A good dinghy will expand exponentially the fun you have cruising! We enjoy normal dinghy activities such as diving and snorkeling, spearfishing, exploring/paddling shallow rivers, visiting friends, and fishing—and even not-so-traditional dinghy activities such as dinghy drifts (happy hour drifting with several dinghies tied together) or dinghy caroling on Christmas Eve!
But any time you get in your dinghy, there are certain safety precautions and equipment necessary to ensure the fun doesn’t turn into something less than fun. Here are some basics:
US Coast Guard required equipment for most dinghies (check the USCG's website for specifics required for your size dinghy):
• Life jackets: In good shape – something you’d feel secure in if your dinghy was accidentally swamped and you actually needed it!
• State numbering & stickers: Check the rules for whatever states you’re cruising.
• Oars: Make sure your dinghy is equipped with oars, if something happens to your outboard, you can always resort to rowing.
• Whistle or sound device to alert someone if you have a problem.
• Running lights for sunset to sunrise: We have suction cup type green and red bow lights and also an all around white stern light.
Other Vital Safety Equipment
Anchor with chain and rode: Carry enough chain and rode in your dinghy so that if your outboard quits on an outgoing tide, you can drop the anchor and reach the bottom to stop an untimely exit. Also useful for diving, snorkeling, spearfishing and just making sure your dinghy doesn’t disappear in a high tide on a beach while you go hiking or exploring!
Outboard engine safety cutoff: The little red kill switch coil that attaches to the outboard and your wrist – WEAR IT! We personally know of some serious accidents when passengers or the operator accidentally fell out of the dinghy & the outboard prop didn’t stop immediately.
VHF and/or cell phone: We prefer both – and if in US waters, the cell phone has the Sea Tow number programmed in just in case. Also consider a LifeProof or other waterproof case to carry the phone in your dinghy.
Bailer and sponge
Painter and stern line
Cable with a lock: It's a good habit to lock the dinghy securely if you’ll be gone for longer than a few minutes. It’s also a good idea to have a flashlight if, like us, you have a combination lock and you return after dark – asking people on the street for a lighter is tedious while your lock holds your dinghy hostage!
Plenty of gas
Water Bottle: Always a good idea, just in case.
... And just for fun!
Smartphone with Navionics or other smartphone app for navigation – helps in finding your way back to the boat in the mangrove mazes common in Belize or the 10,000 Islands!
Portable depth sounder
Fishing pole & bait: Be careful with sharp hooks in inflatables!
A picnic lunch: Make a day of it! Spend a few hours snorkeling, and then have a picnic on a deserted island and explore before returning to the boat. Don't forget your camera!
Read more from Jan Irons at Commuter Cruiser, and be sure to check out her cruising cookbook, The Boat Galley Cookbook: 800 Everyday Recipes and Essential Tips for Cooking Aboard_ , co-written with Carolyn Shearlock._