Know How: Dinghy Modification

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The covered dinghy now has two zippered “windows” that allow easy access

The covered dinghy now has two zippered “windows” that allow easy access

The rigmarole of stretching a cover over a dinghy in choppy water prior to hoisting it on davits can become a very wet business if you’re not careful. Leaning right over either end, trying to stretch a cover over the bow and stern pods can quite easily result in a head-first dip in the drink. Believe me, I know from experience.

My schooner’s dinghy is a 10ft RIB, so at least it has a solid floor to scramble about in. Soft bottoms are not as stable, so the chance of slipping overboard is greater.

To fit the dinghy cover I first had to lean perilously over the stern to fit it over each rear pod. This was a comparatively easy operation compared to the bow, because the cover was loose. Even then, just one rogue wake from a passing motorboat—it’s always a passing motorboat, isn’t it—and I had to hold on for dear life to prevent myself slipping headfirst over the stern.

Getting the cover on was inevitably a balancing act

Getting the cover on was inevitably a balancing act

I would then maneuver the cover to the bow, keeping tension on it to prevent it washing off the stern pods and I would have to start all over again. The cover then had to be stretched over the bow by leaning right over to hook it as far underneath as possible. The problem all the time was that I was getting in the way of the cover myself. With the cover finally hooked over both ends I then had to grab the hoisting lines hanging from the davits and pass them through the front and rear grommet holes in the cover and hook them to the wire strops on the dinghy.

The bow of the dinghy was especially hard to reach; attaching the bridle to the davits was also a challenge

The bow of the dinghy was especially hard to reach; attaching the bridle to the davits was also a challenge

I then had to scramble out from under the cover to climb up the stern boarding ladder. If the water was choppy this operation was exhausting, and every time I performed this balancing act, and especially after falling in—twice—I swore there had to be a better way. At least it was then an effortless job to hoist the dinghy to the top of the davits using my home-made electric winch, which pulled it up in about 20 seconds.

I considered cutting the cover in half to make a separate bow and stern sections, then zipping them together when both ends were in position. But trying to attach two halves of a zip is difficult enough on land for my old hands, never mind in a lurching dinghy with wet fingers. Still, thinking about zips set me on the right path.

I had our local canvas man sew two zips 4ft 6in inches apart from one side of the cover to the middle, which gave me a sizable “flap” in the middle of the cover.

With the flap open the cover easily stretches on both ends of the dinghy because I’m no longer in the way, and I can sit comfortably on the seat to effortlessly connect the davit hoists. I can then easily climb up the stern ladder and hoist the dinghy. It is then a simple matter of simply zipping up the flap—job done!

As an additional thought, I had small loops fitted on the ends of the zips and on the other side of the cover. I also tied lengths of thin blue cord to the outboard loops, so when the dinghy is on the davits I can hook the dangling cords with a boat-hook and thread the ends through the loops in the zip. Pulling the cords tight holds both sides down and stops the middle of the cover from blowing about in a wind.

With the zipper flap it’s possible to stand in the boat while putting the cover on

With the zipper flap it’s possible to stand in the boat while putting the cover on

When we need to stow fenders or mooring lines in the dinghy, it is also now an easy matter to just unzip the flap, stuff all the fenders in, then zip it up again.

This is a marvelous modification, well worth the $75 I paid to have two zips fitted to the cover.

Finally, looking at the pictures accompanying this article, you may think, “Why has he got a flap on both sides of the cover?” This is a fair observation, and the answer is: because the canvas man stitched the first set of zips on the wrong side of the cover, so I took it back to him to do it again. I, therefore, got two flaps for the price of one!

That said, I have never used the outboard flap, although I suppose when the plastic zips eventually perish in the hot Florida sun, as they surely will, I can just turn the dinghy round and use the other flap. After all, on boats it’s always good to have a backup, isn’t it? 

Photos courtesy of Roger Hughes

January 2019

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