walker Bay.

    — Jaye @ Life Afloat


  6. I am learning so much about sailing from your posts.. I never thought about needing a tender.. just never crossed my mind, but now it makes perfect sense *laughs*

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re not alone! Of course if we were persons “of means” we could pay to dock wherever we went, and probably do without, but then we’d not have the option of a quiet row around the mangroves, or moments of true situde away from the madding crowd…
      Glad we’re poor!

      Liked by 1 person

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