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Dangers of the Dinghy trip back to your boat

by Rob Kothe & the Sail-World Team on 24 Aug 2014
Sunset -all is calm but what about a dinghy trip back to your boat at night, if there is a strong offshore breeze? .
When we first published an article on Sail-World Crusiing about the danger of the trip by dinghy from the shore back to your boat in a strong offshore breeze, it struck a chord with our readers.Have you had any such experiences?

Here is the scene...that we painted ...

'It’s night, there’s a high wind blowing off the land. You are on the beach, your sailing or powerboat is in the anchorage, but one of the boats far from shore. Beyond the anchorage, there is nothing but hundreds of miles of ocean. On the way to the boat in your dinghy the outboard engine fails. You try to row, but the wind is too strong, and keeps blowing you sideways out to sea. You call out, but no one hears you.

'Neither is there any need for it to happen on some far off shore – it could happen so easily, with the right combination of circumstances, in an anchorage near you. In sailing, as in the rest of life, tragedies are caused, never by one event, but by piled-up events.'

Now some readers comments..

Ivan Hills wrote ' About ten years back I read of a similar occurence. Two German sailors were beach-partying with an international group of cruising friends (in the Pacific somewhere). Offshore wind got up and everyone headed back to their little ships. These two guys had an inflatable with outboard but no oars, according to witnesses. There was no response from their ship to a hail the following morning. No one was on board and the dinghy was missing. The fleet searched offshore but no one was found. Tragic indeed.

Right here in Rockland (Maine) Harbor the 0.4 nm row from my boat to the dinghy dock usually takes about ten minutes. Several years ago a strong west wind effectively stopped progress and drove my Walker-8 dinghy towards the breakwater and harbor mouth. I changed course to about NNW and sort of reached across it until under the lee of the land. I was then able to row south, staying close to shore, until the dock was reached.

That ten minutes became over an hour. I was inconvenienced and tired, but not in immediate danger. Nevertheless, it was a cautionary lesson. I bought a 5 hp Honda O.B. but the Walker was not suitable and is replaced by a an 8' inflatable. If my boat was sufficiently large I would have a 12' peapod with spoon oars. Peapods can be rowed to windward and are more seaworthy than most dinghies. One could survive in one with food and water on board.'

Trevor Rabey emailed - ' It happens a lot more often than it gets reported. There are lots of close calls.

1) Never get in a dinghy that doesn't have oars, rowlocks and a bucket tied to the boat. A very low chop can swamp a loaded 14 foot dinghy with 75 HP motor. The dinghy won't sink but you won't be able to stay in it and you won't be able to bale it.

Picture this: 5 people in the water hanging onto the dinghy for 4 hours 1 Km offshore anywhere in the NT, waiting for either the crocs or the sharks to show up, and the only thing between an inconvenience and a tragedy is a bucket.

2) Keep a spare pair of rowlocks stashed securely on the boat.'

Snez Plunkett comments - ' It could happen to anyone, indeed. It seems that most dinghies/tenders are not suitable for rowing, or are difficult to row. Choose your tender wisely!!!!!!! Rowing is basically the only back up (short of plenty of rode & anchoring - but for how long?!)

Keeping the outboard regularly serviced helps too, and knowing it well enough to fix it, with few basic tools on hand, or stowed. I Keep the extra fuel on board the dinghy, rather than just checking to ensure it's full. An extra 'grab bag' with dinghy basics to take along on each trip is a good idea.

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Hand held VHF is very handy, depending on where you are.

Personally, I chose Walker Bay dinghy - excellent for rowing, and I plan to add the sailing kit to it as I was inspired by stories such as this ..............to ensure there's still a way to get back to the boat, no matter what the conditions. Whilst expensive - the sailing kit doesn't take much space and could provide extra fun whilst at anchorage for a lenght of time.'

Zia Ahari writes - I happened to be in the same situation in the Caribbean Island of St Lucia. After a storm when the rain stopped, alone I tried to get out of Rodney Bay Marina heading for my boat which was anchored outside in the bay.

In the dark and with so many high similar mast top lights it was absolutely impossible to distinguish my boat. It was the familiar screech of my wind generator combined with an additional small light on the dodger that helped me to find my boat at last.

My recommendation is the following;

I have a small bag which contains a small fisherman's anchor and anchor rode, a screw driver a spare spark plug, a spark plug wrench and a small bottle of gasoline. I would not ride in my dinghy without them. I also have an inexpensive Garmin GPS as well as the VHF. I make a MOB marking to show the location of my boat before I depart.

The thought of getting blown out to sea in a rubber dinghy is far too horrible a fate.' he concludes.

It seems that almost all boaters have at some time had a nasty experience at one time or other, when they wondered what would happen if they had been blown past their boat.'

Certainly make sure you have a good anchor AND plenty of warp- at least that will keep you in the bay and make sure you dinghy is easy to row and the rollicks will stay in place AND your oars are on the boat.

So what should the cruising sailor or boater do to avoid this kind of occurrence?

Here is the revised check list:

1. Make sure you have a good light anchor and a good length of warp. At least it should keep you in the anchorage, until some one finds you, or the wind or tide changes.

2. Always always keep oars in the dinghy, even if you’re only in it to clean the topsides. Make sure the rollicks are in the dinghy and they will stay in place, when fitted, so rowing is easy and efficient.

3. A bailing bucket of some kind.

4. Check your motor for fuel before each trip. Carry a small extra jerrycan and basic tools.

5. Never leave your sailing boat in an anchorage without a light (get a LED automatic light, to save power and save remembering)

6. If you have a waterproof handheld VHF, take it ashore with you. Then you will have it if you need it on the trip back to the boat.

7. Have charged mobile phones with all crew as a worthwhile general safety precaution.

8. When there’s a wind, specially if it’s blowing off the shore, have someone aware of your dinghy journey.



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