How To Modify Dinghy Oarlocks
Row your (inflatable) boat: If you acquire a sturdy set of oars and modify the oarlocks, you can propel your dinghy without using an engine.
|New Lock Prep
If you want to replace your inflatable’s oarlocks with a more sturdy style, a heat gun (top left) will help to soften the adhesive so you can remove the old locks. Then use an auger bit (top right) to drill the holes in the Avon-style oarlock (middle, left). I used a special glue to firmly attach each new, modified rubber oarlock, which is reinforced with wood and now serves as the base for the traditional bronze oarlock socket (bottom).
Cut off a third or so of the bristles of a chip brush to stiffen them up. Stiff bristles facilitate the application of glue in thin coats. Mix well a small amount of two-part glue for Hypalon, then brush on a thin coat of glue to each surface. Let dry completely, then repeat the glue application with fresh, trimmed brushes. Let dry until the glue is tacky—usually 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the ambient temperature. Then, following the masking-tape guides, put the new oarlocks on; press down repeatedly to purge any air bubbles. Do this very carefully. Get the glued areas to line up perfectly because once they touch, you won’t be able to adjust them.
The oars you receive with any inflatable dinghy are simply too short and flimsy for rowing in anything but calm water. You’ll have to find solid wooden oars that can be stowed inside the dinghy. Sometimes it’s possible to buy really sturdy two-part oars that make stowing easy. Use the longest oars you can row without hitting your knees when the blades come out of the water before the next stroke. On our 10-foot-2-inch dinghy, I use 7-foot-6-inch oars, and they fit inside the boat lying flat on the floorboards and out of the way. To make our oars always ready for action, I’ve slipped on round horn, or closed, oarlocks. I then installed anti-chafe collars, which also prevent the oarlocks from falling off. Just in case an oar falls in the water, I’ve attached a long, thin lanyard to each oar to keep it from floating away.
All these operations present no problems as long as you work with Hypalon-reinforced fabrics. PVC-fabric inflatables are put together by heat welding, and the boats can have some longevity problems with the seams. Once the seams let go, the boat is practically impossible to repair by gluing. Two-part glues designated for PVC will help only temporarily with repairs to small punctures.
As for converting a PVC boat to different oarlocks, I tried the heat-gun method as an experiment on a discarded boat. It took a very long time and a lot of heat to pull off a fitting. The PVC fabric seemed to be resistant to abrasion with sandpaper, and a well-abraded surface is essential to successful gluing. Don’t take chances with modifying an inflatable made of PVC fabric.
This article, "Row Your (Inflatable) Boat," first appeared in the July 2013 issue of Cruising World.