When towing a dinghy there are a few important points to note for safe and low risk travel.
The best line to use for towing a dinghy is floating line – this prevents wrapping the dinghy painter around the prop, which can disable your boat and put you in serious danger. However, it is important to use a braided floating line – do not use a polypropelene line for towing your dinghy. This material is prone to UV degradation and will often slip out of a bowline or cleat figure eight.
To avoid the dinghy yawing back and forth the optimum painter length is between 25 and 50 feet. This will depend on how far back you tow the dinghy. The ideal towing position would be behind the boat’s wake. Alternatively, if you have an inflatable floor dinghy you can tow it very close to the boat so the bow of the dinghy actually rides on the transom of the boat. This allows the dinghy to act as part of the boat but is only possible for fully inflatable dinghies.
To connect the dinghy to the painter there are two options – the first is a pad eye in the bow in the rigid portion of the dinghy – if you have a RIB or rigid dinghy this works well. The pad eye should be through bolted in the fiberglass or aluminum and be about 6 inches above the waterline.
For a fully inflatable boat a bridle is best meaning an attachment on either side of the dinghy at the bow allowing the towing weight to be spread across two points.
When the weather gets rough having your dinghy properly secured is very important and you must not only consider the dinghy but the auxiliary items as well. For example, it is advisable to have an outboard bracket installed on the stern rail of the boat. That way before you tow the dinghy in rough seas you can remove the outboard and secure it to the boat instead. Additionally, removing other items that can move around or get thrown out during a rough passage is always important such as oars, fuel tank, lifejackets etc.
Many an experienced boater has looked back after a difficult crossing and found their dinghy swamped, overturned, missing parts, or even completely gone. Of course the above recommendations significantly reduce the risk of that happening but perhaps the most basic and effective advice is to simply make sure you turn around periodically and check that the dinghy is towing well and is still there! A lost or damaged dinghy can ruin a vacation that would otherwise be a terrific adventure.