Launching and Retrieving the Dinghy


We have had several questions about our booms and how we launch and retrieve dinghies so we’ve done a photo series on the process.

We consider this to be one of the most dangerous things we do while cruising. The dink is heavy – 700 pounds/340kg – and there is an electric winch involved. So care in the use and maintenance of the system is required.

The process which follows has evolved over the years and in reality takes less time to accomplish than to read about. It is very simple in a calm anchorage, working at deck level, with high life lines at the deck edge.


We use a three to one tackle for lifting, as described previously. This reduces the load on the winch drum and makes easing the halyard out go more smoothly.


To control their position the booms have permanently rigged fore and afterguys. When we are underway, or coming into port, the booms are positioned inboard. The halyards are always attached to the dinghies when they are on deck. When at sea and running with the wind we rotate the booms outboard for increased polar moments and windage (leaving halyards attached).


Both guys are controlled with rope clutches, sailboat style. To launch the foreguy clutch is opened and allowed to run free. These clutches are quicker to use than cleats.


The afterguy is eased about four feet (120cm). This lets the boom angle outboard once the dink is hoisted, but prevents the boom from running out too far.


Four full wraps of halyard are used on the drum of the self tailing winch.


The control for the winch is on this remote, with a 16 foot (5m) cable. Before hoisting we double check that:

  • All dinghy tie downs are free.
  • The dinghy painter end is secure.
  • The halyard block is not twisted.
  • The pin in the snap shackle is fully engaged.
  • Halyard is flaked and ready to ease.
  • All blocks in the halyard system are correctly aligned.

When the winch is in use we both keep an ear tuned to it and an eye on the dink and halyard rigging. The winch is so powerful that if something were amiss it would continue to pull until it broke whatever was causing the difficulty. In four years and hundreds of dinghy launch cycles we have yet to have a problem, but we try and remain alert to the risks.


One of us runs the winch and the other guides the dink outboard once it has been hoisted over the lifelines. Note the position of the bridle and blocks. The person controlling the winch has to be mindful not to hoist too far.


As the weight of the dink moves outboard Wind Horse assumes a slight heel to port. The boom responds by angling out to the extent allowed by the afterguy, with the dink just clear of the lifelines.


A single wrap is then removed from the winch (leaving three), using one hand as a brake on the remaining wraps (there is a rope clutch on the halyard which can also be used for this).


The dinghy is guided by one of us while the other eases the halyard.


Once the dinghy fenders are even with the lifelines guiding is no longer required. Note in all of the photos with the dink outboard, how the afterguy is tight from the slight heel, while the foreguy is loose.


With the dink afloat (and the painter attached!) we pull the snap shackle pin to free the dink. The dink is then trailed aft and we board from the swim platform.

Hoisting back onboard is essentially the reverse of this process. The dinghy lifting sling is always attached and ready to go. It is typically left on the steering wheel, where it can be reached by bending over the life lines.

The process to launch the dink, starting with untying the boat, typically takes three minutes. Rehoisting is the same, plus another three to five minutes to secure the dinghy if we are heading to sea.

Because this process is so quick and easy, we typically hoist the dink on deck each night. This provides security for the dink, reduces corrosion on the outboard, and has us ready to depart should weather warrant a hasty exit.

Handling the dinghy in a bouncy anchorage is a totally different story, especially if you are short handed. Because we are working at deck level motion is reduced (compared to what you find if the dink is stowed on an elevated platform). But if the boat is rolling, and there are just two of you, coordination – which comes with practice – is essential. The heavier the dinghy, the harder the job. We’ve lived with our dink over the last four years and we would not want to handle much more weight in a rolling anchorage. But if you add a third person, then the fore and after guys can be used to control the boom (the extra set of hands operates the guys) and the rough water process becomes a lot easier.

The rowing dink weighs about 125 pounds (55kg) and is easy for a one of us to launch and retrieve on a single point halyard.

Posted by Steve Dashew  (June 7, 2009)

5 Responses to “Launching and Retrieving the Dinghy”

  1. David Snow Says:

    You certainly make this look like an easy, safe and well thought-out process.

    One of the most entertaining and dangerous events in the harbor is watching people launch their dinghies from the top level of a modern trawler even with multiple electric winches. Of course, some of these same people make anchoring very exciting as well ;=}

  2. Bill Henry Says:

    Steve and Linda,
    Would it not be possible to provide a snatch block just athwartships of the winch through which the foreguy would pass,to be snuged by the winch operator once the dink is swung out? The foreguy rope clutch would have to be closed to ensure the pole stayed at 90 degrees to the hull centerline. In a rough anchorage,this would preclude the boom from movement.

  3. Steve Dashew Says:

    Hi Bill:
    There are rope clutches on both fore and afterguys, and the boom is always loaded by heel to keep the dink outboard. It is when we are swinging the dink back inboard after hoisting that the problem can occur. If the boat rolls to starboard and the boom/dink is ready to drop, it is hard to restrain the momentum.
    However, your comment triggered an idea and today we experimented with a short tackle off the sternof the dink to one of our tie dowd eyes, which I tensioned as Linda lowered the dink. A pair of these (like catamaran main sheets) at bow and stern would keep the dink under control. This would be slow, but for that once or twice a year situation worth having.

  4. Roger Arrowood Says:

    When you retrieve your dink, how/when do you attach the bridle to the 3-part tackle? Do you attach the bridle while at swim platform and then pull in all that line from the 3-part tackle or do you attach the bridle with the dinghy alongside and climb up onto Wind Horse with the dinghy alongside or is the bridle long enough to attach to the 3-part from aboard?

  5. Steve Dashew Says:

    The dink bridle is left on the platform to which the steering wheel is attached (we steer standing up). We can lean over the lifelines and reach the bridle ring with the snap shackle. So, if the outboard is tilted up already, we bring the dink alongside and hook up. If the outboard is down, then I board the dink, walk it alongside, tilt the outboard, and hook up from dink level.