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Q&A – Stern Davits

Q: Are there any special considerations to be aware of when buying stern davits?

Q: Are there any special considerations to be aware of when buying stern davits?

A: There are some significant issues. Here are a few:

Many davits are rated to lift a certain number of pounds. But vertical lifting is only part of the equation. The davits should be designed, constructed and installed to handle horizontal loading when your boat rolls or heels and slings the dinghy from side to side. In big seas this can be very violent. The davits or the installation should incorporate a means of preventing this lateral motion. On our boats, we’ve secured dinghies laterally with stainless steel wire (rope will stretch), hooks and eyebolts. We tighten the stainless wire with turnbuckles. But even if you secure the dinghy well, there still will be lateral loading, and the davits and mounting must be able to take it. Go for overkill, because your dinghy probably will have extra weight, such as the outboard and gas tanks, when you lift it.

The davits should be designed to mount securely on your boat. It may be that the only place strong enough is the transom near the corners. Whatever area you choose, you’ll need to have access and space to provide wide, heavy duty stainless or aluminum backing plates on the inside of the hull. On many boats, deck mounting isn’t appropriate because the deck is cored. Even if you scoop out the coring and replace it with appropriate filler, the surrounding deck and structure may not be strong enough to handle the stress involved.

The tender must be able to drain water that will enter from rain and spray. A gallon of water weighs approximately 8 pounds, so just a little adds a lot of weight. Unless your tender has a drain at both ends (ours does) the bow should be lifted higher than the stern so water will run out, even if your boat is heeled a little toward the dinghy’s bow.

The davits should be able to lift your tender high enough out of the water to prevent it from being swamped in following seas. There will be this risk with any stern davits, but, within reason, the higher you can lift the dinghy the better, as long as it isn’t so high it compromises the stability of the mother ship. This can be a serious problem with even small dinghies.

Consider power davits. Yes, it’s “one more thing to go wrong,” but often it’s important to get the dinghy up as quickly as possible — for example, in a rough anchorage. As the dinghy is being lifted, it’ll bang against the stern and swing wildly unless the operation is swift and smooth. Manual davits must operate quickly, smoothly and easily.

There are other options. Some boats aren’t suited to davits. For example, the boat may not be able to handle the weight well or there may be so much clutter around the davits that it’ll be difficult to operate them quickly and easily. There are rigs that enable you to pull the stern of the dinghy up out of the water while trailing the bow. We’ve seen this often with smaller cruising boats. There are drawbacks to this, however, such as pooping, (although that doesn’t seem to be as serious a problem as you might imagine). But remember; there are drawbacks to most things we do on boats.

On Chez Nous, our 53-foot Gulfstar motorsailer, we have a hydraulic lift made by Marine Lift Technology of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. ( ). Ours has one ram, not two, so it can work on a smaller sailboat transom. Its motor takes very little room. It also serves as a swim, diving and conch/fish-cleaning platform when it’s stopped at the appropriate height.

Carrying a tender can add a great new dimension to boating and cruising. But spend the time and money to do it safely, keeping in mind all the things that can go wrong at sea.

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