To see as much of the world as we can,
Using the smallest carbon footprint we can,
Spending the least amount of money we can,
Making as many friends we can.

Team Red Cruising

Davits — Feature or Fluff?

Davits for lifting the dinghy seem like such a good idea. And such a bad idea.

We've chartered many boats, and towed many dinghies. A towed dinghy has problems. At night, in calm waters, it can clunk against the hull. Stuff grows on the bottom. It's tempting to thieves.

Davits appear to solve the problems with a towed dinghy. The dinghy's lifted clear of the water and is attached to the boat. Also, davits make the boat longer, which means dock fees cost more. They make it impossible to back into a slip.

For off-shore sailing, the dinghy has to be lashed down on deck; davits are useless.

What a lot of hand-wringing. Should we have davits or shouldn't we?

Good Idea? Bad Idea?

Ask two sailors and you get three opinions.

  • Don't bother with davits. Tow it or put it on deck. Stuff grows slowly and is easy to wash off; remove the motor or lock it.

  • Davits are essential. The time required to get the dinghy on and off the deck is time lost or wasted every day.

  • They're helpful in protected waters, but not when the Chesapeake has 4 foot seas and 35kn gusts.

Our most helpful source for hand-wringing issues like this is Beth Leonard's A Voyager's Handbook. Sadly, she never mentions davits at all. Indeed, she barely talks about dinghy's. FAQ #27 and the first half of chapter 7 seems to be the entire treatment: use a high-pressure air-floor dinghy: they're so light that davits no longer matter.

We really messed up the base of our port davit. Several machine screws had their heads sawed off. The padding block cracked and fell apart. Best of all, the screws were twisted into cool new shapes.

Repair? Replace? Remove?

Is this fixable?

More importantly, is it worth fixing in the first place? Chuck doesn't use his davits and will remove the hardware. Dave and Nancy don't have any use for davits — they either tow or store on the foredeck.

Perhaps it's time to remove them.

Further, when looking at self-steering (Scanmar's Monitor or Hydrovane) we have to remove the davits or work around them somehow. Or incorporate them into the self-steering.

In the long run, perhaps, davits are not something we want.


In the immediate future, however, we have mostly-working davits. The starboard side is solid. It seems easier to fix the port-side base and use them until we actually decide to install self-steering. We could do some very sophisticated engineering to create a truss. But... why over-engineer a temporary feature?

Replacing #10 or #12 machine screws with 1/4" hex-head bolts seems to be the minimum. And, replacing the broken teak pad that holds the davit at the correct angle. The final element is to use ratchet straps to hold the dinghy more securely.

There's nothing so satisfying as using a box wrench and a ratchet to grind the bolts down until the block of maple squeaks.

It's solid. Really solid. Far more solid than ever before.

Next Steps

We still have an additional issue to address. Specifically, the davits rest on the lifelines. The aft lifeline bases aren't completely solid. Indeed, the port-side lifeline stanchion is clearly loose. A peek under the deck reveals that we have work to do. A cracked, loose and undersized piece of some kind of Marine Polymer Lumber is barely holding the lifelines up.

I think the next step is to put a proper set of backing plates under the lifeline stanchions. Without this, it's hard to call the problem solved, even temporarily.

I think that davits are (a) just fluff; but they also (b) need to be maintained until they're in the way of installing something more useful.