Parking Your Dinghy Is Never a Problem

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Afraid your dinghy will be punctured by something sharp while you're on shore? Set an anchor and haul it a safe distance away

While cruising aboard Starship, our Islander 36, we often found dinghy dock facilities to be lacking or nonexistent. Sometimes a dock or wall would pose a threat, with exposed rebar or sharp fittings threatening to poke a hole in our inflatable. Other times there would be a large swell running that could potentially plunge our dinghy up and down several feet under a dock or against some other solid structure.

To cope with these kinds of situations, we decided to adopt a variation of a mooring technique we’d seen Mexican fishermen use. To moor their pangas, these men set permanent buoys off the beach and run continuous outhaul lines from the buoys to stakes set on shore. This allows them to haul the boats onto the beach for loading and unloading, and then safely pull them back out into deeper water when they’re finished.

You can achieve a similar result you’ll need a dinghy anchor and rode with appropriate scope, about 70 feet of line spliced or knotted into a continuous outhaul loop, a carabineer or similar piece of hardware, and a mesh bag in which to stow your outhaul line and anchor rode. For our rig, we use a 10lb mushroom anchor that sets on 10ft of chain plus 60ft of polypropylene rode. Your outhaul line, of course, can be longer than 70 feet if you want to moor your tender farther away from whatever it is you’re tying off to.

Preparation and Execution

We keep our dinghy outhaul rig stowed in a bag so it's ready to deploy. If you don't have a mushroom anchor, a grapnel or small Danforth-style hook will also work wellThis shows our anchor rode clipped on to the outhaul line: note how we tied off and shortened the rode before bending on the clipTo set your temporary outhaul mooring smoothly, you need to first make sure all your lines are free to run before you approach the shore, and then attach one end of your continuous outhaul line to a strong point near the bow of your dinghy and the other end to a strong point at the stern. After that, attach the carabineer clip to the end of your anchor rode and hook it onto the outhaul line near where you tied it off to your stern. Finally, shove the outhaul line into your mesh bag, followed by your anchor rode so that both are free to run.

Now you are ready to approach the dock or shore. As you come in, throw out your anchor in a spot that will allow you to reach the end of the rode about where you want your dinghy to be moored. Generally, you want this to be the total length of your continuous outhaul line divided by two, minus 10 feet for handling and tying off. In our case, that works out to around 25 feet away from the dock.

In our experience, it is best to err on the side of setting the anchor too close to the dock. You can always tie a knot in the rode at the appropriate distance away and connect your carabineer and outhaul line there instead. By comparison, if you set your anchor too far out, you will need to go out and reset it closer in.

After throwing your anchor over the side, proceed toward the dock or shore while feeding out the anchor rode, followed by the outhaul line, from the storage bag. Once you reach shore, hop out with the outhaul line in your hand and pull on the end of the line running through the carabineer clip back to the bow of the dinghy until it’s tight against its clip and safely above the anchor.

Finally, tie off the outhaul line and walk away knowing your dinghy is safely moored and out of reach of any sharp objects.

We used this technique with great success in French Polynesia. At one island where a large swell was reaping havoc, we were the only boat that was able to send our entire crew ashore. Others had to leave someone aboard to ferry people back and forth, and the hard dinghy of one friend was badly cracked when the swell crushed it under the dock. As word spread, the other new boats in the area made a point of avoiding this particular anchorage due to its challenging dinghy-docking situation. What a shame to miss out on an otherwise spectacular spot because of “dinghy anxiety.”


The more we use this technique, the more we like it, and the more situations in which we find it useful. In big cities we use it to keep the dinghy out of the reach of playful sticky-fingered children. By swapping out the ends of the outhaul line, we can also keep the bow of our dinghy pointed away from the dock or shore into oncoming waves and swells. Alternatively, we sometimes tie both ends of the outhaul line together, and then tie the dinghy painter to a loop in the outhaul, so the dinghy can swing freely and keep its bow pointed into the dominant wind or current.

When setting up your temporary outhaul, it is important to be mindful of local traffic patterns. Make sure your dinghy and anchor rode are not a hazard to passing boats. If chafe becomes a problem where your outhaul line passes through the carabineer, you can use a pulley with a swivel instead, which will have the added advantage of making the system operate that much more smoothly. Also, be mindful of the tidal range. It may be smart to tie a length of shock cord into your anchor rode to account for changes in water depth.

This dinghy-docking technique does require extra equipment and can take some getting used to, but it’s well worth it. You may also make some new cruising friends. We found there were often other cruisers who were impressed with our dinghy-docking method and wanted to know how it works.

We normally rig our outhaul with the tender facing shore (above), but you can also swap out the ends of the outhaul line on the bow and stern, so that it will face out into a breeze or swell instead. If you want your tender to swing free, simply tie the ends of the outhaul line to each other and secure the tender's painter to a loop in the outhaul (below)

Photos by Anne-Marie Fox

Illustrations by Dick Everitt

Anne-Marie and Chris Fox recently completed a two-year voyage aboard  Starship and spent a year exploring Mexico before crossing the South Pacific to Australia




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