The future of tenders?

Our tender (dinghy) is one of our most essential pieces of equipment. It gets us on and off the boat and to and from shore so we can provision, transport passengers and crew, visit our neighbors and explore our local area. It helps with boat maintenance and difficult anchor sets and getting on and off a mooring in complicated situations. Our previous tenders have all been rigid inflatables (RIBs) and our most recent tender on Wildling was a Highfield with an aluminum bottom to reduce weight compared to the more common fiberglass bottom RIBs. As robust and useful as RIBs are, they have quite a few negatives.

What I disliked about our RIB tenders

  1. They add weight to the main boat – RIBs are heavy! This is a big issue for a performance catamaran. Not so bad on a 5X that can handle some extra weight, but a much bigger concern on our 4X. Even on Wildling, you could see the stern load up and the motion of the boat change when we hoisted the tender up onto the davits. And because of the davit mounting location, the weight of the tender is placed at the end of the boat which increases the pitching motion. The Highfield 380 (3.8 meters long) on Wildling weighed 82 kg plus another 60 kg for the 20 hp Honda outboard with electric start and battery. Add the extra weight for fuel and that’s about 150 kg (330 lbs) hanging off the end of the boat!
  2. Raising and lowering a heavy tender is a chore – Lifting 150 kg up and down off the davits required an elaborate pulley system and was quite a workout with the manual winch. We had a setup on Wildling that allowed us to use the electric winch, which was much better but it does use some of our valuable battery power.
  3. They are difficult to move around on shore – The heavy weight of a RIB and outboard engine becomes a problem on shore when the tender has to be moved around to deal with tide changes. This can be very challenging for two people and nearly impossible alone.
  4. They are wet – The inflatable tubes provide buoyancy, but they also smack into waves when underway, causing a lot of spray onto the passengers and into the boat.
  5. They leak – Inflatable tenders don’t stay inflated. You have to pump air into them periodically. Not a huge problem, but still something that has to be monitored.
  6. Their rowing system is a joke – Flimsy plastic oars and rowlocks that are barely usable make it hard to rely on a RIB in the case of an engine outage

What to do on our 4X?

We could get away with a 3.8 meter RIB on our 5X, but the 4X is smaller and more weight sensitive, so I really wanted to find another option. The standard solution to reducing tender weight is to get a smaller tender. The problem with that, is that to get the weight down to a decent level, it would be so small that our essential tender would lose a lot of its usefulness, so this approach is not very appealing.

A good practical length for a tender for our needs is about 3.2-3.4 meters. If we went with a Highfield RIB in that size range it would still weigh 70 kg, plus the recommended 15hp outboard weighs 50 kg so we’re at 130 kg (286 lbs) with gas. Still very heavy! Lucky for us there is another option!

The next generation of tenders

There is a company in New Zealand that is solving this problem by reinventing the cruising yacht tender. The founders are long time cruisers who used the standard RIB tenders and decided there had to be a better way. They started their company, Offshore Cruising Tenders to solve the problems that I listed above.

Puffin’s tender is made from carbon fiber and weighs only 39 kg

OC Tenders are all rigid with an integrated foam cushion fender to protect the main boat and the tender from contact damage. They have a very stable bottom profile so they don’t tip or roll when getting in and out, their rigid sides keep water out of the boat and passengers dry, they use full size, strong wooden oars and are easy to row, and they are much lighter than the equivalent sized RIB. Another great benefit, is that their hull design and light weight allows them to be powered by a much smaller outboard than the same size RIB, but still have room for all the passengers and gear that a RIB can carry.

I contacted the nice folks at OC Tenders, and we discussed a tender design for Puffin. We selected their OC330 model (3.3 meters long) and chose the all carbon fiber option to make it even lighter. Our tender will weigh 39 kg, so almost half the weight of an equivalent sized RIB. We have decided to use a Torqeedo electric outboard on our OC Tender. The Torqeedo weighs around 17 kg including the lithium battery, so our total tender weight on Puffin is 56 kg (125 lbs).

The electric outboard will not give us the same speed and range as a traditional gas powered outboard, but after thinking through how we use our tender, we think it’s worth a try to see if the Torqeedo will meet our needs. We can always replace it with a 5 or 8 hp 4-stroke outboard if we find the Torqeedo is too limiting.

Because we are right next door to the OC Tenders factory in New Zealand (so to speak) we decided to have Puffin’s tender shipped directly to us in Brisbane where we can keep it at our house until Puffin arrives.

Our tender arrived in perfect condition after a quick cargo ship ride across the Tasman Sea

I arranged for the tender to be delivered to the RQYS Marina in Brisbane so we could unload it from the truck and onto my trailer with a forklift  before taking it home.

The standard OC Tender spec is very complete, but they also have some options available when ordering a new tender.

Here’s what we chose:

  • All carbon fiber construction
  • A telescoping boarding ladder to get into the tender when swimming or snorkeling
  • Two fishing rod holders in the stern. These can also be used as a mounting  location for a stern nav light for night runs back to the boat after dinner
  • Inflatable, retractable wheels that make it very easy to move the boat around on shore. Very important when dealing with our large tides in Australia!

Our new tender is beautifully made and arrived in perfect condition! We can’t wait to start using it when Puffin arrives in a few months.

6 Comments on “The future of tenders?

  1. Doug. Just wanted to say thank you for sharing your recent and older posts. Very interesting and informative. I always look forward to receiving your email updates.


  2. Doug your articles are very well researched and written. I’m sure both new and experienced multihull sailors gain a lot from them. I would like to add another little benefit of owning an off shore cruising tender.
    When you join the other cruisers on the beach for happy hour the tender will sit level and the side decks will make an excellent flat surface for drinks and snacks. Pull out the 2 foam seats and life is bliss!!


  3. Excellent… someone who cares about weight saving and minimalism. Great practical solution. I was toying with the idea of going even more basic with some sort of sit upon kayak.


  4. Hi,

    very interesting, my only comment is you did not say anything about difference in cost to a traditional tender


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