“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

The Dinghy Sling

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We are always willing to think outside of the box. We don’t take the “old salt” logic at face value and we tend to do a lot of research to make our own opinions.  When it came to how we plan to manage our dinghy we were open to look at any and all options.

That being said, we purchased our Highfield inflatable due to its light weight, which we knew would give us many options for transporting as we cruise.  But once we had the dinghy there were so many other questions to consider:  how to transport the dinghy?  How to mitigate theft?  Are we going to keep it in the water at the dock and have to pull it out all the time to clean the bottom or is there another option?  Some of the answers seemed easy enough; but other questions/concerns – not so easy.

Initially we were thinking that we would add traditional dinghy davits.  The primary issue for us is that we really like our walk-through transom and having davits would limit that aspect of the boat. Also, climbing from the dinghy with the davit lifting lines connected would become a problem with our ladder. But the biggest issue is that having an additional 100 – 175 pounds counter-levered off of the back of our 31 foot boat will seriously impact the performance of the boat.  So traditional davits have been ruled out for us.

For longer passages in open water, we can put the dinghy on the bow. Obviously this is not an easy process, as we have to empty out the dinghy entirely and remove the engine. In our opinion, this is really the safest way to carry the dinghy when heading offshore.

But on shorter trips, especially as we hop down the East Coast and go into a new harbor or secluded anchorage each night, what are our dinghy travel and security options really?  We have found that on very short trips, in more protected waters it is easy enough to tow the dinghy. We have a 20 foot painter that is setup with a bridle for towing. This works but has some draw backs. For instance, how do we secure the dinghy at night? In our current situation it’s not a major issue. But as we go further south, dinghy theft becomes an issue. We can lock the dinghy at the stern while at anchor but, ideally, the best way to protect the dinghy from theft and growth is to get it out of the water.

While doing a little internet research on the subject we came across the Dinghy Sling System by Harbormen Marine.  We were quite excited to find this – what a great easy option keep the dinghy out of the water at night and while traveling! We had to know more about this product.  The cool thing is that this company is located in Hingham, MA, less than two miles from our marina.  I met up with Dave, the owner, to talk about using the Dinghy Sling on our Catalina.

Dave is a great guy and is making the dinghy slings with his college-age son. He walked me through how he sources the materials, the improvements he has made to the sling along the way.  We spoke extensively about the strength of the system.  At first glance I was skeptical about the plastic clips used in the system.  But after Dave explained the research he did in sourcing materials and that the rated strength of the clips is 200 pounds, I became more confident in the sling. Dave lent me a sling to try on our Catalina.

To setup the system, you start by floating the sling behind your boat with one side attached to your stern.

You then pull the dingy over the sling and attach the dingy to the sling on the boat side with the straps provided.

Long straps are attached to the far side of the sling and you use those to pull the dinghy vertical.  The straps can be attached to cleats or other fixed points on your boat.

You deploy the dinghy by doing the same in reverse.  The cool thing is that once you drop the dinghy to the water it is still attached to the boat.  You can climb in, put on your engine and then release your dinghy and float away from the sling.

We tried the sling prior to our trip to Provincetown.  Our first attempt didn’t go so well.  To bring the dinghy vertical was tough.  I had read that this was an issue with Snap Davits and similar products.  I could get my side up but my Bride was struggling to hold the weight while we tried to secure it. So we stayed with the towing plan for that trip.

I was telling a friend at the dock about the Dinghy Sling and he was interested in it for his boat.  We tried it out on his boat.  The result this time was much better.  I think having an actual swim platform was a big difference.  It gave a good pivot point that allowed the dinghy to be lifted a little easier.  In fact, once we got the hang of it, one person could lift the boat easily.

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The dinghy sling system is great.  It secured the dinghy to the boat without having to make any permanent changes to the boat.  Best of all, with the dinghy vertical and not counter-levered over the stern it didn’t affect the performance of the boat as much as towing.

With the addition of some blocks and possibly some quick cleats, I think we can easily overcome the weight issue we were having on our first attempt on the sailboat. My only recommendation for a change for the Harbormen Marine is to offer additional straps for sale.  When connecting the dinghy to our friend’s boat we ended up using a couple of dock lines to get a more secure feel for lateral movement.  A couple of additional straps may have been helpful. (Note: after talking to Harbormen Marine they informed me that additional straps are available, as well as custom sized and colored slings.)

The dinghy sling seems to be a great alternative to installing davits of any kind permanently on your boat. You don’t have to drill or glue anything onto your boat or dinghy.  And at only $245 it’s a fraction of the cost of other systems. It can get the dinghy out of the water to help prevent growth and mitigate theft.  And when you aren’t using it, it stows in a small backpack out of the way.

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4 thoughts on “The Dinghy Sling

  1. This is definitely a novel idea! You might consider pitching a brief story on this to one of the cruising magazines.

    We haul ours up on the bow every night, with rare exception, at which times we loop a cable through a hard point on the dink and padlock it to our boat. We use our spinnaker halyard. Neil guides it, while I crank on the winch. I owe my “cut” shoulders in large part to that little ritual. Ha ha 🙂 we lock our outboard to the dinghy by linking a large padlock through the holes in the twisty handles, thereby preventing them from being spun and keeping the outboard safely in place. We do the same when it is secured aboard the boat.

    • Yeah, your ritual is how we plan to manage the dinghy. We started looking for something that might be a little easier on a nightly basis.

      I am planning to submit something on this to a couple of publications but missed the deadline for Mainsheet (as a Catalina owner I hope you are getting this one, I am the technical editor for the C310 International Association). I am thinking about something for Cruising Outpost too.

  2. After researching the internet, and finding this (sling) option, we stumble upon your article. We had been scratching our heads trying to figure out what to do with our dinghy. Reading your article was like a recap of our conversation…and a validation of a too good to be true solution. I agree with the comments above, you should send this article around boaters forums, it will save some fellow sailors of much frustration (and money).

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