What do you look for when choosing a tender? It's certainly the question on Jonty Pearce's mind this week


Jeremy knocked on the side of Aurial, giving me a welcome respite from changing the engine anode. After kindly passing me a magic diesel sealing pencil, I admired the black Labrador he was fostering in preparation for its employment as a Blind Dog. Not being used to water, yachts, or dinghies, the dog was on a steep learning curve but had not leapt out of the tender – yet. My eye moved on to admire the tender – an old Avon rib with an 8 HP outboard – powerful enough to plane, but not too heavy for Jeremy’s davits. Our talk moved on to the wide range of dinghies available to press into service as yacht tenders, ranging from wooden clinker built boats through ‘rubber doughnut’ inflatables, encompassing hard tails, canoes, and small ribs. Not to mention the range of folding boats on offer.


My own current choice is Tinker Tramp – a 9′ wooden floored inflatable complete with a sailing rig. We tested a friend’s Tinker Traveller (a 12′ version), but found it just to long to hang comfortably from our davits. Carol complains that the Tramp is too small for both of us to fit in when in sailing mode. I know I am not exactly compact, and neither of us are as flexible as we used to be, but we can just squeeze in round the centreboard, boom, and vang. With the rig stowed away, it is a perfect size for us, managing up to four people as long as they are not my build. Other tenders I have tried vary from the usual charter PVC flubbers to the Avon Redcrest we sold in favour of the Tinker, and an Avon Redstart complete with all the trimmings – outboard bracket, sprayhood, seats, wooden floor – that resides in my garage ready for when we want a ‘minimum’ tender.


When choosing a tender, various factors come into the equation. Seating capacity, size, weight, speed, and perhaps most importantly, where to stow it. Not being able to afford an all singing and dancing superyacht of the Discovery/Oyster ilk complete with a tender garage under the cockpit floor, my options of storage are

  1. Deflated in the lazarette
  2. Deflated down below in the rear cabin walk through
  3. Deflated on the deck (spoils the forward view)
  4. Inflated on the foredeck (totally in the way)
  5. Raised on the davits.

We generally leave the tinker deflated down below and bring her up to hang off the davits if we are likely to need her. I fitted drain plugs to the Tramp to solve the swimming pool problem that developed when we hung the round-tail Redstart from the davits in the rain. With rigid tenders the main options are the foredeck or davits – for folding tenders being lashed inside the guard rails is the best option.


Looking around the marina and talking to fellow sailors emphasises the variety of dinghies in use – one chap was even using a canoe, though I do not fancy boarding one from the stern ladder – or alongside – in a choppy anchorage. For me, getting out of one is often the trickiest moment. I will stick with our Tinker, securely steadied at the stern by the davit falls.


But once at the beachside pontoon, how to make sure it’s still there on our return? I largely trust to honesty and a long painter. Apart from being considerate to other dinghy users (a short painter hogs the space – three times as many tenders can be moored on long painters), it means that the dinghy floats further away from light-fingered temptation. Some boaters with little faith in humanity replace their painters with wire and a padlock, and some indelibly mark their tender with their yacht’s name. I always think that a dinghy emblazoned ‘T/T Aurial’ secured to the pub’s pontoon is too much of an advertisement that a yacht called Aurial is out in the bay unmanned and available for ransacking. Maybe sign writing ‘ T/T Police launch Hunter’ on my Tinker might be more of a deterrent.


Most of us seem to have tender moments and the feeling that someone else’s dinghy would be more suited to the task than our own. Change if you must, but to me a tender’s main function is to get ashore and to return later laden with supplies. Stability and load carrying capacity outweighs the ability to plane round a peaceful anchorage and make waves in the boating fraternity. Oh, and ALWAYS wear a lifejacket and use a kill cord….


Jonty Pearce