I've had dinghys on the brain and have been trying to understand the reason so many people like RIBs.
I started with the history
. During the age of sail, tenders of various sizes were used, all chiefly propelled by oars. "Two Years Before the Mast" mentions a quarter-boat, a long-boat, a gig, a launch, a jolly-boat, and a pinnace. There is little detail about the sizes or construction of these, but at one point there's mention that the crew of one of the boats was made up of a coxswain, a bowman, and four men
. In adSpdition the boat
would carry cargo or passengers. A later passage
mentions six men
in the jolly-boat. Another mentions a gig being crewed by a captain
and four men. Another mentions the quarter-boat having a crew of four and carrying a passenger.
Other sources give the sizes of the Whitehall Rowboat as being 14 to 22 feet in length at the pinnacle of its development, prior to the adoption of the internal combustion engine
; the related Whitehall Gig is slightly longer, up to 25 feet.
Joshua Slocum's Spray
had a tender
positioned athwartships between the fore and aft cabins. As the Spray
was 14 feet abeam and the tender
all but reaching rail to rail it must have been about 12 feet long.
More modern yachts with a single
extending from the foredeck to the cockpit
, and a cabin
roof cluttered with rigging
, dorades, and hatches, don't have space for a 12 foot tender. I gather from my reading that in the 1960s and 1970s, before the heyday of hypalon and PVC, that 8 and 10' hard dinghys were the norm, for cruising yachts.
Which isn't big enough. And that's the central problem of dinghy
selection, that a large enough dinghy
is just out of the question. Growing up, my family
had aluminum fishing
boats -- a 12' one with a 3hp outboard
, a 14' one with a 5.5hp outboard
, and a 16' one with an 18hp outboard. There were clear differences in seakeeping ability from one craft to the next were obvious enough to me as a child. We came home in whitecaps more than once in the 16', after being caught out in increasing winds, and while we got wet and were bounced around, it wasn't nearly the fright it would have been in either of the smaller boats.
We rowed all of them, at times, so as not to scare the fish
. They had oarlocks, and we always had a good pair of oars on board as a hedge against the motor
failing. The 12' and 14' were easy enough to row, despite being planing hulls intended for motorized use; the 16' was more difficult.
I think the central problem of hard dinghys is that they are all too small. I would think that, questions of storage
aside, the perfect hard dinghy would be around 14' for rowing or 16' for motoring.
RIBs, I surmise, and other inflatables, were adopted by the cruising community as a means of solving the size problem, because they can carry more weight and tolerate higher seas for their length than hard dinks -- and they can be deflated for storage
. So we started out, if I understand the history
correctly, with 8' donut dinghys in the 1970s and have more or less moved to a 10' RIB
as being tender most people choose if they have room for it, with a few people having slightly larger RIBs.
I haven't been in a RIB
, but I would guess that the practical capacity and seakeeping ability of a 10' RIB is more or less the same as a 14' boat
made entirely of aluminum
or wood. The 14' boat made of, say, fiberglass
, will be more durable, and require half the horsepower, and can be rowed or perhaps sailed. It will weigh about the same as the RIB.
RIBs are well-suited to volume production. They can be manufactured in low-wage countries and easily packed onto a pallet and shipped, and go through a distribution chain very much like that of a lawn mower or table saw. They are used for all kinds of reasons other than as tenders for cruising ships, and because of their short life there is a robust replacement market. That's convenient, because it means there is a ready supply of them, more or less worldwide. Need a new dink? One phone
call to the dealer is all it takes.
I'm seeing nesting dinghys as a better answer. They solve the size problem in a different way -- not by packing more seakeeping ability into every foot, but by packing twice as many feet of boat onto the foredeck or cabin top. They are a niche product that has not attracted the interest of higher volume makers and distributors. A careful review of the designs of the most successful nesting dinghys shows convergence -- the Spindrift, Chameleon, and PT-11 are remarkably similar in their dimensions and lines. The differences are in ease of construction, in how reserve flotation is provided, in the rig, in the sophistication of the rudder
or lee boards, in how the halves are connected, and in fine details.
Like a one-piece hard dink, a nesting tender has clear advantages over a RIB. These become especially clear if comparisons are made based on storage space required: an 11' nesting dinghy fits in roughly the same space as a deflated 8' rib. The nesting dinghy has greater durability, half the horsepower requirement, and a hull
shaped to allow effective rowing or sailing.
The problem, as I see it, is that there's no market. You can get plans or a kit, or have a builder
construct one for you, bespoke, at a bespoke price
and on a bespoke schedule.