Looking out on the ocean on a typical day you’ll see a huge variety of sailing boats on the water. If you cut out motorboats, rowing boats, kite surfers and windsurfers, and only focus on sailing boats there are two major types you will see – the dinghy and the yacht.
Broadly speaking, dinghies are boats that you launch from the beach and sail for a few hours at a time, where yachts are left at a mooring or a dock, and people can sail them for days or weeks at a time. Sailing them is quite different too.
This article will compare these different sailing vessels and perhaps inform you whether to learn to sail a dinghy or yacht.
Dinghies are easier to learn as you can often sail on relatively small, sheltered waterways by comparison to yachts. You will learn how to sail the dinghy yourself from the start where you will learn to crew a yacht. A good dinghy sailing school will have a safety boat close at hand in case you make a really big mistake and end up in the water!
You can buy a second hand dinghy for as little as £500 and the clothing for just over £100 even for cold weather sailing. You’re not going to spend £10,000 on an all out racer for your first boat!
Yachting doesn’t have to be too expensive, as long as you’re not buying your own boat straight away. A good set of foul weather gear can cost £200, and that is all you really need if you’re going to sail someone else’s boat as crew. You may want your own boat eventually, and if you’re prepared to put some work into it, a small first yacht can set you back £5000.
Be warned though, there is a saying that “a boat is a hole in the water to throw money in”… Maintenance, parts, diesel, mooring and everything else can make sailing very expensive indeed!
You will have to get wet if you are to sail a dinghy from the very start. You rig it on the beach, and roll it into the water on a trolley before making final preparations and setting out. In colder climes it is better to wear a wetsuit to keep warm even after launching. Then there’s spray and almost always the risk of flipping the boat in a capsize.
On a yacht you may get wet from sea spray and rain, but you will often step be a lot drier than sailing a dinghy.
Dinghies need you to move your weight around to keep the boat upright in most weather conditions. You will see sailors, as in this picture, leaning out to keep the boat upright while sailing in a decent wind. If you don’t? You will capsize!
On higher performance dinghies you may use a trapeze which is a wire hanging from the top of the mast attached to a harness you wear, to support you while you stand on the edge of the boat to keep it upright…
Yachts have heavy keels so even in strong winds you shouldn’t capsize. In a big gust you may well ‘broach’, which is a situation where the boat rolls right over onto its beam and turns into the wind. This is very scary and a good crew will sort it in seconds, but you won’t go in unless something very serious happens…
There is a myth that dinghies go faster than yachts – if you watch the video below you may disagree! In actual fact, if loaded right a modern cruiser racer yacht will often go more quickly than a dinghy of a similar type.
It is all about power to weight ratio – a higher performance dinghy such as the Mk2 Moth will have a higher sail area proportionate to the overall weight than a family cruising yacht. The Moth in this video is up against an Open 60 yacht that is designed to race nonstop around the world in the Vendee Globe, and the power to weight ratio is bigger on the yacht!
In higher winds you have to have the reactions of a cat on a dinghy, where things tend to move a little more slowly on a yacht to do the same thing.
For example, if you are turning the dinghy through the wind (tacking or gybing) you handle the sails, steer and move to the other side of the boat in one movement. With stability not so much of an issue on a yacht, and there generally being more people sailing the yacht, each crew member has fewer things to do so there isn’t so much of a rush!
Thinking of having a G&T before a good lunch while cruising along the coast? The yacht is the boat for you. Sailing it is far less intense than dinghies, and besides dinghies generally have nowhere to prepare your lunch or store your drinks. Being more intense, sailing a dinghy takes a lot more effort even in lighter winds than yachting too.
If you want to be your own boss from the start and enjoy getting wet, get a dinghy. If you want to enjoy a relaxing cruise, then learn yachting.
There are major exceptions to this – you just need to look at the Volvo Ocean Race, Cowes Week, the Fastnet or the Vendee Globe to see how hard yachting can be – but at the beginning of your sailing career, yachts are slow slow where dinghies are quick, quick!
Fancy learning how to sail a yacht or dinghy? Find the perfect course for you on The Boating Hub website.