Mooring Your Dinghy While Ashore, Made Easy

JHHOMD1-9150780One of our favourite activities while out cruising is exploring remote islands and shores that don’t come with dinghy docks.

However, our increasingly fragile backs are less and less tolerant of lifting an inflatable dinghy, often with a small outboard attached, over slippery rocks all the way to well above the high water mark, as dictated by good seamanship.

And, of course, if you have a RIB, with a big outboard on it, dragging it up the shore is not a good option, no matter how young and strong you are—if you don’t have a bad back now, you soon will.

We have always carried a small anchor in the tender, and have used it quite often to cobble together a system to hold the dinghy off the shore while we went hiking, but it was always a bit ad hoc, and never terribly satisfactory, particularly in places with a lot of tidal range.

So a couple of years ago I set out to put together a purpose-built dinghy mooring system that would be:

  • Easy to store and transfer to the dinghy.
  • Ready to go at all times.
  • Easy and quick to deploy.
  • Keep the dinghy safe for long periods while we were off hiking.
  • Be easy to retrieve and stow.
  • Keep our feet dry—paddling may be fun in the tropics, but where we cruise, not so much.

Here’s what I came up with, complete with a video to show you how easy it is to deploy.

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Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
I really nice method and very versatile. I will share my method below. I know I need to think through tides more than one would need to with your method and there are likely other caveats. Generally, I have liked the ease of the method below.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
An alternative method:
This method is easier to execute, but may need more judgment (guesswork) when tidal range is high and may be less adaptable. That said it has worked well for decades at keeping our various dinghies off the shore/rocks and less accessible to casual passers-by.
This method uses a kellet/sentinel (I use a 4 pound diving weight, sometimes a second weight) with a clip/carabiner as the only additional equipment. Anchor rode length varies with cruising area as does the painter. The idea is you anchor by the stern and situate the kellet on the anchor rode (make a quick loop with a figure eight and clip the kellet to it) so the weight of the kellet pulls the dinghy away from the shore.
Execution: Survey the area as to depth and tidal changes anticipated and decide where you wish to place the anchor, drop it and head to your shore position letting out anchor rode. At some point (1/2 to 2/3rds of the way to shore depending) make a quick loop and clip on the kellet and then go to shore. Either have your crew hold you just close enough to shore to get off the dinghy or, if alone, tie the dingy bow close to shore. Now pull the anchor rode tight and in the process you are setting the anchor and lifting the kellet off the bottom and then tie off to the dinghy’s stern. Get off and slacken the painter and allow the kellet dropping pull the dinghy away from the shore by its going to the bottom. Generally, unless things are boisterous, the dinghy rides to the kellet sitting on the bottom a couple of boat lengths off the shore. The painter may have little or no strain and is used to draw the dinghy back to shore upon return.
If there is a wish to have the dinghy lie bow to wind/current, then tie the rode to the bow rather than the stern.

Stein Varjord

Hi John.

This is a nice system and quite helpful, I’d think. I may have misunderstood the exact layout, but it seems possible to use a simpler deployment method, avoiding the first landing? I’ll attempt a description of this here, but I see it as an idea worth a loook, not a tried method.
1. The rig just as John describes it.
2. Attach the snap shackle to the bow of the dinghy, or save that money and use a knot. 🙂
3. Drop the anchor at a suitable spot.
4. Go to the shore while paying out the “loop line”. It’s useful with a longer “loop line”, as the anchor position hasn’t been tested for reach.
5. Go ashore, pull the dinghy out to the buoy and tie up, all as described by John.
Halving the number of landings, I assume will reduce the quantity of local entertainment, but also reduce hassle and potential risks of broken bones and hurt pride. 🙂

On the topic of dinghy landings, in the late nineties I arrived for the first time in Bayona in Spain, just north of the Portuguese border. We came out of a storm with hurricane winds and insane waves, so we were probably a bit traumatized and dysfunctional.

We rowed our bright yellow Metzeler dinghy in to shore from our buoy, not knowing that we were meant to blow our fog horn and be picked up by two uniformed employees of the very posh sail club residing in the fortress. A service included in the fee.

Not knowing the town yet, we wanted to make it hard to steal the dinghy, so I tied it under the rather large concrete platform at the molo. It was quite low and I had climb a bit creatively to get out to the top.

We went in to town and had food and a number of beers to celebrate a scary but otherwise uneventful storm. By far the worst of my life. Some hours later we returned to the harbour quite happy, and from the whole town our dinghy was extremely visible.

Our previous harbour had been in the Med, where we had gotten used to zero tides. In this area that was about 4 metres, 13 feet. This meant that our yellow dinghy was hanging high in the air. We were the laugh of the day. Getting it down on the water was a challenge, but I like climbing, so it worked.

We had all sailed races in west and north France a lot earlier, but still didn’t think of it. Will never again forget tides. 🙂

Stein Varjord

Hi John.

I agree with your points, of course, but I find that most of the times I’m the only person in the dinghy, (without being a sad loner 🙂 ), and that I mostly row or paddle it… So I guess the best options would be to have a setup that fits both routines, which is easily done by having a slightly longer loop.

Bayona certainly is a nice place and a good harbour. We stayed there 4 days that time, needing a time-off from big waves, and I’ve been there two more times. Will go there again. 🙂

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
Understood and agree that your method is more secure in exposed and extreme conditions.
Dick

Christian

Hi John,

As usual a great post and a robust and useful device I think.
I have probably misunderstood something however, or is that the dinghy is finally anchored by the small block and the small manila ??

Christian

Hi John,
OK got it.
Thank you for clarification.
(Well, manilla was quick translation by an idiot ( me 🙁 ) for the french “manille” (pitfall !!!) ; I should have written shackle ;-)) )

Bill

John,
Thank you for this very clear and excellent description of an adaptation of a similar mooring method I observed around the coast of Newfoundland in my childhood. It had me wondering how do they do that and how can I apply this to a temporary situation. You have cleared up another one of my nautical mysteries.

Rick Salsman

Hi John:
Hi John and Phyllis:
Bonnie and I use a similar but different idea that is a little simpler that works in most situations. Replace the double line and blocks with a 15-20′(?) piece of sturdy bungie cord attached either to the bow or the stern, depending on the circumstances, with another carabiner. Attach the bungie cord to the anchor with a carabiner. While rowing or motoring to the shore drop the anchor in an appropriate spot in deep water. When the dinghy hits the shore grab the bow line (we use our tow line) and either tie it or use another small anchor to anchor it ashore.. Unload the dinghy and then pay out the bow line and the bungie will pull the dinghy offshore. It will sit comfortably at anchor even in a moderate blow. When you come back to the dinghy after exploring ashore just pull the dinghy back on shore with the bow line and “Bob’s your uncle!” as they say.

Adam Kerner

Hi Rick. We do our dinghy system in a similar fashion, but w/ a bit more strength and length. I take a 75 foot length of hollow poly propylene line (like water ski tow line). Splice an eye into each end. Then take about a 40 or 50 foot length of shock cord. Attach the end to a splicing fid w/ tape. Feed the fid into the poly pro a couple of feet from one end loop. Keep threading the shock cord into the poly pro, milking it in. When the bare end just disappears into the poly pro, firmly attach to the poly pro w/ several crimped fencing grips, that are often used with shock cord. I usually also tie an overhand knot here as well. Now go back to feeding the fid at the other end of the shock cord further “upstream” into the polypro, until it gives you a nice amount of tension. Here you will anchor it into the polypro same as the other end. You now have a stretchy polypro line, w/ the shock cord embedded, to use as your anchor rode. I fasten the curly anchor line to my dink transom w/ a soft shackle.

To deploy, I then drop the anchor as you do, as I approach shore. (takes a bit of practice to get the distance right, much as med mooring!!!) Hit the beach w/ some tension in your rode, unload, and release the bow line to let the dinghy head back out toward the anchor. Then tie the painter (we take a long line to extend) to a rock or driftwood log (or a second anchor if need be), and off to visit “Uncle Bob”. We’ve had good luck w/ this system in some rocky, windy landings, never a problem. And it does let you get the dink pretty far out there. Cheers!

Ted

I have used your method many time with Maine Island Trail 18 foot skiffs. One additional thing I do is to add an additional line to shore so if the loop line frays and breaks I still have the boat. I also use floating lobster trap line so it is less likely to get around a rock as the tide changes. Only once have I had it tangled bad enough that I had to swim out to the boat to get it. It was in September and the water was warmer then I expected.

Drew Frye

Good idea. I’ll admit I’ve yet to come up with such a solution; in the summer we can wade, and in the winter I just use a kayak because it is simpler; I can always get out with dry feet. Dragging a kayak over a few slippery rocks is a normal thing and quite easy. We carry two most of the time, laying on top of the davits. Often we use the inflatable to ferry a group of empty kayaks (they tow easy) to a remote location, saving miles of paddling (old shoulders), but then there is no need for a shore tie, just a good dependable anchor.

Funny story. On my the first long trip with my daughter (500 miles around the Delmarva with a 1200-pounds Stiletto 27 catamaran–she was 10), I made the mistake of anchoring too near a beach and got caught by a rising tide. Not stuck, I just needed to move at 2 AM. We had used 2 anchors because of a strong reversing tide, I was new to that, and they got tangled. In the process of untangling them, hardly 1/2 awake, I unclipped something I should not have and tossed one of the out unattached! My daughter wrote it up, enjoying satirizing her poor father’s foibles like any good child should, and got a sailing mag to buy it. And that success fired up her interest in school and writing, and so it was worth the price of the anchor… in retrospect. Not so much at the time.

Miami

Great idea.

We have always used two anchors but this would be better to keep the dink further away,

My only thought is whenever I back against any kind of sea my boat fills!

David Wright

This is a really nice refinement on a fairly common setup used in Prince William Sound, Alaska. My only problem is with the Danforth, as we have found them very marginal in the ubiquitous kelp beds, rocks etc. here.

Eric Klem

Hi John,

We used a similar system on a more permanent basis with our dinghy for a number of years so that we didn’t have to carry the dinghy down the rocks each time we wanted to go out to the boat. In general, the system worked reasonably well but the 8lb Danforth did drag on at least 1 occasion that I can remember. The biggest difference with our system was that we used a much longer length of line going from the loop of line to the dinghy’s bow. This was done so that we could keep the whole system a lot tighter for a constant angle of pull on the anchor and not worry about tide but it did result in greatly increased loads when there was a crosswind due to the low deflection.

I pulled our old system out 2 years ago and tried it again but as you use it which is not as an installed mooring but as a portable anchoring system. I found it very difficult to use but I am pretty sure that can be blamed almost entirely on 300′ of old nylon line that had gotten stiff and coiling instead of bagging. I also like your idea of the float, we never had a float on it.

I have recently been toying with building my own set of beaching wheels but was struggling to come up with something that would not add drag, could be deployed before the beach and was small and easy to stow, meeting 2 of the 3 requirements is easy but all 3 is hard. With some rethinking, it sounds like I should go back to a pull-line system. For the time being, our 150 lb dinghy is doable with 2 of us but it gets pretty tricky if the ground gets slick.

Eric

Stein Varjord

I actually have beach wheels on my inflatable. They fold up on the stern and are quick and easy to fold down for use. They make the boat slightly larger when packed, but barely noticeable and it still fits in the bag. They’re also not disturbing any use of the dinghy.

I don’t remember the brand, but I can check it, if someone is interested. They are all plastic, no rubber wheels, but fairly wide so they do work on a beach. I’ve found them useful mostly on sandy beaches and boat ramps. Other types of shores they don’t work well enough to bother. Huge inflated wheels might work, but I doubt that their volume would be acceptable in other contexts.

Stuart

Tylaska shackle £120 in till off Britain. Any lower cost options?

Taras

How about a locking carabiner (used for climbing)? Will it work?

Steve Ord

The cost of this Tylaska J-Lock J8 shackle had me looking for a substitute. Why could you not use a Halyard Shackle (Ronstan – cost about $20)? They are 316 stainless steel, easily locked, light weight, and the splice can be locked so you don’t loose it.

Joseph P Dillard

https://www.defender.com/category.jsp?id=2260025&path=-1|118|2260013

Defender has the J8 on sale for 83.99

Eric Klem

Hi John,

Now that our season is ending, I thought that I would report back as we have being using our dinghy pull for 2 years now.  We have typically carried our dinghy but my wife was not supposed to lift half of our 150lb dinghy last year so we got our old pull out of storage and then we still used the pull some this year although less.  Overall it has been very handy to have especially if we are landing on a tricky shore to pull the dinghy up.  Also, for the few times a year when I sail solo, it means that I can now go ashore without a dock if I want as before I couldn’t carry the dinghy solo.

Our system is fairly similar to yours with a few differences.  The looped line is 200′ which I have found to be a bit short in a few circumstances where we have to set up for the full tidal range and a steep shoreline is not available while the anchor line is 50′ which seems adequate (we do let out some dinghy painter if it is really deep to keep scope reasonable).  Rather than using a snap shackle, we simply tie our dinghy painter through the 2 bowlines that we use to join the looped line.  We also don’t have a float, we have just never felt like we needed one but we also have all braided line so we don’t need the float to help prevent twist.

For the first year, we used an old 4lb genuine Danforth which was the major frustration of the system.  Our set rate on any given drop was probably 50% north of Cape Cod and ~90% south of it where we usually encounter clear sand.  I had never really paid attention to the bottom right around the shore where we sail before but it is often choked with seaweed, rocks or has large enough pebbles that the anchor won’t set and since the water is not clear enough to see, you can’t chose what it lands on.  This year we used a galvanized Mantus dinghy anchor which was much better although not perfect, the set rate first try was probably 90% where the Danforth had been 50%.  This took the system from frustrating to use to very reasonable.  I find that sometimes I can get it to slowly drag pulling from the beach if I really work at it but this is far above the loads it will see for normal usage so it has not been a problem.  Another benefit is that I can now put the anchor in the bag with the line and not worry too much about tangling.  At the same time I purchased the Mantus dinghy anchor, I also decided to get an 8lb version for a small skiff we have.  That anchor has been excellent and may be an option for larger dinghies or people being aggressive with the conditions that they anchor their dinghy in but it is physically on the large side.  Our experience with the 8lb version has been mostly in easy and medium bottoms but it has included 3+ knots of current, short scope and other things with a 100% set rate so far which is far better than any of the Danforth or Fortress anchors that were used previously.  Its size has also allowed me to drag it around by hand on the beach and it has been quite impressive.  The biggest difference to me is how “clean” the set is, there is very little soil disturbance in comparison to any other anchor I have ever seen.  Of course I have played with veering which is also impressive and short scope which it does quite well at until you get close to some critical scope and it fairly quickly stops setting.

Eric

Eric Klem

Hi John,

Our system evolved from a fixed outhaul that we used for many years for our dinghy which was originally put together by my grandfather.  He did not include a buoy and it never occurred to us to add one.  Where it was permanently installed, the fouling risk was pretty low.  Of course, almost none of the components are what he put together at this point but it was a slow evolution of replacing stuff that was worn out.

I had always figured that the buoy was to keep things from twisting up and I had not considered the possibility of fouling.  So far we haven’t had a fouling issue but I do watch for rocks as best I can as I row out the anchor.  We have experienced having the line slowly pull clumps of seaweed out of the way several times but other than needing to pull a bit slower at first, it has never been an issue and I am not sure whether a float would solve this.  No float does mean that the person setting the anchor needs to row back to shore rather than over to a float to be hauled in.  Since we almost never use an outboard (I don’t think we have had it aboard at all in the last 4 years), I don’t find rowing ashore a big deal but powering in, especially with poor visibility, always has its risks for the outboard so it could be nice to be pulled in.

Eric

Brian Russell

I have studied this useful device for a considerable time and am left wondering why a alpine butterfly loop in place of the heavy expensive Tylaska shackle wouldn’t be a better option. The dinghy painter could be easily tied to this loop with a bowline or buntline hitch. It might take an extra 30 seconds to tie a knot rather than snap a shackle. If the alpine butterfly loop is safe for climbing, surely it is sufficient for holding a dinghy? It also eliminates the need for that rather awkward splice/ stitch join. What am I not considering? https://www.animatedknots.com/alpine-butterfly-loop-knot Cheers Brian

Eric Klem

Hi Brian and John,

We do not use a shackle and I am sure it does take a little longer but it has not been an issue.  In our case, we have a painter permanently attached to the dinghy and we use this to tie onto the outhaul line.  This way, we can tie it in a convenient place and above the water.  You don’t want to leave too much painter or you need to set the anchor further from shore but the 2-3′ feet I would guess we normally do is no big deal.

Eric

Mark Wilson

More of a question than a comment. And at a slight tangent.

A few years ago I wrapped the dinghy’s painter round the prop while manoeuvring to anchor in a very crowded anchorage. I don’t like towing a dinghy at sea but we had only come round the corner from a lunch spot and I forget to shorten up the line.

My question is: would we be better off with a floating painter ? I realise this might cause a problem for jolly japers who like to race past one’s stern.

Rob Gill

Hi Mark,

We have successfully used braided polypropylene rope which is buoyant, nice to handle / coil and is UV stabilised. We replaced ours after five years constant use in the harsh NZ UV conditions, but only to avoid the possibility of dropping micro-plastics in the ocean – otherwise it seemed fine if a little faded.

We use the 12 mm line which has a breaking strain over 1000Kg, but care should be taken with this rope in that it can lose strength if subject to a shock load I understand. We never tow our dinghy any distance and then only in reasonably flat water, so this is strong enough for us

We use a nylon thimble to minimise chafe where the rope attaches to the dinghy. .And whether this rope would be buoyant enough to not be dragged under by hard astern engine thrust we have yet to test…!

This is what we buy:

https://www.actionoutdoors.kiwi/epages/shop.sf/?Locale=en_NZ&ObjectPath=/Shops/ActionFishing/Products/YP-Float-Rope&ViewAction=ViewProductViaPortal&cmp_id=1034294347&adg_id=107464844786&kwd=&device=c&gclid=CjwKCAjwpqCZBhAbEiwAa7pXeU0_j2neLr-OGpAllKF7rv7B5wtF7zuxyAfWSZnHCCE75405ErzSuhoC9I0QAvD_BwE

Rob Gill

Hi John,

Full story, we used 10 mm initially but found it harder to handle if there was any load on the line and knots slightly harder to undo. Second time around, we found 12 mm available and it nicer to use for this application. WestMarine appear to sell 1/2 inch braided poly line – strange what difference just a few mms make.

Agree on the three strand stuff – hate how it quickly breaks down in the UV to shred micro plastics.