The term ‘dinghy’ originates from East India and originally referred to a rowing boat that was used on India’s rivers. Today, a dinghy has come to more generally mean a small open sailing boat that’s used for recreation or racing.

Since the definition of a dinghy is somewhat general, naturally there are quite a few different types of small sailing boat that fall under the dinghy umbrella. To clear up any confusion, we’ve created a guide to the different kinds of sailing dinghies that are out there – which type will you be going for?

1. High-performance dinghies 

As the name suggests, high-performance dinghies are both fast and powerful and designed for sailing at only the most prestigious regattas such as National and World Titles. They’re able to move effortlessly through the water, even upwind, as they’re usually equipped with a spinnaker - a sail specially designed for sailing upwind.

A high-performance sailing dinghy is also equipped with a trapeze - a wire that comes from a point high on the mast to a hook on the crew member's harness – meaning the crew member has more leverage to balance the force of the wind in the sails. These features mean that the boat can plane - when the hull rises out of the water to reduce drag from the water - very easily.

Examples of these types of dinghies include the International 505, the Fireball and the Thistle to name just a few.

sailing dinghy

The International 505 is an example of a high-performance sailing dinghy. Image credit: Christophe Favreau.

2. Racing dinghies 

Again, the name gives this type of dinghy away – racing dinghies are designed for competitive racing. However, not all racing dinghies offer the same level of performance as a high-performance dinghy. In dinghy racing, the crew and race tactics are often just as important – if not more so – than the boat itself. These sailing dinghies are designed with planing in mind, with its flat bottom making it a lot easier to achieve. 

The Snipe International is largely regarded as one of the most popular classes to fall into the racing dinghy category, because of its accessibility for all kinds of sailors and its adaptability to (most) weather conditions.

sailing dinghies

The Snipe mid-race. Image credit: XS Sailing

3. Cruising dinghies 

Cruising sailing dinghies are a lot more stable than the first two mentioned on our list, which makes them perfect for a more leisurely sail, or for someone who’s learning the ropes – literally! Technically, any dinghy can become one simply by not racing, but a dedicated cruising dinghy has a number of features that acclimatise it to a more relaxed sail.

Firstly, their sails tend to be a lot smaller than the other sailing dinghy types on our list, making them easier to handle. They also have a less rounded hull, meaning more of the boat is in contact with the water, making it a steadier cruising experience.

The Wayfarer is one of the more popular examples of a cruising dinghy. Usually made of wood or fibreglass, it’s long and deep enough for three adults to comfortably sail for several hours so it’s a popular choice for sailing schools.

sailing dinghy

Over 11,000 Wayfarers have been produced since 2016. Image credit: UK Wayfarer Association.

4. Cruiser-racer dinghies 

Sometimes you want to gently cruise along taking in the picturesque surroundings, and other times you want to make things a little more competitive. If you don’t want to commit to one or the other, you don’t have to! The cruiser-racer dinghy was designed for this exact reason, offering great racing performance while also being very stable for cruising.

The GP14 is one of the very few examples of a cruiser-racer dinghy that can perform to a very high standard in racing, while also lending itself to stable cruising if required. This is because it was originally designed to accommodate a family made up of parents and two children – it was just by sheer accident that it also turned out to be a fantastic racing dinghy too.

sailing dinghies

It’s to the credit of the G14’s designer that it lends itself so well to both cruising and racing. Image credit: Chelmarsh Sailing Club.

5. Classic dinghies 

 Classic sailing dinghies are different from the other dinghy types on our list - their beauty and versatility are emphasised over actual sailing performance.

Although traditionally they were made from wood, the majority of the most popular classic dinghies are now made predominately from fibreglass and just enough wood to still achieve the ‘classic look’. A hull made of fibreglass not only makes maintenance easier, but it also isn’t susceptible to erosion like wood is. An example of a classic dinghy would be the Minto, which has been in production since the 1960s and remains one of the most recognisable classic dinghies.

sailing dinghies

The attractiveness of the Minto makes it one of the most popular classic dinghies. Image credit: M. A. Ellis.

Which one of these dinghy types will you be going for? Once you’ve decided, make sure to take out Specialist Dinghy Insurance, so your little dinghy doesn’t find itself in deep water!