Lift It or Lose It

Hoisting your dinghy out when not in use deters theft and bottom growth.

February 8, 2011

Dinghy’s out of the Water

Even without davits, with a little practice and basic equipment (above), you can quickly and easily raise your dinghy out of the water. Tor Pinney

These days, dinghy theft is a fact of life in many foreign harbors. In a few, it’s positively rampant. Whether the thieves are poor, moonlighting fishermen or regular professionals, they’re mainly after the outboard motors, which are easy to resell for big bucks. A day or two after they go missing, stolen dinghies are occasionally found—engineless. Still, if your dink’s an easy mark, someone might just swipe it even if it doesn’t have a motor.

Dinghies sometimes disappear from docks in broad daylight. Locking yours every time to something solid, whether or not others are doing it, and ideally with chain rather than cable, is the best deterrent. Be sure also to lock the gas tank and especially the outboard.

Most stolen dinks disappear from anchorages late at night. However, locking your dinghy astern does little good. The bad guys have cable cutters. Stainless-steel chain is the most cut-resistant tether, but even that isn’t an absolute guarantee. That’s why prudent sailors lift their dinghies out of the water overnight in all but the most historically secure ports. In some places, it’s not even an option. You either lift it or lose it, period. It’s inconvenient—but much less so than having to replace a dinghy and outboard.


There are several ways to raise a dinghy for the night, with variations ad infinitum. It’s worthwhile figuring out in advance what works best for you since some arrangements call for a bit of customization and experimentation. Most important, the process needs to be as quick and easy as possible so that you’re never tempted to let it slide—because that may well be the night that the dinghy thieves single you out.

Obviously, if your boat is equipped with sturdy davits, you’re all set. Alternatively, some sailors simply hoist their tenders onto the foredeck with a halyard. This necessitates removing and stowing the outboard, then redeploying it in the morning, an onerous chore to repeat seven times a week, especially if the motor is more than a few horsepower. That’s why most skippers prefer to lift the dinghy and motor together alongside their vessel.

The Lifting Harness
You can hoist the tender alongside a sailboat using either a halyard or the main boom and sheet. To do this, you need to purchase or devise a three- or four-point lifting harness and the means for attaching it to the dinghy. This harness can be made up from strong lines, webbing, or stainless-steel cables radiating from a beefy central loop or ring that can supply vertical lift. The harness requires two attachment points aft, spread well apart. These are typically on the transom—through-bolted eyebolts or padeyes work well—but straps that encircle an inflatable’s pontoons aft also suffice. In addition, the harness requires at least one connection forward. Some larger, hard-bottom inflatables come with forward lifting rings in the sole. If your dinghy’s sole won’t support these, then use the port and starboard (or the midship) towing rings on the bow. Or you can make up a broad lifting strap that passes entirely beneath the dinghy’s bow section. Wide webbing spreads the stress and chafe across the pontoons better than cable or line.


However you accomplish the attachments, the key is to position the harness’ lift ring so the raised dinghy sits level athwartships but with the bow slightly higher than the stern to encourage rainwater to empty through the transom drain. If your dink lacks a drain at the center base of the transom, install one. Otherwise, an overnight deluge might fill it, adding hundreds of pounds to its weight; this is a quick way to find the weakest link in your hoisting system. Even an empty dinghy plus outboard motor will put considerable strain on the hoisting gear, so make sure that all components, blocks, straps, lines, lashings, and attachment points are oversized and extra strong.

Finding the optimum position for the central lift ring takes some experimentation, so your harness lines, at least initially, have to be adjustable. Because the weight of an outboard naturally makes the dinghy stern heavy, the lifting point needs to be well aft of center to compensate. If you use a direct halyard rather than a boom crane, it lifts the dink at a slight angle rather than pulling it straight up. The lifting ring, then, must be offset athwartships over the dinghy, toward the mother ship, by a couple of inches. Set up what seems about right, lift your dinghy enough to clear the water, and look at how it sits. If the stern hangs dramatically lower than the bow, lower the dinghy and reposition the lift ring a little farther aft by adjusting the harness lines. If it hoists bow down, shift the ring forward. Make small adjustments. An inch or two can make a big difference.

Hoisting with the Boom
To raise the dinghy using your boom, swing it out more or less perpendicular to the vessel and secure it there with guys fore and aft. Be sure the topping lift is strong and adjusted so that the boom is angled up a bit, ideally bisecting the angle between the vertical lift and the masthead. Once the dinghy is raised, reposition the boom inboard just enough so the dinghy rests gently against hull fenders, stanchions, or shrouds to brace it against swinging in a chop or wake. Or you can rig up bow, stern, and spring lines.


It’s handy to use the mainsheet to hoist the dink via the boom since it’s often already run through multi-purchase blocks to a stout winch. A snap shackle on the sheet’s base block allows you to transfer it quickly between its usual deck fitting and the dinghy-harness lift ring. Note that if the mainsheet is normally positioned well forward of the boom’s after end, then the weight of a dinghy and motor may cause undue flexing or bending of that spar. Alleviate this by temporarily moving the topping lift to the same position on the boom—a simple lift strap around the boom is useful here—or by moving the sheet block aft so the two forces are in opposition.

If your boat has an electric windlass, a large power winch, or a big genoa-sheet winch, consider leading the hoist line, whether it’s the mainsheet or halyard, to it using one or two heavy-duty snatchblocks secured to strong deck fittings.

A boom hoist holds the dinghy away from the mother ship, but if you lift with a halyard, the tender can rise up hard against the vessel’s topsides. Protect the finish by removing the dink’s inboard oar fitting and any others that might scrape; also, hang a mat or a couple of small fenders against the hull. To complete the job, snug the dink’s painter to the nearest cleat forward to secure the bow against a surprise lift by a blustery squall, then lead the dinghy’s cable or chain to a deck fitting and padlock it.


Once you’ve worked out a quick and easy system for lifting and locking your dinghy, it becomes an end-of-the-day routine that pays a big dividend. Sure, as a fringe benefit the maneuver deters bottom growth, but mainly you’ll sleep better knowing that your precious tender will still be there in the morning.

Tor Pinney (, the author of Ready for Sea!_ (Sheridan House), has logged 150,000 nautical miles under sail. He’s revisiting the Caribbean aboard his 42-foot ketch,_ Silver Heels_._


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