A Lowdown on Different Types of Sailing Dinghy

It’s likely you already know a thing or two about dinghy sailing, but if you’re new to the sport, we’ll give you some background. A dinghy is a small open boat with a sail that utilises the wind to move through the water.

There are several different types of sailing dinghy. Some are ideal for racing on open seas, while others are better suited for learning or a relaxed sail on inland water, such as reservoirs. To help you decide what sailing dinghy is best for you, we’ve created a lowdown on the different sailing dinghy types.

Table of contents

1. High-performance dinghies

2. Racing dinghies

3. Cruising dinghies

4. Cruiser-racer dinghies

5. Classic dinghies

1. High-performance dinghies

High-performance dinghies are powerful, fast-moving, and they make everything look effortless. That’s why they’re used for sailing at esteemed regattas all over the world.

What makes them so unique? Well, they usually have a spinnaker – a sail designed for sailing upwind – which enables them to glide through the water, even upwind, at such a high speed. On top of this, they have a trapeze wire to hang the crew weight outside of the boat rail, so the crew has more leverage to balance the wind’s force in the sails. As a result, the boat can plane with ease when the hull comes out of the water to reduce drag.

Here are some examples of high-performance dinghies:

  • The Fireball is an international sailing dinghy. Although its name sounds intimidating, it looks friendly and fun enough to use by any competent sailor and in any wind strength. It’s a beauty.
  • The International 505 is a high-performance two-person monohull planing dinghy has been raced in over 18 countries on five continents for a reason. It’s fast, fun and exhilarating, and easy to control in strong winds and high waves.
  • The Thistle is a high-performance dinghy in one design that is commonly sailed with a three-person crew. The boat planes effortlessly in 10-12 knots of wind but will glide in the light wind too.

2. Racing dinghies

Do you have a 'need for speed'? If so, a racing dinghy is for you. You won’t be surprised to learn that racing dinghies are built for competitive racing. They’re usually very light and shaped for best speed on the water – planing is at the forefront of their design.

However, not all racing dinghies guarantee the same level of performance as high-performance sailing dinghies. When it comes to dinghy racing, the crew and manoeuvres are as important as (if not more important than) the dinghy itself. Most racing dinghies need two or more people to sail the boat. The skipper usually handles steering and the mainsail while the crew tend to the jib and spinnaker and ensure the boat remains balanced. The crew needs to respond promptly to any changes in the wind, and they’ll usually get very wet for a fair few hours.

One of the most popular classes of racing dinghy is the Snipe. According to Snipe's slogan, it's 'serious Sailing, serious fun'. It’s relatively easy to get the hang of, and it adapts well to varying weather conditions. Others include The International 14 and one of the older international classes, The Enterprise.

3. Cruising dinghies

A cruising dinghy is designed for a leisurely sail, on a coast or lake, and for sailors learning the ropes. Adventure is at the heart of dinghy cruising – you don't need a big yacht to explore new waters.

Cruising dinghies are less expensive than other dinghies, and they're smaller so they can explore uncharted bays and rivers, plus you can go on long trips. You can even spend several days living aboard if you want to. They're built to stow your equipment on board and to keep the crew dry on their voyage.

In addition, they have a less rounded hull than other dinghies, so more of the boat is on the water, making it more stable. Their sails are also smaller than other types of dinghies, which makes them easier to handle.

Wayfarers are perhaps the most popular cruising dinghies. Usually made of wood or fibreglass, they’re long and deep enough to fit three adults comfortably for quite a few hours, so sailing schools tend to use them. Others include the CL 16 and the widely-held Drascombe.  

4. Cruiser-racer dinghies

Fancy exploring the Italian coast one week and racing in the Abersoch Regatta the next? A cruiser-racer dinghy can make this happen. Cruiser-racer dinghies offer optimal racing performance, but not at the expense of stability for cruising.

To win a race, you’re better placed to sail a dinghy that’s built for that purpose – a racing dinghy –but you have to compromise if you want a multi-purpose boat.

The GP14, however, is a rare example of a cruiser-racer dinghy that can excel in a race and provide a relaxing cruise. It was initially intended to be a comfortable dinghy for a family of parents and two children to enjoy.  Now, it's one of the UK's most popular sailing dinghies for close, competitive tactical fleet racing. Another favoured cruiser-racer dinghy is the Heron.  

5. Classic dinghies

A classic sailing dinghy is like a classic car. So, instead of being wowed by her sailing performance, you’re taken aback by her beauty. You can expect other sailors to longingly look at your boat when you pull into the harbour.

Classic dinghies were old wooden boats restored in the 1970s. But, to confuse people, they don't even have to be old nowadays. Instead, modern classic dinghies are either wood with modern trimmings or made from fibreglass with some wood - still to achieve the 'classic look'. A hull made of fibreglass not only makes maintenance easier, but people argue it's more robust and won’t corrode as wood does. (Though, some classic dinghy owners disagree, so we'll leave you to make your own judgement).

For their owners, sailing a classic dinghy is about the history and craftsmanship of the boat. And sailing so close to the water on a simple open boat to isolated bays cannot be beaten.

The Minto is a classic sailing dinghy which has been in production since the 1960s and continues to be of the most distinguishable classic dinghies. Another popular classic dinghy is the versatile Mirror, named after the UK Newspaper the Daily Mirror. Over 70,000 versions of this model have been built, and with good reason - although she’s a classic dinghy, she has raced competitively worldwide.  

Specialist sailing dinghy insurance from Ripe Boats

Once you’ve decided which type of sailing dinghy is best suited to you, it’s vital you protect it with the right insurance cover.

Our specialist sailing dinghy insurance protects your dinghy against theft, accidental damage, malicious damage and salvage charges. Get a quote and create your own policy in just a few minutes.

Please note the information provided on this page should not be taken as advice and has been written as a matter of opinion. For more on insurance cover and policy wording, see our homepage.

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