Which Sailing Dinghy to Choose

Which Sailing Dinghy to Choose
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Sailing can be a great source of joy. You may be asking yourself whether you should start a new hobby sailing, and you’re choosing a single handed dinghy, or perhaps you’re buying a small boat for you and your family and you need something suitable.

So, you’ve set your mind, you want a dinghy, which one to buy?

There isn’t a one best sailboat out there, however, if I had to narrow it down to one or two I could suggest these: if you’re looking for a smaller dinghy only for yourself and you’re on a budget, go for a Sunfish or Laser since they won’t have many additional expenses, plus they’re easy to learn. If you’re buying a dinghy for two people go for a 420 which is big enough for two, but can still be single-handed.

If you want a dinghy for family leisure sailing but that can also be used for racing, a dinghy which is simple and durable, go with a Vanguard 15.

Now, there are lots and lots of other great dinghy choices, but I had to narrow it down for you. Generally speaking, best advice would be to look at what’s popular in your area, which varies by region. If you’re complete beginner and these dinghies aren’t available, just look for boats that don’t look too sporty, and make sure they’ve got plenty of built-it buoyancy. 12-14 foot (3.6 – 4.2 m) is a nice size for two people. There’s plenty of room, but not too heavy to move around on a trolley by hand.

Do I need to buy a dinghy or can I simply rent it?

Let’s get this this cleared up immediately – you don’t need to own a boat to get into sailing. In fact, it is sometimes best not to buy until you have some experience of different dinghy boats which can help you decide what kind of dinghy you want. You can rent a dinghy, as well as partner with someone on their own sailboat.

When it comes to other types of boats, there are lots of share clubs around, and a lot of racers looking for crew. If you’re willing to learn, you can sail without owning a boat. Can you sit on one side of the boat then move to the other side when told? Congratulations, you can be useful on a racing boat. To get started you can take a basic course and then look into finding a share program or crewing for other people. It all depends on what you want to do.

When it comes to dinghies, budget sometimes may not be a problem. You can rent them, but also you can buy them for under $1000 dollars. However, if that is still too high for you, then the budget is an important factor in choosing a dinghy. Maintanance may cost you very little. If you’re new to sailing, you want to start small, safe and be able to master it. After that you can move to other, more advanced types.

So why these dinghy choices?

First, there are no best dinghy boats for everyone. It all depends on what you’re looking for, how skillful are you and what’s your budget. Lots of factors you need to take in:

  • your budget
  • your skill
  • types of waters you’re going to sail
  • how do you plan to transport a dinghy
  • where to launch it
  • where to keep it
  • how tall are you, etc.

Knowing this will help you a lot when choosing the right dinghy for you. Reasons why I chose these particular ones are probably obvious but I’ll explain. First, Sunfish because it won’t have many additional expenses, and they’re easy to learn. In fact, learning sunfish dinghy is a breeze and they almost never capsize, and as long as you get a boat with no cracks in the hull you’ll be just fine. The only thing that can sink it is a breach in the hull causing it to leak into the hull – doesn’t matter if you tip it sideways, end over end, or any other way. They’re solid boats just make sure the line is secured tightly to a well fitted cleet so you don’t lose the mast. It’s a great boat, though not the fastest.

Sunfish dinghy
Sunfish dinghy

Laser dinghy I chose once again because they’re fairly cheap, you can probably get it for under $800 or even less, since you don’t have to get it completely new, insurance costs are negligible, and maintenance costs are basically nil. It may be wise to have a car for a laser dinghy that can tow it and have somewhere to park it. There are many types of a laser dinghies, for example if you’re looking for a dinghy that’s easiest to learn or a dinghy for your child, the Laser Pico is a durable boat that can be sailed by anyone. Ideal for entry level sailors and children as well.

Laser dinghies
Laser dinghies

The 420 is ideal for both beginners and sailors starting to race. The International 420 was designed specifically to be easier to handle than its larger higher-performance cousin, the 470. The 420 is equipped with a removable jib and a reefing mainsail. A derivative of the 420 called the “Club 420” is popular in the North America. The 420 is big enough for two people and may be perfect for you if you tried it out with a friend. 420 is fast, efficient, comfortable and sleek.

420 dinghy racer
420 dinghy racer

A few other types of beginner dinghies

There are lots of great choices out there. I already mentioned the Sunfish, Laser, the International 420 and Vanguard 15 but I can mention a few others to expand your choices like the Wayfarer, a classic general-purpose dinghy, stable can cruise long distances and is also decent for racing. Feva is another choice, a single-handed or with a crew which is a great modern multipurpose dighy.

Already mentioned Laser Pico can be sailed by anyone, ideal for entry-level sailors. The 420 praised a lot already, the 29er high-performance skiff for youth sailors, a very exciting boat, can be demanding. Like I said, lots of great choices out there, there are many more variants of these mentioned, but I’ll mention them in another article.

Are dinghies best for beginners?

Most people will tell you yes, dinghies are best for beginners, and that is because dinghies offer the best introduction to sailing, and here are the couple of good reasons why. They are easy to learn and control, they are very responsive to wind and waves and to your actions on the tiller and sheets, which means they are great for beginners starting to learn how to sail small boats. They are great for learning about rigging and launching, and learning all the sailing maneuvers.

Dinghies usually require very little maintenance, and are built with strong, lightweight materials, offering good performance while keeping you safe at the same time, depending on what you choose, and how you use it. Some of them, like general-purpose dinghies are quite stable so mistakes are easy to rectify, than other types of dinghies, like the ones built for high performance.

How expensive is to own a dinghy sailboat?

Sailing can be cheap, especially if you rent it. Higher costs are always tied to owning bigger boats that are kept in the water and have engines and require maintenance and cleaning and moorage fees.

The price? If we’re talking about small sailboats like a laser dinghy, then you can probably get it for under $1000 as long as you have a car than can tow it, and somewhere to park it. It all depends on what is expensive to you, and where are you from. But, if you live in US, Australia, UK, then spending less than $1000 dollars for such a great sport probably isn’t very expensive. Once again, you can rent a dinghy, which means it’s extremely cheap in this way.

So, unless you want to get competitive and own a high-performance dinghy, then they’re not that expensive. However, if you want to get competitive, and you live in US or Canada, a competitive sailor of a laser dinghy for example, may spend 5-8k on a fully decked out boat then for the coach another 1k then for the travelling 1k then the maintenance and repair 2k. It all depends where you live, but if you’re in US or Canada those expenses are quite possible.

Some general tips when buying a dinghy boat:

  • make a shortlist of the dinghies that you are good for you
  • read some reviews about them
  • try to visit some places where you can see them personally
  • pick dinghy sailboats that are popular and well established in the area you plan to sail
  • try some of them if you can before purchase
  • whatever you choose, do learn some stuff about safety, and of course have fun!


Usage of pictures is under Creative Commons Licence Attribution 2.0 Generic
Picture “420 dinghy racer” – Irish International 420 Class Association, website: sail420.com. No changes were made.

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