Small Boats – Why Not A Small Boat?

Small boats open up plenty of fishable water without huge expense.
Small boats open up plenty of fishable water without huge expense.

Small Boats – Why Not A Small Boat?

By Stephen Coote

Stephen Coote
Stephen Coote

Big boats offer many advantages over small boats including a degree of luxury and I have nothing against them at all. The boat I travel the most distance in nowadays is a nice piece of workmanship. It is an alloy jet boat about 6.7 metres long. It is roomy and has a turbocharged 170 horsepower Yanmar diesel engine which ensures a safe a quick passage. This boat is ideal for much of what I do on the sea. I am not going to get one like it because I do not have the money or time to invest in buying and maintaining such a craft.

I like to keep things simple. I am by no means a status symbol collector and when I am choosing something to buy I will often pick the item which is only just big enough to safely cope with my immediate needs. I have had a heap of fun in rowboats and I have caught some nice fish from them. If you are thinking about getting your first boat do not overlook a small one as a sensible option.

Getting the Boat to the Water

Big boats have to be moored or travel by road on a special trailer. Moorings are a worry and boat trailers are limited in the other uses you can put them to. Both can be expensive to maintain. An ordinary trailer can be used to transport a dinghy, and it is no big hassle to lift the boat off it to take a load of rubbish to the tip.

A larger boat costs alot more to purchase. You also have to consider insurance, fuel cost for your boat and tow vehicle, maintence of boat and trailer, ramp fees an so on.
A larger boat costs a lot more to purchase. You also have to consider insurance, fuel cost for your boat and tow vehicle, maintenance of boat and trailer, ramp fees and so on.

If you go boating mostly in one spot you may be able to leave your dinghy within carrying distance of the water. Private property or a locked shed is best, but many people simply leave them on the beach. A small trolley could be useful here.

A strong roof rack may be an ideal way of transporting your boat. If you do this you will never have the worry of backing or parking a trailer.

Some dinghies are so light one person can carry them “turtle style” on their back. Owning a light dinghy should ensure that you will never have to pay a launching ramp fee.

On days when it is too rough to comfortably launch a runabout at the main ramp, it may be practical to launch your dinghy from a beach in a sheltered bay.

Time and Money

Besides the initial cost difference, small boats are much cheaper to own. Someone who has never owned a boat may not realise how much it can cost to maintain a boat in a good, safe condition.

If a potential boat owner brings home say, ten dollars for every hour worked, it will take a year of normal working hours to pay for a $20,000 runabout and trailer. Typically this could be a five-metre craft with a 50-horsepower motor.

If, however, the buyer decides to get a new three-metre alloy dinghy and a small outboard it might cost less than eight week’s work.

The $20,000 rig could cost over $400 a year to insure whereas the smaller boat should cost less than a quarter of that. (A $100 excess would probably apply to these examples). I doubt whether I would ever insure a dinghy though. Nautical Insurance.

There are many more items to spend money on. Fuel, motor and hull maintenance, batteries for electric start models, ramp fees, trailer registration, safety equipment checks and renewal are all basic needs.

If your boat is on a mooring you will have to consider mooring maintenance and fees, regular bottom scrubs, painting with antifouling, big insurance bills, and the necessity of owning a dinghy to enable you to get to and from the big boat. A moored boat can represent a big investment of time and money.

Rather than work big hours to pay for a big boat why not get a small boat and spend the extra hours fishing? Please note; You will have to update these dollar figures but the maths remains much the same.

A small row boat is ideal for trolling a fly or lure around the edge of a lake in calm conditions. The lure speeds up on the pull stroke and then slows as you lift the oares before speeding up again on the next stroke. This action combined with the almost silent running can be irristable to trout.
A small row boat is ideal for trolling a fly or lure around the edge of a lake in calm conditions. The lure speeds up on the pull stroke and then slows as you lift the oars before speeding up again on the next stroke. This action combined with the almost silent running can be irresistible to predatory trout.

Rowing Small Boats

Why not? It is slow and requires work but it offers advantages. There is no motor to buy, store, transport or maintain. You do not have to buy fuel, breathe your own exhaust fumes or shatter the early morning peace as you leave the shore. Rowing requires work. So do many worthwhile things.

Some people ride an exercycle in their spare time; at least rowing offers benefits as well as exercise. It is an activity that can become easier as you get fitter. Maybe once you get out rowing you won’t feel the need to renew your membership at the gym.

From what I have seen, it seems that an ideal rowboat should be streamlined, light, long, low and lean. Obviously, the majority of the mass-produced dinghies sold today are not like this. Although you can still row them well enough, they will not perform like a racing craft.

People on a rowboat should not feel they do not need safety gear. It is tempting to think that because you can swim and are close to shore you do not need a lifejacket.

Maybe you are right for most scenarios. What say you get clobbered by the boat as it capsizes? What if you have to assist someone else ashore? You may cope without a lifejacket in these circumstances, but wearing one could certainly make life easier. You may also end up further away from shore than you intended.

Essential gear on a rowboat includes lifejackets, anchor and line, a bailer (especially important in an open boat), adequate clothing and wet weather gear. A spare oar and rowlock can be handy. A small pack of flares and a handheld radio can be comforting to have aboard also.

I have never had a serious mishap in a rowboat even though I have been on the water in very inhospitable conditions. A mishap in a motorised boat can be expensive and traumatic. A mishap in a rowboat is often hilarious.

The Self-Contained Outboard Motor for Small Boats

Many folks will have heard people rave on about the wonderful Seagull outboard motors of yesteryear. One my Dad had used to live in a shed on the waterfront and would often sit for up to a year without getting started. It got virtually no maintenance beyond what was absolutely necessary, yet it would mostly start on the first or second pull of the starter rope.

By “self-contained motor” I mean one with a built-in fuel tank, like the old Seagull. With one of these you do away with separate fuel tanks and hoses. They present less of a problem for transporting and storage and are ideally suited to the type of boat we have been discussing.

I have not used any of the new models of self-contained outboards currently available. I am sure though they would be even better than Dad’s ancient, corroded Seagull. If a fisher wants a hand free for trolling, or if the fishing grounds are a little beyond rowing distance, then one of these smart little motors is the answer. I reckon I will be getting one.

The Aluminium Dinghy

Dinghies are made from a variety of materials nowadays, and each different type will have its own characteristics and advantages. I have spent a lot of time in an alloy rowboat, and that is what I want to finish talking about.

My Dad is just retiring his 2.6-metre aluminium dinghy. He bought it about 25 years ago and it has had a really hard life. He painted it bright yellow for safety reasons and it became known as the “yellow tin dinghy.” He lashed a length of heavy rope around the gunwales to stop it damaging his launch and that is about all that has ever been done to it.

The yellow tin dinghy is a real workboat. It has been used to ferry all manner of goods between the launch and the beach at my Dad’s remote Sounds residence: bags of cement, building materials, dead animals, heavy generator parts, drums of fuel and general household supplies.

Sometimes these goods had to be landed in fairly rough conditions. This demanded concentration, good teamwork and a sense of humour.

As shore was reached the occupants would leap from the boat carrying the most important goods and try at the same time to keep the boat facing into the sea. We shipped plenty of water, but I do not think anything got spoiled beyond use on these occasions. It made a great spectator sport, especially when some participants thought they had a chance of getting ashore with dry shoes. The boat took a real pounding at these times.

Often, while being towed in rough conditions, a strong gust would catch the dinghy and capsize it. Sometimes it would be towed capsized for a while before it was righted because of the poor conditions or lack of manpower.

We got wise to this problem after a while and would often place some expendable ballast in the boat on windy days. This lessened the capsizes. Naturally, we kept the oars and rowlocks on the launch to prevent their loss.

Small boats are tremendous fun but you must not neglect safety considerations. Understanding and accepting the limitations of a smaller craft are vitally important for safe boating.
Small boats are tremendous fun but you must not neglect safety considerations. Understanding and accepting the limitations of a smaller craft are vitally important for safe boating.

Once our boat was sitting on a neighbour’s beach alongside his alloy dinghy. A freak gust of wind swept down the gully. Our boat tumbled along the beach and across the sea. It filled with water and became invisible from the shore. Two launches searched for ages, but it was never found. The moral of this story is not to steer clear of alloy boats, but to know your boat’s limitations and take suitable precautions.

Aluminium hulls can take a real hiding – ours certainly did. The yellow boat was rowed for miles. The holes in the rowlock mounts became so worn that crutch-type rowlocks leaned over too far to hold an oar. Instead of repairing the boat, we simply started using ring-type rowlocks.

Countless fish were caught and dumped on the floor of the poor little boat. Bait mussels were hammered open on the seats. Until recently the boat was always outside exposed to the elements. Despite this, the boat was only washed out when it was really dirty inside. It never received any regular care.

The boat still gets used, but has many small leaks despite the silicon sealant plastered around her joints and rivets. A few cracks have appeared in her sides and she really is beyond economical repair. She has had a good innings.

A kayak might be your thing. Excellent for fishing lakes with bush down to the waterline. Can also be transported on your car roof.
A kayak might be your thing. Excellent for fishing lakes with native bush down to the waterline. Can also be transported on your car roof.

I will probably take the family for a row in her this Christmas. I will have to take regular breaks from rowing and fishing to do a spot of bailing, otherwise, every cod that comes aboard will send a tail load of salt water up the leg of my shorts.

On a still, clear day with an evening low tide, I want to use the dinghy for one of the best activities the world has to offer. Just before sunset, we will slide the boat into the water and cruise amongst the rocks and weeds.

Mullet may jump from the water ahead of us. We will possibly catch glimpses of butterfish gliding through the kelp. Stingrays will rise from the sand and fly away without effort.

Ashore woodhens will be rummaging through the flotsam for food while their brothers and sisters call loudly from the dark bush. Once again, in our yellow tin dinghy, we will be in awe of nature’s beauty and bounty.

Take a look at the folding Porta-Bote. It is ideal when space is at a premium.

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