Today’s yacht tenders are bigger, faster, and loaded with extra features. If you find yourself using your tender less than you had originally planned because the hassle often involved in launching, you should consider the new, innovative systems that make launch and retrieval so much simpler. Most yachts have one or more locations for stowing a tender: on the swim platform, hanging from the transom, on the aft trunk cabin, on the aft deck roof, in a stern garage and on the foredeck. There are pros and cons to each. Keeping your tender on an aft deck roof keeps it out of the way. It doesn’t usually interfere with your vision, and it doesn’t present an obstacle on your transom or swim platform. The downside to this location is that it can be difficult to launch your tender in a rough anchorage. The height exaggerates the boat’s motion, and a 300- to 500-pound tender can be a lethal weapon when tethered to the end of a swinging, gyrating boom. Some yachts can store a tender on their aft cabin. This is an ideal setup, because it doesn’t create the height problems of a roof installation. While a simple, manual boom and tackle system can be used for lowering and raising a lightweight tender, heavy RIBs, and 4-stroke outboards require mechanized davits.
Large cruisers and sportfish convertibles have a spacious foredeck that is ideal for a tender and davit because the flying bridge helm provides unobstructed sightlines. The exposure to wind and the possibility of boarding seas, of course, require extra precaution in securing and protecting the tender. Small to midsize yachts, however, are limited to transom or swim platform installations. A traditional approach is to install davits on the transom, which incorporate pulleys or electric winches. This is a safe place to stow a tender, but you’ll have a large object hanging off your stern, just begging to get hung up on a piling. An alternative choice is to stow your dinghy on your swim platform, and there have been several new, creative approaches to how this can be done some very simple and some very sophisticated. The simplest davit system starts with a traditional load-bearing pipe installed through the deck and attached to a structural part of the boat. The davit slips into the pipe, which has a bearing allowing for rotation. Attached to the davit is a manual or electric winch with a cable and hook. The system is relatively inexpensive, and it’s adequate for a light dinghy.
Most modern tenders, however, weigh 300 pounds or more. Launching and retrieving them requires a lot of mechanical advantage. A motorized crane, or davit, will be able to lift and swing the tender clear of the boat’s hull. Notable advancements have been made in their design, making them much easier and safer to operate. New, low profile designs have also made them less obtrusive looking. Manufacturers such as MarQuipt, Steelhead, and Nautical Structures, have a wide range of units to choose from. A good rule is to pick a unit with twice the capacity you currently need. This gives you an added safety factor and allows for a future upgrade of your tender and motor. Determine the required height and reach to get your dinghy up and over lifelines, rails, or deck boxes, and to get well beyond the sides of your vessel. Also, consider its location relative to your tender. If you install the davit on the port side of your vessel, that may prevent you from launching your dinghy on the starboard side – a possible inconvenience when in a marina. If possible, consider a centerline location. Today, the better, smoother-operating cranes are electric/hydraulic driven. Some are telescopic, allowing you to shorten the boom when not in use to save deck space. Luffing action, or the raising or lowering of the boom angle, is hydraulically controlled on the more luxurious units and manually adjusted with lock pins on the less expensive units. To have more control over your dinghy, you’ll want a handheld controller, which allows you to move about the boat while you’re operating the system.
Traditional transom davits, popular on sailboats, also work very well on many powerboats. Most systems are permanently mounted, but others, such as those made by St. Croix, can be removed when not needed. It’s important to have your tender selected before installing the davits, as the lifting lines should be located directly over the tender’s lift rings, which often means the davits will be off-center. The davit bases must be secured to load-bearing surfaces with beefy backing plates. Transom davits are either stainless steel or painted aluminum and are fitted with a line and pulley system. Among the popular brands are St. Croix, Kato, and Atkins & Hoyle. Besides fixed-position systems, companies like Olsson and Ocean Marine Systems offer fork systems with hinged bases that mount on the forward side of the swim platform where it meets the transom. A manual or electric winch lowers the entire unit for attaching to the dinghy’s lift rings. The fork is then raised to a secure, locked position against the transom. If you plan to stow your tender and motor on your swim platform, you’ll have several options, some of which are quite innovative. One tried-and-true method is the Weaver Snap Davit System, which works well for relatively light dinghies with small outboards that can be removed and stowed separately. A clever system from Dinghy Dumper is designed for tender packages weighing up to 400 pounds. Utilizing Weaver brackets, a stainless steel winch tower, and a pivoting outboard motor bracket, you simply crank away¡Xraising the tender on its side while the motor pivots, staying in an upright position. A similar but more robust system is available from Sea Wise. The system features heavy-duty brackets that attach to the tender’s rigid hull and clip onto swim platform brackets. A stainless steel winch tower and pivoting outboard motor bracket complete the basic system¡Xall well-thought-out and ruggedly built. For tenders weighing less than 450 pounds, Sea Wise offers a hand-cranked winch with a 25:1 ratio. If you use your boat for fishing, a removable winch tower and brackets are available as options. For tenders weighing up to 850 pounds, the company offers a hydraulic winch system that makes launching as easy as pressing a button. An advantage of the Sea Wise system is that the tender’s rigid hull, not its pontoons, supports the weight of the launch and motor. So, if your inflatable tender becomes partially deflated, it will still work. Many modern yachts have extra wide swim platforms, which allow a tender to be stowed in its natural, horizontal position. You can choose manual systems like the ones offered by Ocean Marine Systems and St. Croix, or you can enjoy the luxury of a hydraulically operated, mechanized lift by companies like Sea Lift, Freedom Lift, and TNT. Ocean Marine offers two manual systems, one a tilt cradle and the other, a roll-on system. The tilt cradle is fine for smaller, lightweight dinghies up to 250 pounds, whereas the roll-on handles tenders up to 750 pounds. Essentially stainless steel cradles that you lift or roll your dinghy onto, they offer low cost solutions. St. Croix offers similar systems. One of the most attractive and easiest systems to use is by Sea Lift. This hydraulic lift is installed under your existing swim platform and can lift 800 pounds. To retrieve your tender from the water, just center it over the cradle’s submerged chocks, and the unit lifts it over the platform and then rolls it forward where it locks in place. A safety feature allows the unit to be manually lifted in case of hydraulic or electrical failure. Its low profile makes it look like the boat’s original design, not an ugly afterthought. TNT manufactures the hydraulic Dinghy Lift, which replaces your boat’s original swim platform with a specially made one. The entire platform, with your tender sitting in a cradle, submerges at the touch of a button. It just doesn’t get much easier than this, but be prepared to spend some serious money. The custom fabrication of the platform and heavy-duty, anti-corrosive hydraulic mechanism is a major investment. If you find yourself hesitating before launching your tender because it’s too much trouble, take a close look at these systems. You’ll reduce the risk of injuring yourself or damaging your yacht’s topsides, and you’ll enjoy using your tender to explore the extended reaches of your anchorage.