When going sailing, for a day or a year, it's easy to pay all your attention to getting your boat and sailing skills right and forget to consider the pitfalls of dinghy ownership. A dinghy is your vital connection between boat and shore, and it is wise to consider the issues.
Love your dinghy well and it will never let you down
How much you need to worry about security depends on where you are sailing and keeping the boat. If you arrive in a new cruising ground, check with other cruisers about the relative safety. In some areas of the world no-one would dream of even locking their motor to the dinghy, while in others the motto is 'Lock it, lift it, or lose it.' Even worse, anchorages such as La Ligna near Gibraltar have long had such a bad reputation that it's not safe to leave your boat for even 15 minutes at the shoreline.
So here are the options:
1. Lock your motor to the dinghy with a bar and padlock. This is simple and sensible.
2. Use a chain as a painter with a secure lock. This will stop most thieves at the dock.
3. Lock your painter to the boat or the dock at all times when you are not present.
4. Make sure that your chain or wire painter is long enough to reach the dock even if there are multiple dinghies blocking access.
5. Lift your dinghy out of the water while not in use.
6. Remove the kill switch as an extra precaution.
7. Do NOT have the name of your yacht on the dinghy - this advertises that you are ashore and makes your sailing boat ripe for burglary.
8. An old-looking dinghy (especially the motor) is less vulnerable to theft than a shiny new one. Some cruisers scuff and paint their motor to look old, even when it is brand new.
None of these absolutely assures that your dinghy won't get stolen, but they all help. The degree of security that you decide on is a matter of judgement.
As a vital part of your cruising your dinghy needs as much attention as your sailing boat:
1. If you are using a rope painter, make sure it is a floating line so that it cannot tangle with either the boat or dinghy engine. Having your painter wound around your prop is not a pretty predicament.
2. If you are tying the painter to the boat, have a second security line as well. If the wind is offshore and your line is compromised, you could be searching for your dinghy for days.
3. Carry a repair kit, with spare valves.
4. Use a dinghy cover to prevent abrasion with docks and damage from sunlight.
Using your dinghy safely:
Many a sailor has been lost to the sea when they set out for their boat on their dinghy but never arrived.
1. Make sure you have a means of security for yourself if you are traveling alone, particularly at night - either a life jacket, a PLB, or a tether.
2. Your boat being the furthest away in the anchorage and an offshore wind can be a lethal combination. One woman drifted for three days off the coast of Malaysia before she was found by some fishermen.
3. Make sure you carry oars, an anchor and a baler.
4. Can you climb into your dinghy from deep water? If not you need to consider a ladder which works for your dinghy.
5. When travelling at night always use a torch. It will not only aid your own vision, but it will also advertise your presence to other boats/dinghies on the water.
Finally, read through your insurance policy to see the conditions which pertain to your dinghy, not just the yacht itself. Sometimes there are conditions which a prohibitive for the cruising sailor and a little negotiation can have them quickly removed.