Dinghy / Tender Yacht Safety Tips

All You Need to Know About Your Yacht’s Dinghy / Tender

At Van Isle Marina, many of the yachts we list for sale have tender (aka dinghy) garages or tender storage options onboard so we felt it was time to post an overview about tender safety and general usage of your vessel’s service boat.

What is a Tender?

There are many different types of tenders available for your yacht, depending on your vessel’s size and function. Yacht tenders range from small dinghies towed behind sailboats, to larger dinghies stowed onboard classic motor yachts, to high-speed luxury craft stowed in the hulls of superyachts. The terms ‘tender’ and ‘dinghy’ are used interchangeably amongst most yacht owners.

In the boating industry, a tender is any type of smaller vessel onboard your yacht that is used to service your larger vessel. Tenders are often used when you are anchored at sea or moored far from shore and want to make quick trips to shore.

Tenders are essential for the following activities:

  • Quicker and easier supply runs
  • Picking up guests from the dock or shore
  • Entertainment purposes like cruising small coves and bays
  • Visiting neighbouring yachts in the harbour
  • Lifesaving purposes in the event there are no other dedicated lifesaving vessels on board

Unlike in the Pacific Northwest, in many cruising areas around the world, such as in the tropics, marinas are few and far between, meaning you’ll need to rely on a good, sturdy dinghy for multiple shore runs.

Tender Storage

On a superyacht or megayacht, the tender is usually a small powerboat that is stored in the yacht’s haul – a boat within a boat. It’s usually kept near all the other toys, like the jet skis and helicopter.

On a standard-sized motor yacht, tenders range from small rubber dinghies with oars to rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIB) with outboard motors. On yachts that have a dedicated tender garage, the tender garage can usually be found near the transom, tucked under the cockpit, as with the Riviera 4800 Sport Yacht. With this layout, the tender garage door raises on electric actuators at the push of a button and the tender (RHIB) can be slipped right into the water.

On other yacht models, there are foredeck options that allow plenty of space for tender storage, where a davit for launching and retrieval would be outfitted.

No Dedicated Tender Storage Space?

If your yacht is an express cruiser, you might not have a tender garage, a.k.a. designated dinghy berth, onboard your yacht. However, this shouldn’t limit you from having a dinghy. You can always create a makeshift tender area on board and stow a dinghy on your deck, bow, or stern.

Many yacht owners will also choose to secure it behind the boat on or near the swim platform. The key is choosing a location that does not block your access to critical things like your anchoring station or fishing tackle. Sailboats 23 feet and below must tow their tender – usually a small dinghy – behind their vessel.

You will want to find an area where you can safely secure your tender from flying away, and where you can batten down all of its accessories. Make sure everyone on board knows where the tender is located, in case of emergency, and ensure nothing is obstructing its access.

Getting From Yacht to Tender

The range of difficulty in loading and unloading your tender – a seemingly easy task – varies with where on your yacht you store your tender. When the dinghy is stored on a davit on the swimming platform, you simply turn the crank, lowering the tender into the water from a vertical position in the air to a horizontal position on the water. Then you unclip the tender, step in the vessel, and you’re off. Likewise, if the tender is stored lying flat on the swimming platform via chocks, simply lower the swim platform, untie the tender, and you’re stepping into your tender in no time.

Similarly, if your tender is stored in a tender garage near the cockpit, the lid or cover is lifted electrically, the tender is pulled backwards, unclipped, and slid into the water off the swimming platform and away you go. This is easier with more than one person.

If your tender is stored on the foredeck, using the tender is a bit more of a process, but it’s simple once you get the hang of it. Most yachts that have the option of adding foredeck tender storage will come equipped with the appropriate davit (the pulley system used to lower the tender up and down from the water). Davits can be permanently mounted or removable and are either manual, electric, or hydraulic.

Once lowered into the water from the bow, it’s tempting to jump into your tender and get going, but this is not recommended as it’s a long way down and is not safe – you could hurt yourself and your tender in the process. Instead, use your yacht’s side decks if possible and a line attached to the lowered vessel to walk it down the length of the hull in the water to your transom.

Watch this video from Riviera on how easy it is to safely access your tender from your boat’s side deck:

General Yacht Tender Safety Tips

Yacht owners usually end up spending more time than they think they will aboard their tenders. However short and uneventful each trip may be, they add up over time. Because of this, it’s important to keep in mind a few safety protocols, most of which relate to having the right equipment on board with you at all times, as well as:

  • Be aware of the tides and the weather forecast for the duration of your planned use of the tender, and plan accordingly.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, especially as they pertain to the size of your outboard motor and load limits (i.e. Don’t overload your boat with occupants or supplies)
  • Always wear a lifejacket.
  • Always use a kill cord for your outboard.
  • Always check your fuel levels before setting off
  • Service the engine seasonally and inspect for damages

Essential Items to Keep On a Tender

  • Oars (in case your outboard fails)
  • Mobile phone or handheld VHF for emergency communication
  • Waterproof torch
  • Foot pump and pressure gauge
  • Spare kill cords
  • Puncture repair kit
  • Spare tube inflation valves

Buying the Right Tender

The right tender for your yacht is one that is safe, dry, comfortable, and the right size to match your storage space on board. The weight and the dimensions of your tender are what matter the most.

Ask yourself:

  • Will the shape and size fit the space you have available? A tender or dinghy that accommodates two to three people should be all that is needed.
  • Will the vessel be light enough that you will be able to get it on and off-board as needed? If a davit won’t be used for loading and unloading the tender from your yacht, consider a lighter weight option if possible.

There are many types of tenders and dinghies on the market. For example, consider the type of flooring, such as slatted or inflated. Solid floors make storage more of an issue, but they are easier to balance in and can carry more gear. If you’re using an outboard, a solid transom is highly recommended but will add bulk and affect storage considerations.

In most cases with new yachts, the tender is usually a separate purchase. This allows you to find a tender with all of the features you need. With pre-owned yachts, sellers usually sell their tenders with their yacht as a package deal.

Curious to learn more? The yachting and boating experts at Van Isle Marina would be pleased to help guide you in your quest for a tender that will suit your new yacht. To further discuss what type of yacht and tender would best fit your needs, contact one of our yacht brokers, who can give you firsthand information and advice on the most suitable vessel(s) for you.