Dinghy meaning and Different Sailing Dinghy Types

Sailing dinghy types come in all shapes and sizes, with the first-ever Water Wag designed by Thomas Middleton in 1887. Though dinghy meaning has become somewhat generalised over time, often confounded with the small inflatable rafts used for white water rafting and kayaking, sailing dinghies are still commonly used today.

To help clear any confusion, we've created a guide to explain the various types of sailing dinghies floating around so you can show off your boating knowledge to your friends or perhaps decide which type of sailing dinghy is best for you!

High-performance Dinghies  

It's easy to see where high-performance dinghies get their name from - they're fast, robust rafts that can glide effortlessly through the water, especially upwind. That's because high-performance sailing dinghies often come equipped with a crucial bit of apparatus - the symmetrical spinnaker, a large three-cornered sail explicitly designed for sailing against the wind. This factor makes high-performance dinghies ideal for cruising around an Olympic triangle in National and World sailing competitions and regattas.  

Another integral part of a high-performance dinghy includes a trapeze, a wire attached to the sailboat's mast. The trapeze is used to support the helmsman or member of the crew whilst they suspend over the side of the boat to gain more leverage to offset the force of the wind against the sails. It’s important to note that not all high-performance dinghies are two-handed boats; some high-performance single-handed boats such as the International Contender and RS600 are equipped with a trapeze but not a spinnaker.  

Some of the most famous high-performance dinghies include the International Flying Dutchman, the International 505, the Fireball, 29'er and 49'er.

Racing dinghies

As you might expect, a racing dinghy is designed with competitive racing in mind. Racing dinghies are shaped for speed and agility, with a flat bottom that makes it easy to plane across the waters.

Most racing dinghies fall into one of two categories: single-handed (one person only) such as Lasers, RS Vareos or double-handed, such as the 470, 505, Heron, Tasar, RS200, RS400, International Fireball, or International Fourteen. Double-handed boats can even carry more than two crew members while racing, though this is usually the case with heavier day boats. The skipper is responsible for the mainsail for these vessels, while other crew members handle the jib and spinnaker.

Cruising Dinghies  

As the name implies, cruising dinghies are designed for a relaxed sailing experience across the coast. They are popular amongst sailing newbies due to their slower-paced nature and inexpensive price tag. A cruising dinghy is distinctive in that it’s small in size and much easier to handle than other types of sailboats from this list. For starters, its sails are smaller, which gives it a much steadier and smoother cruising experience. These dinghies also have a less rounded hull and more significant displacement, which provides the boat with more stability and buoyancy.

A cruising dinghy is ideal for family sailing trips and leisure excursions, as you’ll find that many of these dinghy types are designed for camping aboard and longer passage-making. Inland and on the coast, the Wayfarer is one of the most popular dinghies for cruising. It can also be used as a training boat, or it can be raced with a spinnaker.

Cruiser-racer Dinghies

A cruiser-racer is a dual-purpose boat that you can race competitively and use for cruising, making it an excellent vessel for beginners with a taste for adventure. Aside from its superb racing performance, it also has excellent stability and is a capable cruising dinghy. Cruiser-racers typically tend to be fitted with quality deck gear that gives more control over sail shape, allowing sailors to adjust speed according to the wind.  

When on the water, the Wayfarer Cruiser is a superior boat for cruising, partly due to its size. On the other hand, a GP14 is the ideal boat for racing and enjoys the fleet enjoys a competitive international, national, and regional racing circuit.  

Classic Dinghies

Everybody loves a classic, and dinghies are no exception. Although most of the other dinghies on this list focus on design for sailing performance, classic dinghies emphasise beauty and craftsmanship. Traditionally, classic dinghies are wood and typically used as yacht tenders or shore boats.

In contrast, modern classic boats are typically made of fibreglass. In addition to making maintenance more effortless, fibreglass hulls are considered sturdier and less likely to rust, unlike wood. Examples of classic sailing dinghies are Mirror, Firefly and older Merlin Rockets.


Unlike typical dinghies, multihulls are fast twin or three-hulled boats requiring slightly different sailing techniques than dinghies with single hulls. With its high aspect ratio rig, thin hulls, and battened sails, multi-hulled dinghies produce less drag and give it a tremendous speed advantage over traditional dinghies. As a result, dinghy-sized multihulls are sometimes called Beach Catamarans or Beach Trimarans. Some examples of these are Hobie Cats, Dart15, Dart 18, Hurricanes and Tornados.

Do any of these sailing dinghies float your boat? Ensure you protect it against theft and damage with Dinghy Insurance. So even if you find your boat in some deep water, we’ll be on hand to offer you a life raft!


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