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Old 30-08-2017, 23:27   #1
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Wooden Oars on an Inflatable

Dear All,

I have just bought myself an inflatable dinghy at the Sydney Boat Show a fortnight ago. It's sort of an upgrade from my hard dinghy that we call "The Dinghy of Death" because it's always tipping me out - even when reaching out to grab the jetty. That's how unstable it is. Added to that, our boat is a 28 footer and it's difficult to stow the dinghy on the cabin roof or foredeck. Towing isn't an option because we have to cross Broken Bay near Sydney, a bay where 3 waterways plus the open ocean converge and it gets a huge swell on most days, making towing impractical or even dangerous.

Looks like the inflatable is the way to go. I like being able to row my hard dinghy and realise that it's not practical on an inflatable but don't really want the extra hassle of an outboard.

I have a spare set of wooden oars at home in the garage and was wondering if it's possible to use them on an inflatable. This raises the questions:
  • Can you modify either the oars or the dinghy to take wooden oars
  • Can you actually row the dinghy with wooden oars instead of the cheap plastic paddles they give you.
  • Has anybody else tried this out - Mrs Google and the Cruiser Forum search didn't give any results.
My new dinghy is a Sirocco AirHull 220.

Compass 28 - S/V La Mouette
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Old 31-08-2017, 02:22   #2
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Re: Wooden Oars on an Inflatable

Hi Andrew,
I can't really help you with your wooden oar enquiry, but I suspect that it is the inflatable that makes rowing difficult. What type was your old dinghy?

I used to have a 2.2 metre twin hull DevilCat dinghy. That was incredibly stable. I could always get to my boat even rowing directly into into 25 knot winds and I never ever fell out of it. With a Honda 2 hp 4 stroke outboard, it was virtually unstoppable in any weather. On rare occasions I managed to stow it on the bow of a 25 ft Top Hat, but as you suggest it was very impractical.

This was trashed after using it for 15 years, I had an inflatable and a 2.4m?? Walker Bay afterwards. They were both disappointing in comparison to the twin hull. The inflatable hard to row and impractable and the Walker Bay heavy and unstable.

I'm looking for a new dinghy for my current boat- a 33' flush decker. One that I can easily hoist on board without having to use a halyard and winch. I'm thinking of a 1.9m DevilCat.
1.9 Metre DevilCat Tender Dingy | DEVILCAT

Pardon this completely unhelpful post.

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Old 31-08-2017, 02:34   #3
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Re: Wooden Oars on an Inflatable

Yes, you can. Aquapro inflatables use wooden oars. Check them out online. I have no affiliation with Aquapro.
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Old 31-08-2017, 03:18   #4
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Re: Wooden Oars on an Inflatable

Yes, upgrading to decent oars will improve the performance of your dinghy. The problem with the cheap oars that come with an inflatable dinghy is their length- too short to really offer much drive. I think that after a hard dinghy you'll find the inflatable disappointing under oar power. They have a lot of drag and are hard to row in chop or against the Wind (compared to a proper hard rowing dinghy). Have you considered a nesting dinghy like the Chameleon? It takes up little room on deck and rows like a witch!
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Old 31-08-2017, 04:57   #5
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Re: Wooden Oars on an Inflatable

Inflatables with inflatable floors are difficult to row, but everything is relative. You can row them, but they don't coast and they don't track well. That said, they spin very well.

You can use any oars you like, it's just a matter of how they are attached to the boat (swiveling pins, oarlocks, etc.). And as mentioned longer oars are much more efficient.
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Old 31-08-2017, 06:05   #6
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Re: Wooden Oars on an Inflatable

I rowed our inflatable, a 9-ft Avon. It was our only source of propulsion. Inflatables will row, they are just not all that directionally stable. It helped that I have a ton of experience in river running in 18- to 24 foot rafts.

The keys are to have the right length oars, and most importantly, have them attach to the boat correctly and strongly. Many inflatables have lame oar sockets and even more lame oarlocks. So I modified mine on the Avon. Take a look at this link (which concerns Avons specifically), and see if it gives you any ideas for strengthening your specific setup (if needed):

How To Modify Dinghy Oarlocks | Cruising World

For the oars, try borrowing a few different lengths for an afternoon. You will know pretty quickly whether to move up or down in length. Oars are usually incremented in 6" lengths. As to material: I prefer aluminum, as it saves weight, and scoop blades, as they are more efficient, but if you already have wooden ones, in a length that works, don't sweat it.

One final note: Many people drill and pin their oars. I strongly recommend you do NOT do this. It prevents you from feathering the blades, which is critical to making progress upwind. It also robs you of varous ways to ship the oars when that becomes necessary. If you are worried about losing an oar through the oarlock, either tie it to the boat, or put a collar on the oar.
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Old 31-08-2017, 09:22   #7
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Re: Wooden Oars on an Inflatable

Yes, always use wooden oars, nicer feel, just make sure long enough for better leverage and steering
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Old 31-08-2017, 09:32   #8
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Re: Wooden Oars on an Inflatable

Getting the wooden oars to work with the inflatable oarlocks is going to be a challenge. Wooden oars will be much longer, which will make them cumbersome when rowing with the oar lock acting as the fulcrum and the short effort arm in relation to the resistance arm. Storing them will be cumbersome as well. It will be tough to fit them in the oar mounts easily, and if they do, they will stick out beyond either the bow or stern. They wont fit in the dinghy well either.

It is possible, however. Just not as desirable as some would like.
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Old 31-08-2017, 09:47   #9
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Re: Wooden Oars on an Inflatable

There is no reason not to use wooden oars other than getting them to fit the smaller than average rowlocks on inflatables. Regarding alternatives, I have a Walker Bay 8 with additional inflation tubes on the gunwales, it is incredibly easy to row, is extremely stable( I can stand on one of the side tubes and the boat won't tip) and will carry three people and contrary to what some others have said on this forum is quite light enough for me to lift on my own without assistance (I'm 69 years old)
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Old 31-08-2017, 10:09   #10
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Re: Wooden Oars on an Inflatable

I really mourn the loss of Avon Inflatable Dinghies. Avon had the ONLY decent oar locks in the inflatable world. All the others are Mickey Mouse affairs intended to appease the need for a way to get the dinghy a short distance when the motor fails. Their pin type oarlocks do not have the necessary depth to counter the force of the oar stroke on the pin. They'll work for a while but have seen more than a few that have failed.

The Avon's large rubber 'thole pin' type of oarlocks would stand up to constant long distance rowing use. Because of a cranky outboard was forced to row our Avon 9' Redcrest all over French Polynesia. The Redcrest wasn't the easiest boat to row but was very rowable. I got very good at rowing the dink sometimes for miles with a passenger or two aboard exploring and the multi daily trips ashore from anchorages. It's great exercise and highly recommend it as conditioning exercise as well as a way to get around. When my Redbreasts finally give out will cut out the oar locks and have them glued on to whatever dinghy I'm forced to buy.

Wonder if I can graft those Walker Bay tubes on to my 8' sailing dinghy. That may be the best of all possible worlds. Are the tubes made out of Hypalon??
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Old 31-08-2017, 10:12   #11
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Re: Wooden Oars on an Inflatable

Wooden rows is what we have on our Avon and it's PERFECT! Go for it!
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Old 31-08-2017, 10:21   #12
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Re: Wooden Oars on an Inflatable

I have owned many inflatables, and like the AVON best, partly because they have great, simple, strong, oarlocks and wooden oars.

I have had those cheap plastic oars break several times. They are there for show only, not intended for use except perhaps by small children to make a splash.

I rowed an avon redcrest for many years, then upgraded to an avon rover. I used wooden oars in both with great success and the stock oarlocks.

I tried using a kayak paddle, but the width of the dinghy made it impractical.

It just does not work to pull hard when rowing a dinghy. All your energy goes into flexing the dinghy and the tubes. The key to rowing a dinghy is gentle sweeps and a steady pace. But the reality is that most dinghies do not row well. They don't actually motor very well either, but do have other redeeming factors.
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Old 31-08-2017, 13:55   #13
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Re: Wooden Oars on an Inflatable

I have used 8' wooden sweeps with my 8'6" AB RIB for years. When using the outboard I put the stock aluminum oars inside just in case, but I often launch the dinghy and just row with the wooden oars, no outboard. It doesn't row as well as the previous hard dinghy, but much better than the stock aluminum oars.

In order to use oars I first had the oarlock sockets moved aft a bit, as they were mounted beside the seat (impossible to row with the seat) and needed to be aft of the seat. (Also, the aluminum oars have the oarlocks in an awkward place - clearly the oars were not thought out at all.)

Originally I had bought rough blanks and did the finish shaping of the spoon-tip oars, and put stout plastic collars and protectors on the shafts. I also bought some stout bronze horn-shaped oarlocks with 1/2" pins, which worked great on the old hard dinghy. To adapt to the RIB I had the pins shortened, turned down to 12mm and cut the slots for locking in place (the oarlocks are inserted fully then turned 180ş to lock them in place).

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It is necessary to keep the tubes fully inflated in order to minimize twisting of the sockets (down forward/up aft). In the future I would be looking for a socket with a better load distribution if the dinghy weren't falling apart (1995 vintage).

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Old 31-08-2017, 14:01   #14
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Re: Wooden Oars on an Inflatable

A picture of the rowlocks on the dinghy that you already bought would help.

Whether wood or metal tubes with plastic blades both would be ok if long enough. You have 2 options.

- Lengthen the tube with alu or schedule 80 PVC pipe. Again a wood insert connecting and lengthening the two oar tube halves could be made to work quite easily.
- Or, find a way to adapt new longer oars to the existing rowlocks.
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Old 31-08-2017, 14:12   #15
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Re: Wooden Oars on an Inflatable

I have seen aluminum oars buckle under load, and I have a broken plastic blade on one of mine, so materials do matter. But the greatest problem is poor design, as most aluminum oars are far too short and often limit the oarlock location to the wrong place. And as I said, the sockets can be in the wrong location and not be designed for the load as well. It is not just a matter of replacing an aluminum oar with a wooden one, but rethinking of the rowing system is needed, at least for many RIBs. I wish the manufacturers would put a little more thought into the problem.


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