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Dinghy Etiquette


OK, I'll admit it right off- dinghy etiquette is one of my personal pet peeves and this entire page may be the ravings of a mad man.  Be forewarned if you read on.

It is understandable that new cruisers may know a tremendous amount about sailing yet not be familiar with dingy etiquette.  However it never ceases to amaze me that even amongst long time cruisers we still find people who simply don't have a clue about dinghy etiquette and thus are sure to anger their fellow cruisers. 

Living on a sailboat definitely appeals to people who defy conformity and want to live outside the strictest bounds of society.  In general if you don't like your current neighbors you simply pick up the anchor and move, and that is all well and good.  But when you bring your dinghy to the dock you are sharing that dock with others and it's time to think of them too.

Herewith are some tips designed to help you get along with your fellow cruisers.

Pet peeve No. 1- Short painters. 
Many dinghy docks are not big enough to accommodate the number of dinghies that want to tie alongside.  This mean we must all share the available space.  (You remember about sharing don't you- you learned about it in pre-school).  The way to share the dinghy dock with others is for EVERYONE to tie their dinghies up with LONG painters.  That means that each boat can drift back a long way from the dock leaving room for others to get in to the dock as well.  If everyone uses a painter 25 feet long or more then it all works great.  But it only takes one or two selfish, idiotic, stupid, ignoramuses to tie up with a short painter so that no other boats can get to the dock.  This is even worse at high commercial docks where you must climb up a ladder to get from dock to dinghy. One dinghy tied short can block everyone else from even getting to the ladder.  If your dinghy is tied short it means that everyone else must climb through your boat to get to theirs.   Since they are probably carrying groceries or propane canisters or a repaired mainsail you can bet they want to drag all that through several dinghies to get to their own.   So if you want to remain friends don't be a selfish, idiotic, stupid, ignoramus--  USE A LONG PAINTER.

Pet Peeve No. 2 - Cleats 
Many dinghy docks also do not have enough cleats.  One boat with a thick painter in a normal 2 layer figure 8 around the cleat can take up all the space on the cleat.  So try to use painters that are not too thick and if possible tie a knot through the cleat that won't interfere with others and will take less space.  Even better is a large stainless steel carabineer that you can quickly clip on anywhere and takes very little room on the cleat.   There are no hard and fast rules here about what is right but if you think of others and use common sense you should be OK.

Pet Peeve No. 3- Locks
Locking your dinghy is a good idea.  But please use common sense and keep in mind the two points above.  It does no good if you have a 20 foot painter then lock your boat up with a 10 foot cable causing all the problems outlined above.  We have used both steel cable and chain and now prefer medium weight stainless steel chain which is U-bolted inside the dinghy with the threads on the bolts filed so the nuts cannot be removed.    We also recommend sturdy locks on your outboard and prefer the tubular sleeved locks that cover the entire assembly of the outboard mounting screws. 

Once in Tobago we returned to our dinghy to find that another boater had a chain that was too short to reach the secure chain link fence above the beach so he had locked his dinghy to ours.  Of course we arrived back to the dock first and had no choice but to drag his dinghy out to our boat.  Later that afternoon we noticed someone frantically waving at us from shore.  We finished our beers and eventually came in to bring him his dinghy by which time all his frozen groceries had thawed.  His own fault.

Pet Peeve No. 4 - Tipped up outboards
If you do this you deserve to have your dinghy slashed to pieces and sunk- And don't be surprised if that happens. 

If you leave your outboard tied to your sailboat at night, tipping the outboard up helps to keep the prop free from barnacles.  BUT NEVER EVER TIP YOUR OUTBOARD UP AT A DINGHY DOCK WHERE OTHER DINGHIES WILL BE TIED UP.   If you do, your upturned prop will slit the rubber tubes of any dinghy tied alongside.  If that happens you deserve your fate. 

In the mid nineties in Georgetown, Exuma there was one very anal boater who was worried about the barnacles that would grow on his prop in the hour he was ashore buying groceries at Exuma markets so he always tipped his outboard up.  On two occasions I saw him in arguments with other boaters who asked him to lower his outboard.  One boater had cuts in his hypalon dinghy tied next to the offender and showed him the slashes.  Later the subject was discussed on the morning net reminding everyone to leave their outboards down.  Imagine my surprise a week later when I saw the same dinghy completely slashed and sunk at the dock- the outboard was under two feet of water but I could still see it was tipped up.  He got what he deserved.

Years later the same situation resulted in a near fist fight on the docks in Papette, Tahiti with a Frenchman who insisted on tipping his outboard up despite a dozen other cruisers asking him not to.

That's it.
Four pretty simple rules of dinghy etiquette designed to keep you in good graces with your fellow cruisers.

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Webmaster- Rob Dubin                             copyright 2003-2009   Rob  Dubin               Page Last updated 05/02/2009