You’ve taken the time to study up on the perfect dinghy for your boat. You’ve even shopped until you’ve dropped to obtain said dinghy. It will perform every conceivable errand you have in mind, and do a great job-but, what about the paddle to propel it with?
Though they may be light-weight, “cute”, or suited according to the instructions, in the event of a boating emergency, are you willing to trust your safety to something cheaply made? If you’re like most captains, the answer is probably “no”. Flimsy oars that accompany your ship to shore transportation may be the weakest link in your whole boating plan. It pays not to skimp when it comes to the driving force for your emergency craft.
The type and size of oars or paddles you’ll need will depend on what type of craft you’re using as a dinghy. If you’re using a rowboat type vessel, you’ll probably be using oars that are held by oarlocks. The general formula for determining the length of oars you’ll need sounds complicated, but it really isn’t.
Measure the distance on your boat between the oarlocks. Divide that number in half, and then add 2 inches. For example, if the number was 50 inches, half would be 25, and adding 2 would give you 27 inches. Now divide that number by 7. In this instance, the new total would be 3.857. Multiply this number by 25—in this example, the total would be 96.425. Divide by 12 to convert into feet. Now you have 8.035 feet. You will most likely feel comfortable with 8 foot oars for this boat. If the calculations for your boat come out closer to 8.75 feet, you’ll want to round up to 9 foot oars.
There are different materials and shapes to choose from depending on what type of water you’ll be rowing in, how often you plan to row, and the distances you plan to cover. Generally speaking, the broader the blade, the fewer the strokes you’ll have to make and the greater the generation of propulsion per stroke. You can get narrower, smaller paddles that will glide easier through the water. But you’ll lose the momentum you gain from displacing more water per stroke.
Canoe paddles are a different animal. A general rule of thumb is to get the shortest paddle that will let you reach the water comfortably. Mid-stroke the top of the paddle handle should be about the height of your nose. At the same time, the water line should be even with the portion where the paddle blade meets the bottom of the shaft.
Most have either a palm grip or a “T” handle to ensure a good grip. They are available in many types of wood, or various combinations of plastic or rubber compounds or a combination for the paddle portion combined with an aluminum shaft. You’ll also have to decide, based on your specific needs, how broad you want the blade of the paddle to be, and how sturdy you want the paddle to be.
Kayak paddles are a different thing altogether, which deserve their own post at a later time.
If you plan on going ashore frequently, you may want to consider a small motor for your dinghy. Instead of wearing out your arms on a regular basis, you can just crank the motor and putter over to the dock. Also, once you’re free from the manual labor of rowing, you might be much more inclined to explore the byways of your voyaging. You can go on all those little explorations you’ve dreamed of, without so much effort.
If you are a frequent boater, it pays to spend a bit of time researching the oars or paddles that will be the best fit for your dinghy, and the best fit for you.