What is a dinghy? Officially, according to the dictionary, a dinghy is ‘any small boat designed as a tender or lifeboat, especially a small ship’s boat, rowed, sailed, or driven by a motor.’ A ‘tender’, by the way, is a small craft that ‘tends’ a larger one, that is, used for beer runs, for instance.
That is a fine definition as far as it goes, but dinghies come in all different styles, shapes and colors and that definition has expanded over the years to include most any type of small boat. There are big ones, little ones, hard-sided, inflatables, semi-rigid and hard shell, just to name a few. When the ‘mother ship’ or yacht finds itself close to water too shallow to fully maneuver in, it’s the dinghy that comes to the rescue for the commute to shore for supplies, to get on that little island over there for exploring, or just to do a little fishing away from the maddening crowd. The least expensive are inflatables, though high end inflatables can run into money if you’re not careful. The simplest inflatables are just little life raft looking things that are more easily stowed when they are deflated, but take a long time to inflate, don’t row well at all (ya just kinda pry them along through the water) as for sailing, fergit it.
Their performance can be improved somewhat by the addition of plywood floors that are slid into place and provide a good surface to walk on and increase the rigidity of the hull, but true inflatables are on the low end of the compromise scale.
The next step up is the semi-rigid inflatable. This type has a central rigid portion and provides a good keel for motoring and rowing.
The next step up from this is the rigid dinghy. These can be made of most any material that is rigid and can formed into a roughly boat shape appearance.
They are commonly made of fiberglass or plastic, marine plywood or if you want to get really fancy, wooden dinghies built in traditional fashion.
In any case, if the craft is to be used as a tender it needs to have some weight carrying capacity, as a dinghy is used not just for the aforementioned beer runs, but for transporting people and their gear, groceries and occasionally (hopefully very occasionally) used for carrying anchors out to deeper water so the grounded mother ships can be winched free.
Humans being what humans are, we tend to push whatever envelope there be (arrrrr), so dinghies are also used as vessels in themselves apart from the tending duties. Like any small boat they are used for fishing, day sailing and racing, either under power or under sail.
No matter what your dream of men, ships and the sea may be, a dinghy of some sort is usually not beyond the reach of those of modest means so some fun on the water may be had for a small modicum of money. Just be careful. Enthusiasm for things nautical is rampantly addictive so if you don’t watch out you may end up with the biggest little dinghy in the Navy.