Dinghies for the cruiser
I have had quite a few dinghies over the years and this is an appraisal of the merits of different types.
The dinghy is a 'Jack of all trades' boat. It will be needed to ferry the crew from yacht to shore. Carry stores or water casks when loading. Be suitable to lay out anchors in emergencies. Perhaps be a sailing 'toy' when visitors come to stay. We have even pushed the 16 tons of a loaded Ti Gitu into harbour when our engine failed and that was with only a 4hp outboard. In the light winds - at about half throttle - the dinghy easily pushed Ti Gitu at 2 knots. All these things need to be thought about when deciding on the type that suits you.
General wood and plywood dinghies can be light - inexpensive - easy to repair - have a sailing rig as well as an outboard - can row well. They will tend to suffer damage fairly easily against walls and when being dragged up a beach.
Flexible plastic such as the popular Walker Bay can be reasonably light - can have a sailing rig as well as an outboard - can row well. They are generally more expensive than a plywood dinghy. They stand damage well. Repairs will be difficult but generally unnecessary. Some which are double skinned are unsinkable but these are heavy.
GRP types are generally a little heavier than many others. It totally depends on the type of manufacture as to the cost. They can have a sailing rig as well as an outboard - can row well - will stand damage better than wood - are reasonably easy to repair. There will tend to be more maintenance needed such as painting and varnishing.
Inflatable's are probably the most popular and there are many types to choose from. The prices range from fairly inexpensive to very expensive, however, they follow the rule that you get what you pay for. The less expensive are made from PVC and the top of the range versions from hyaline. They come in many forms from the simplest to expensive RIB's. A RIB has an inflatable outside with a rigid floor. Some take small outboards and some RIB's will take powerful motors, some even having the engine built in.
Inflatable's can be very light and when deflated stow in small spaces. They are generally very stable with many allowing a hefty chap to stand on one side in safety. Rowing them is generally difficult and slow. Very few can have sailing rigs and those that I tried - sailed like a brick with a sea anchor. There is one that it is claimed can be used as a life raft but having owned one we quickly sold it.
Inflatable's can be easily damaged against anything sharp and extra care is needed. The solid floor of a RIB is good for protection on rough beaches but will need wheels as they tend to be heavy. When alongside the yacht little or no fendering is needed.
We have owned all the above types and only changed from a Walker Bay as we needed the extra stability of an inflatable. We currently have a Zodiac which is a PVC RIB and is now 10 years old. We have holed it and it is suffering from some UV degradation but being a good make has stood the test of time well. We do think that our current dinghy is the most suitable and the only draw back is that it is rather heavy to drag up a beach even with wheels on the back.
Protecting PVC from sunlight.
PVC will not stand sunlight as well as hypalon and many cruisers have covers made for the tubes of their inflatable's to protect them from the suns UV light. These covers are difficult to make, difficult to fit and expensive.
Despite having the material to make our inflatable a cover we never go round to it and after ten years it began to show signs of UV damage. I did some research and found that there is PVC paint. This is used to paint the sides of flexible sided trucks and is also sold in small quantities for painting inflatable dinghies.
I purchased some of this and have been impressed with the coverage. I have painted the tops of the tubes on our dinghy and if purchasing another PVC dinghy would protect it from new with a coat of this paint.
On Ti Gitu we also have Vetus flexible PVC dorade ventilators which were showing UV degradation, so I cleaned these with a scouring pad and painted them with the PVC paint. They now look like new and are protected from the sun light.