Let's Talk About Dinghies: Do You Need One? Should It Be Registered?

Are boat dighys required by law and do they have to be licensed

Owning a dinghy can be a great boon for all kinds of waterborne activities. Whether you're looking to do a bit of island-hopping or just searching out those niche fishing spots. Do you really need a dinghy? What kind of dinghy should you buy? Most importantly, does a dinghy need to be registered separately from your boat? There is really no downside to owning a dinghy aside from a bit of extra cost.

Today we will dive into the world of these handy little boats and talk about the different types of dinghy available to you, the pros and cons of those types, and we'll wrap it all up with a nice bow consisting of all the legal mumbo-jumbo that you need to keep yourself from having to deal with an exorbitant fine. There's nothing quite like playing with your dinghy! So let's get started!

Let's Talk About Dingies: Do You Need One? Should It Be Registered? race dinghy

Types of Dinghies

We could write for days on the types of dinghies. Some are sailed with removable masts, other feature oars for rowing, while others still might use an outboard motor to get where they're going. That's to say nothing of the construction. You've got solid boats comprised entirely of wood, composite, fiberglass, or aluminum. There are also dinghies that feature inflatable construction.

We'll start out with the dinghy I recommend over all others, the rigid bottom inflatable boat or RIB. While the bottom is rigid the sides are inflatable and this means (if you must) you can deflate the RIB dinghy in order to store it more easily. Your boat and dinghy will be working closely in tandem, so another bonus of an inflatable boat comes with collision. Colliding with your main vessel in an inflatable dinghy won't leave a ding!

If space isn't a factor for you, then you can take your pick of solid dinghies. Composite, fiberglass, and aluminum are all find choices but I'd suggest staying away from wood as they degrade much quicker than their counterparts. It should also be noted that some people (such as your humble author) might have an allergic reaction to fiberglass. Being stuck in an 8 foot boat with someone suffering from hives is no way to go. Composite is what I'd recommend if you insist on a solid hull.

Let's Talk About Dingies: Do You Need One? Should It Be Registered? solid dinghy

Pros and Cons of a Dinghy

So what is so amazing about a RIB that I'd recommend it above all others? Surely the inflatable tubes will degrade quicker that a wooden boat does? You'd be absolutely right about that. They'll last around 15 years and can cost a mint to purchase, but there is nothing quite like an inflatable dinghy. They're stable, almost unsinkable, extremely light, can be deflated for storage, have a built-in marine fender, built-in seating. There is a whole lot to love about a RIB dinghy!

Some of the things not to love would be the absolute disdain that RIBs have for barnacles and oyster shells. After pulling your dinghy out of the water it'd be wise to give is a quick scrub with a boat soap concentrate. For less messy situations you can easily perform a fast cleanup with boat cleaner wipes. They also contain a UV protectant which can make the rubber hull resist UV breakdown and last that much longer.

Nothing can put a hole in your fun quicker than having a hole in your dinghy. I've had a fair number of (literal) scrapes that didn't result in any serious damage, but it really gets your heart racing! Scrambling out of the dinghy to inspect it for punctures? Not exactly a fun time, but you won't find that kind of excitement anywhere else!

Let's Talk About Dingies: Do You Need One? Should It Be Registered? towed dinghy

Do I Need To Register My Dinghy?

Short answer: "Probably so." Longer answer: "Probably so. Ensure that you check your state's laws before you go tooling about in an unregistered dinghy." Let us have a look at the two states that I know best, California and Florida.

The following vessels do not have to be registered in California:

  • Vessels propelled solely by oars or paddles.
  • Nonmotorized sailboats that are eight feet or less in length.
  • Nonmotorized surfboards propelled by a sail and with a mast that the operator must hold upright.
  • A ship's lifeboat (a dinghy is not a lifeboat).
  • Vessels currently and lawfully numbered (registered) by another state that are principally used outside California.
  • Vessels brought into California for racing purposes only (exempted only during races and tune-ups).

So it seems like if I purchase a dinghy under 8 feet and don't include a sail or outboard motor I won't need to register. You won't be going anywhere very fast simply paddling but if you're really trying to avoid registration for some reason, there's your loophole. Now how about Florida?

Let's Talk About Dingies: Do You Need One? Should It Be Registered? towing dinghy

The following vessels do not have to be registered in Florida:

  • Vessels operated, used and stored exclusively on private lakes and ponds.
  • Vessels owned by the U.S. Government, the State of Florida or its political subdivisions.
  • Non-motor-powered vessels less than 16 feet in length.
  • Federally documented vessels.
  • A vessel already covered by a registration number in full force and effect which was awarded to it pursuant to a federally approved numbering system of another state or by the United States Coast Guard in a state without a federally approved numbering system, if the vessel is not located in this state for a period of more than 90 consecutive days.
  • Vessels from a country other than the United States temporarily used, operated or stored on the waters of this state for a period that is not more than 90 days.
  • Amphibious vessels which have been issued a vehicle title by FLHSMV.
  • Vessels used only for demonstration, testing or sales promotional purposes by a manufacturer or dealer.

Hey! You can have up to a 16 foot dinghy in Flordia, but it still can't be motorized unless you're using and storing it exclusively on a private lake or pond. Knowing the law is almost the entire battle. If you have any doubts about whether or not you should register your dinghy it would probably be wise to just try and do it, especially if you're using an outboard motor or sail to propel it.

For your main vessel you'll definitely need a lot of boat identification.