Choosing a new Dinghy for Pearl

Sadly, we had to retire Ziply Banana Rocket, the AMI XL 300 we purchased in Portland last year. While she was new out of the box, she’d been made in 2009, which when she was relocated to the “tropics” caused some one of her tubes to leak.

As a result we decided to donate her to the Key West Community Sailing Center (a sailing co-op with the skills and resources to fix her). They plan to use her as a chase boat for the youth sailing program. “Come here little duckies!” We were very sad to see her go. The question was with what we were going to replace her.

Ziply with a leaky tube

The matrix of choices when it comes to buying a dinghy are pretty impressive.

  • PVC or Hypalon
  • Rigid hull Inflatable Boat or Rollup (hard or slatted floor)
  • Air floor or Hard Floor
  • Aluminium or Fibre glass hull RIB
  • Single or double hull

The choice between PVC and Hypalon seems pretty easy. If you’re in the tropics, choose Hypalon. The issue according to a repair shop that I spoke with is that the glue used on PVC degrades in temps around 80 degrees causing the seems to fail and the tubes to leak over time. Apparently the glue used in the construction of Hypalon boats doesn’t suffer the same problem — hence the choice for us.

The choice between RIB or Roll-up has has to do with space. It’s arguable that RIBs are heavier than Roll-ups, however the roll-up we had was heavier than the RIB we have now.

Ribs are great. The are drier, plane faster, and are more robust from the perspective of driving them up on a beach. The downside is that you either need to be willing to tow it, store it on deck, or lift it on davits.

A roll-up, on the other hand will “roll up,” you can put it in a dinghy stuff sack, and turn it into a nice little package that can even be lashed on the fore deck or even stored in a locker. The down side is that they are wetter, less comfortable on long rides, and potentially less durable.

There are a couple of three choices for Roll-Up dinks, soft/air floor, slatted floor, or hard floor. We didn’t spend much time on these options because we wanted a hard floored RIB as a result of Harley. What I have heard, however, is that the high pressure floors with an inflatable keel work quite well to get you on a plane, etc. Based on personal experience, the slatted floors are not great for anything but very minimal use. The hard decks are quite nice, our previous dinghy had them and they worked very well. The only downside is that you have to find the space to store the floorboards.

If you choose a RIB, you have to decide between an Aluminium or Fiberglass hull. Aluminium is more durable than fiber glass, it is more resistant to dings than the gelcoat on the fiberglass hulls but more challenging to repair. They are also lighter! We wanted an aluminum hull but finally opted for fiberglass due to the cost ($5000 instead of $4000) and availability.

Note that there is a very affordably priced aluminum hulled Highfield RIB. We opted not to go with this as the buyer for a major online retailer who’d evaluated the dinks refused to carry them as he thought that the hull-tube bond would fail as the hull was powder coated before the tubes were glued on. I would encourage you to do your own research on this one. AB, however, has a couple of very nice but expensive aluminium hulled RIB models.

After all of that, we came up with the following criteria:

  1. Must be made of Hypalon: it last better than PVC in the tropics
  2. Must be light as it will be carried on davits
  3. Must be rated for a 20 hp engine: what we have–> Must be FAST! (Lisa)

After looking at several dinghies, we ended up with the following short list:

– Caribe 10X  @ ~ $3500.00
– Achilles HB315DX @ $4000.00
– Zodiac Cadet 310 RIB @ $3000.00
– AB VL10 @ $4000.00
– Highfield UL 310/340 @ $3000.00

The general consensus among the cruisers and sales people we spoke with was get either a Caribe, Avon, or AB.  Our initial preference was to get the Caribe 10X which is double hulled, has a bow, locker, etc. When we looked at a Westmarine 340 which had a bow locker, the locker seemed pretty pointless, and it seemed like we be better off and save the weight by getting a “single hull. Also, the “single hull” on the AB isn’t really accurate as the VL has a flat floor.

While we did not personally inspect and test all five choices, what we did find out was that it’s really hard to get Caribes any more as they come out of Venezuela. We also found out that dinghy sales people were remarkably disinterested in selling product in this price range. The notable exceptions were Adam and Mike at the Inflatable Boat Center in Portland, OR and Jeff at Lifeline Inflatables in Miami from which we purchased our dink.

What we finally purchased and extremely happy with is an AB VL 10. It has the right combination of features for us and most importantly, seems to be very well put together. Stay tuned for pics and video of our new dink!

What you have above are a lot of my opinions and I’ve made a number of generalizations that you should take for what they are worth.  On the off chance you are buying a dinghy, I hope they will give you some food for thought. If you have navigated this process yourself, I would love to hear you thoughts and opinions.



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