Rowing The Dinghy – I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Motor

For the last few weeks, since shortly after going aground in that storm, I’ve been rowing the dinghy to shore every day. Well…except when we were sitting aground we and just jumped from the boat onto the wall and walked in every day.

The first night going back to the boat, when we were sitting aground, I ran a little too close to shore. With the sun going down and not being familiar with the area, we ran into some rocks and destroyed the lower unit on the dinghy outboard.

rowing the dinghy at sunset

Not Exactly How I Planned It

Before the storm hit I had planned on moving the Turtle closer to dock the next day. When we first got here we anchored out a little further than I’d like. I really wanted to be much closer since I’d be going in most days for work…and for Sparky. I also wanted to pull the outboard off the dinghy and start rowing again.

I’ve been on this real minimalist kick lately, so anything that requires more work, but isn’t entirely necessary needs to go. That includes generators and small outboards, that constantly need to be maintained, and break down at the worst possible moment.

The Benefits Of Rowing

Some people will say that you need to have a dinghy with an outboard. WRONG! There are plenty of people out there rowing to shore every day. Some of them are even much older than me. Like I said in my post about using a kayak as a dinghy there are a lot of factors to consider.

Where are you cruising or living aboard, how close to shore are you anchored, what kind of shape are you in, etc.

The last few months I spent on the hook in Miami, before I tied to a dock and started chartering, I was rowing in every day. That was a much longer row than I have now, and there were much stronger currents to deal with.

rowing the dinghy
Carlisle Economy Oar and Scotty Strongback Oar Lock

My Weapons Of Choice

Another thing to consider if you are planning on rowing every day is choosing the right gear. For the oars I went with the Carlisle Economy. Some real rowing enthusiast may argue that wood is the only way to go, but in my experience, most wood oars these days are garbage.

They’re either poorly designed or made of junk quality wood with varnish that doesn’t last. There are some really good wood oars out there, but they cost upwards of $200.

Aluminum oars will last a long time, without worrying about varnish wearing away and rotting. Yes you can re-varnish, but do I really want to maintain my oars? Remember that whole minimalist thing. The Carlisle oars also have very large blades that give you a lot of power.

Other Things To Consider

My oars are 6.5′ long, but ideally you want to size your oars to your dinghy. I went with 1 piece oars this time, because they flex less and give you more power. Last time I was rowing every day I had the exact same oars, but I got the 2 piece version, because they stored easier, and were easier to hide in the dinghy. An important feature in Miami, where things disappear if they’re not bolted down.

For the oarlocks I got the Scotty Strongback Oar Lock, because they were the smallest round locks I could find, so they fit the small diameter of the oars better. For aluminum oars you can also go with a clamp on lock, but I don’t really like them. Round locks are much more comfortable to row with since you can turn the oar freely, and for the same reason they give you better control.

You can get both the Carlisle Economy Oar and the Scotty Strongback Oar Lock on Amazon.

16 Responses to Rowing The Dinghy – I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Motor

  1. Ha ha, I love the name of this post! I can relate with becoming a minimalist through adversity. I’ve had a few outboards for small boats in my time and always find myself fooling around with them longer than actually using them.
    I’m also with you on the solid oars. Much better than the adjustable or 2 piece.

    • As they say Brian, “it’s always the carb.” But even if it is, I’d rather not spend my time cleaning carbs. Of course the idea is to eventually be out cruising, or at least location independent, and not tied to things on shore. When I finally get there I just won’t go to shore, since I’ll have no real need to, on days that are too windy or rough to row.

  2. I love your blog! I am currently residing in St Augustine, on shore 🙁 but I have met such wonderful people who live at sea here. It has been a serious consideration of mine to venture out into the open waters. Its things like this dinghy adventure that I don’t even think about and thank you for the food for thought. Do you have any suggestions on where to start for the want to be newbie?

    • Thanks Jenni!

      You live in a great place to get started. Since there are so many people with boats in Florida, you should be able to find someone to get on the water with, to get some experience.

      You could also take a sailing class, and there may even be a Meetup group in your area. There’s one in Palm beach that takes non boat owning members sailing all of the time.

      Lastly there’s a ton of sailing, cruising, and live aboard groups on facebook.


  3. I like your rather unconventional approach to writing and to the website in general – it is very engaging and attractive and provides the reader with an instant warmth towards you as we can see that you are only human! I shall be looking forward with great relish to read about some of your other triumphs and disasters at sea 🙂

    • Thanks Nicola! Hopefully it will be less disasters as we move forward. As I become a little more of a minimalist at least there will be less things to break on the boat. Hopefully we’ll be able to start cruising in the not too distant future.

  4. Nice article! I didn’t know there was so much to rowing!

    Your site’s aesthetic is exceptional, and very easy to read. I’m loving the map as the background.. very nice touch!

    As a graphic designer, the only thing I have to point out is the font at the very top next to the turtle. Papyrus is pretty much off limits in the world of design snobs, but to each their own 🙂

    Keep up the great work!


    • Yes Stu, there is a little more to it than most people think. It also takes a few times to get the form down. Most people row around in circles the first time they try it, myself included.

      I guess as a pseudo designer I should have known about the font. Good thing I’m not a snob, because Papyrus is a mandatory font for pirates and sailors. It looks great on the boat. It would have been a little strange to use a different font on the website, but I know what you mean about being not the greatest font to work with.

      Thanks for the compliments.


  5. Hi Chris,

    Love to row and love your site!

    My personal preference is aluminium oars too as I never really got on with wooden oars.

    I’ve suffered from stolen oars in the past, so if you have any tips as to how best to keep them safe that would be great.

    Say Hi to Sparky!!

    Best wishes

    • Hey John,

      I love the feel of wood, but the price tag on the good ones is just way too high and the cheaper ones never seem to last.

      I even tried refinishing the ones that originally came with the last dinghy I had, but they were already too far gone, and so soaked with water that repairs didn’t stick.

      What most people do is drill a hole them and then run a piece of heavy wire through them to secure them either to the boat or to the bottom of the oarlocks.

      Will do!

      Thanks, Chris

  6. Chris,
    I do not live around too much water here in the Midwest, I do have a small boat at my dads place. When we go out on the ponds and fish your information on rowing the dinghy will be helpful. I do not have a motor for the small boat, we only use oars, We do have an old wooden set from the 70’s that is still in good shape.I don’t need a motor to get around the small ponds around here.
    I like the idea of getting some exercise when getting around, if you just use a motor you just sit there. This will help you keep in shape if you use manpower to get you dinghy around.

    • Awesome John!

      If your oars are from the 70s, they’re probably much better quality than the wooden oars you see today. I think having a motor tends to make you lazy. Even if you’re very close to the dock, most people are going to use the motor all of the time and never row. The same way people will take their car to drive someplace that’s only a few blocks away.

      That also means you’re going to run into real trouble when that motor decides to not start on you, from being out of practice with rowing.


  7. Hey Captain Chris

    Entertaining article. Wow, you’re lifestyle seems like a perpetual adventure. I am sure lots of your friends and colleagues are envious of your lifestyle. Also great advice and explanation on why you chose the oars you did. Ties in with your minimalist thing. I wonder, is there any plans in the near future to live on dry land?

    • Yes Les, there’s no telling what might happen when you spend everyday out on the water. I have had a former coworker tell me when things get bad in the office he thinks, “I hate Chris.”

      There are no plans to become a land lubber anytime soon. If I was to ever move back on land it would have to be a little shack or small house on a quiet beach in some tropical location…hopefully one without hurricanes. Central America, is high on my list, especially Belize.

  8. Love this blog! I distinctly remember every morning in Melbourne, Australia I used to see rowers along the Yarra river and thought to myself, that’s got to be the coolest and most peaceful way to travel, haha.
    I will say wood and water don’t mix and it staggers me to learn they make them out of wood when wood by nature swells and constricts with water uptake and release.

    That just cannot be good for the oar, constantly putting that type of wear and tear on it. Aluminium all the way!

    • Thanks Sam! You may not be able to cover much ground, but there’s nothing like moving with no engine. Not to mention the exercise you get.

      Really high end wood oars are oiled or varnished an will last longer, but they’re usually very expensive. The cheap ones, have cheap finish, that doesn’t last long, and has all the problems you describe. Aluminum is very affordable and lasts much longer.

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