Porta-bote Review

Review of: 10' Porta-bote
Version:
2010

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4
On February 12, 2012
Last modified:January 15, 2014

Summary:

The porta-bote makes a very good cruising dinghy, but it is difficult to assemble on the deck of a cruising sailboat and has components that don't stand up to the salt water environment.

This page is a review of the 10' Porta-bote powered by a 6 hp 4-stroke Suzuki outboard. It is used as a dinghy for a 44' cruising sailboat.

10' Porta-bote with 6 hp outboard.

The Porta-bote planes easily with two adults on board.

Mark and his son Rory enjoy zooming around in the dink.

The Porta-bote rows beautifully.

The Porta-bote rows beautifully.

The 10' rta-bote has voluminous interior space.

The Porta-bote has enough interior space for Mark to take a

little breather...

The Porta-bote is light and maneuverable.

...while his granddaughter tries to figure out how to

cast him off to sea.

A photo fo the Porta-bote hull mounted outboard of our sailboat's starboard deck.

Porta-bote hull mounted outboard of Groovy's

starboard deck.

We carry the Porta-bote hull to our sailboat's forward deck for assembly.

Porta-bote hull is carried to Groovy's

forward deck for assembly.

Porta-bote assembly performed on the deck of a sailboat.

The hull is opened (first fold is unfolded).

Eyebolt / wingnut / washer combo for attaching the seats to the Porta-bote hull.

Eyebolt / washer / wing nut combo for attaching

the seats to the Porta-bote hull.

Center seat is installed.

Center seat is installed.

Transom lies on deckPorta-bote transom.

Transom lies on deck ready for installation.

Bolt-wingnut-washer combo for attaching the transom to the hull.

Bolt-wingnut-washer

combo for attaching the

transom to the hull.

Bolt/wingnut attaching transom's L-bracket to the hull.

Bolt/wingnut attaching transom's L-

bracket to the hull.

Attaching the transom to the hull with wingnuts.

Attaching the transom to the hull with wingnuts.

Porta-bote is hoisted on spare halyard.

Porta-bote is hoisted on spare halyard. 

Unsecured outboard mounting suport

flops down off the transom.

Porta-bote is lowered into the water.

Porta-bote is lowered into the water.

Porta-bote is brought back to swim platform for the rest of the assembly.

Porta-bote is led back to swim platform to finish the job.

Front seat is installed.

Front seat is installed.

Rear seat is ready for installation.  Note the 3 u-shaped metal legs.

The long rear and middle seats have 3 u-shaped metal rods

for legs that not only flop around uncontrollably but can

easily fall out.

Rear seat is attached using eyebolts and washers.

Rear seat is attached using eyebolts and

washers.  Porta-bote is clipped to swim

platform to keep it perpendicular to Groovy.

Outboard is installed on transom.

Outboard is installed on transom.

Painter is tied at two points on Groovy's transom to create a 3-point bridle. A second line is tied to Groovy's transom

Painter is tied at two points on Groovy's

transom.  A second line is tied to Groovy's

transom "just in case."

Porta-bote is lots of fun.

The Porta-bote is lots of fun.

Porta-Bote Review

This page is a review of our 10' Porta-bote which we

operate with a 6 hp Suzuki 4-stroke outboard.

The Porta-bote's overall design concept is terrific, and it has

worked very well for us as a dinghy.  However, it is not built

for constant  use in tropical salt water.  We have upgraded

our Porta-bote in several areas to make it work well as a

cruising dink.

For anyone considering using a Porta-bote as a cruising

dinghy, I've compiled some notes and photos of our setup

on this page.  The official Porta-bote website is

www.porta-bote.com.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Length:

10'

Beam:

5'

Weight:

~80 lbs

(w/ seats but w/o outboard)

Weight:

~135 lbs

(w/ seats & w/ outboard)

Component Parts:

1 Hull

3 Seats

1 Transom

3 pairs eyebolts/washers for seats

2 pairs wingnuts/washers for transom

1 pair aluminum collapsible oars

Following is a summary of what we have found to be Porta-bote's best and worst qualities when used as a cruising dinghy:

Porta-bote Strengths:

・  Lightweight enough to hoist in davits effortlessly, even with the outboard mounted

・  Lightweight enough to drag high onto the beach without requiring dinghy wheels

・  Tows easily, with or without the outboard mounted (best without)

・  Rows beautifully -- truly a pleasure to row

・  Planes quickly when driven by a 55 lb. 6 hp outboard and carrying two adults

・  Huge interior volume for hauling stuff

・  No worries about running it up on rocks

・  No need for a sunbrella cover to protect the hull from UV rays

・  Half the price of a comparable RIB dinghy

Porta-bote Weaknesses:

・  Some of the construction materials are not appropriate for tropical, salt water use

・  Seats and transom are awkward to carry and take up a lot of storage space

・  Black plastic seams along the length of the hull leave scuff marks on Groovy's white gelcoat

・  Black plastic seats get untouchably hot in the tropical sun

・  No built-in system to attach a bridle for lifting the boat in davits

・  No "drain hole" in the hull to drain water when boat is out of the water

・  The flotation foam disintegrates in the sun and leaves black flecks on the floor.

Our overall assessment after a year of using the Porta-bote in anchorages from San Diego to Zihuatanejo, Mexico is that it is a

great little cruising dinghy, especially once a few modifications have been made.  Here are some details about its strengths and

weaknesses along with descriptions of the upgrades we did to make it work better.

PORTA-BOTE STOWAGE LOCATIONS on a CRUISING SAILBOAT

The Porta-bote is not as compact a boat as you might think because it is not just a folding hull.  It is a hull, three large seats and

a big transom.  The 8' version is a hull, two seats and a transom, and is reportedly "just as difficult to set up" according to a

singlehanding friend of ours who has cruised 10,000 miles, first with a 10' Porta-bote and then, after he lost it, with an 8 footer.

"I liked my 10 footer better," he claimed. "Smaller doesn't mean easier, and you lose all that interior space with the 8' model."

All the pieces of the Porta-bote are big and awkward to carry.  For longer passages we

disassemble the Porta-bote and store the hull in kayak-style racks outboard of Groovy's starboard

deck, so it is tucked out of the way without having to hang in davits off the back or lie upside down

on the foredeck as most cruising dinghies do.  Because of their length, we store the longest seat

and the transom in the master stateroom (ugh!).  We store the other two seats in our big cockpit

locker, standing on end for easy retrieval.

For overnights at anchor we lift the dinghy in retractable davits that are built into our solar panel

support arch.  The Porta-bote fits perfectly into our sugar-scoop transom, resting neatly on the

swim platform and held in place by the shape of Groovy's hull.  We leave the outboard mounted

on the Porta-bote.  The boat and outboard are light enough that each of us can hoist the dinghy

unassisted (our davit system has a simple 4-to-1 purchase and no winches).  Splashing the boat

in the morning is just a matter of lowering it a foot or so back into the water, which each of us can

also do unassisted.

PORTA-BOTE SEATS and SEAT STOWAGE

The three seats and transom are all large, heavy components made of plastic and metal.  Each one has some swinging pieces

that hang off of it, making each piece quite a challenge to carry on a pitching boat.  Each of the three seats has two (or three)

metal U-shaped rods attached underneath that flip out and become the seat legs once the seat is installed in the Porta-bote.

These metal loops are only loosely attached to the seats, relying on spring tension to keep them in place.  The first time I

carried a seat forward on Groovy's deck, one of the metal pieces detached itself from the seat and vanished over the side,

never to be seen again.  Fortunately Porta-bote replaced the piece free of charge.  We now use duct tape to keep tension on

the open part of the U-shaped rods so these crazy loops don't fall off when we carry the seats to and from the foredeck.

The metal loops fold back against the bottom of the seats.

Actually, they swing freely and independently of each other,

flopping all over the place.  However, with some coordiation

they can be held against the seat while carrying it, still leaving a

hand free "for the boat."  Unfortunately the loops don't fold flat

to the seat and there are no clips to hold them in place, so they

flop around until you get a grip on them as you carry the seat.

Also, when folded, at least one of the loops on each seat sticks

out an inch or two beyond the end of the seat.  So in the stored

position the seat becomes even longer due to this metal bracket

sticking out the end.

The design of the seats and legs could be infinitely improved.

The seats could be designed to fold in half, shortening them

considerably for stowage.  The legs could fold into the seats

and clip into place so they don't flop around.  There is a myriad

of possibilities for designing solid functional seats that are easy

to carry and store.  However, the current seats are very awkward, and the black plastic will singe your hand when you touch it

after the boat has been sitting in the tropical sun for a few minutes.  Simply making the seats of white plastic would be an

immeasurable improvement.  We use towels to cover the seats, or in very hot places rely on flotation cushions (which slide

around under you).  We have heard of cruisers making sunbrella seat covers for the seats too.  In the hottest places a towel is

not sufficient and you will still burn your backside while sitting on the seats.

The biggest problem with the seats, besides being so difficult to lug around on a rolling boat, is that they are too big to stow

easily.  Some cruisers lash them on deck, but we have neither found a good place on deck for them nor come up with a quick

way to tie them down securely.  Many cruisers simply tow their Porta-bote instead of hassling with assembly and disassembly.

We met a couple that towed theirs thousands of miles up and down the Mexican coast.  I consider this risky if the seas get out of

hand, and it also seems to defeat the purpose of the folding "portable" nature of the boat.

On our boat the transom and middle seat are too long to fit in a cockpit locker in a way that is easily accessible, so we store

them alongside our bed.  The other two seats fit in our large aft cockpit locker standing on end.  In order to get a grip on these

big floppy seats, we use several large Navy-issue canvas bags, storing two seats to a bag and putting a second bag over the

other end so the whole seat is covered (they are salty and dirty when removed from the boat, and who wants that next to their

bed?)..  A tidier solution would be to have custom canvas bags made to fit the seats with a large rugged handle on the side.  It

would be awesome if these bags came with the Porta-bote right from the factory!

PORTA-BOTE TRANSOM and TRANSOM STOWAGE

The transom is not only long, wide and heavy, it has a big flopping plastic piece that

folds over the hull when the transom is installed in the Porta-bote to provide a support

for the outboard to clamp onto.  This heavy piece is held to the transom by a thin

piece of plastic that acts as a hinge and looks very prone to tearing.  When we tow

the Porta-bote we remove the outboard, and then the plastic outboard support piece

flaps as the Porta-bote goes over the waves, threatening to rip the hinge piece.  To

stop the flapping and wear and tear on that thin hinge, we use a large clamp to clamp

the outboard support piece to the Porta-bote's hull.

The transom also has two long metal L-brackets along each side.  These are the

supports that hold the transom in place: two pairs of wing nuts and washers secure

the metal L-bracket to the side of the hull.  These L-brackets are major ankle-biters

and interior cabin wood-gougers when carrying the transom around.  Therefore, we

load the transom and the longest seat into a canvas bag before lugging them

anywhere -- the flopping legs on the seat are held in place, the flopping outboard

engine mounting piece is held in place, and the sharp metal edges of the L-brackets

are somewhat protected by the heavy canvas.

Some clever engineers at Porta-bote could surely devise a way to secure the transom

without requiring large metal L-brackets (or tiny wing nuts and washers, for that

matter), and the outboard engine mount could definitely be designed to fold into the

transom so it lies flush and is held in place with a clip system that keeps it from

flopping around.

PORTA-BOTE ASSEMBLY

We have tried several methods of assembling the Porta-bote on Groovy's deck, and the best system we have found is

described below.  It takes us about 15 minutes, including retrieving the many parts from the cabin and the cockpit locker.

When the hull is in its stowed position, it is folded lengthwise twice: first the sides fold into the middle, then the (new) sides are

folded in towards each other.  The end result looks like a small surfboard, 10' long and about 4" wide.  Our first task is to

remove the hull from its stowed position outboard of Groovy's starboard side deck.  Then:

1.

Carry the hull to the foredeck and open it up.  The plastic is rigid and you have to

use a lot of force to get the sides to open.  Porta-bote provides a specially cut board to

assist with this:  you stand on one side of the hull and push against the other, wedging

the board between the two.  Eventually the board is positioned to hold the hull open.

2.

Insert the middle seat.  The ends of the seats are inserted into metal supports that

are riveted on either side of the interior of the hull.  The seats don't fit in the supports all

that well.  There is some wiggle room up and down and the angle of the supports is

perpendicular to the hull, which is not ultimately in line with the seat's horizontal

orientation, because the hulls' sides flair outward.

3.

Secure the middle seat with wing nuts and washers.  The Porta-bote ships with long

thin cotter pins that are tied to the seats with thin string so they don't get lost.  The

cotter pins are intended to hold the seats in place against the metal hull supports,

however they fly all over the place when you are carrying the seats, and they don't hold

the seats securely.  Therefore, we replaced the cotter pins with long stainless steel

eyebolts held in place with large stainless steel washers, both above and below the

seat, and with a stainless steel lock washer underneath to keep everything tight despite

the jiggling and jostling of the hull when the Porta-bote is driven over the waves.  The

eyebolt is slid through a hole in the upper part of the metal support, then through a hole

in the seat and then through a hole in the lower part of the metal support, and a wingnut

is screwed from underneath.  The eyebolts also come in very handy for holding the dink

in place behind Groovy's swim platform.  We have two lines rigged on either side of the

swim platform with clips that clip into the Porta-bote's eyebolts.  This keeps the Porta-

bote perpendicular to Groovy's transom for easy boarding.

4.

Install the transom.  The outboard mounting flap goes over the hull,

and the metal L-brackets are attached to holes in the hull using bolts, wing

nuts and washers.  The Porta-bote ships with non-stainless bolts, nuts and

washers, which are probably fine for the once-in-a-while lake fishing that

the Porta-bote is built for.  We replaced all these little pieces with stainless

steel bolts, nuts and washers and added a lock washer to the set.  The

sizes of these pieces that Porta-bote ships are non-standard (I searched

high and low for stainless components that would match the originals).

Instead, we simply used replacement bolts, washers and nuts that would fit

the holes rather than trying to match the thread pitch, bolt length and width of the ones from the factory.

The lower wing nut / washer set on each side of the transom includes a

rubber washer to keep that part of the boat watertight since that part sits

below the waterline.  The rubber washers last about 6 months in the salt

water environment.  We keep several spare rubber washers to use as

replacements each time they wear out.  In addition, we have a complete

duplicate set of all the eyebolts, straight bolts, wing nuts and washers

that we use for the Porta-bote, as it is all too easy to drop one of these

tiny pieces overboard while assembling or disassembling the Porta-bote

on deck.

The worst aspect of the Porta-bote design

for use as a cruising dinghy, in my mind, is

that you are fumbling with the very large

pieces of a 10' long hull, several wide seats

that don't fit into their supports very well,

and a big heavy transom, all while screwing the whole thing together with tiny wing nuts.  The

bottom of the boat is a black plastic "hinge" that acts as something of a keel, so the boat doesn't sit

flat on deck but pivots about on this round tube of plastic.  So when Groovy rolls in the swell, the

porta-bote pivots on its keel, and you are hanging onto the boat in one hand with a fist full of wing

nuts and washers in the other, all while trying to mate the threads of the wing nuts to the bolts.

Surely some skilled engineers could come up with a better way to hold a folding boat together, one

that uses only large, rugged plastic parts that don't have sharp edges when stored and don't have

any fine threads to match and are less likely to fall overboard during assembly and dis-assembly.

5.

Raise the Porta-bote up and over the lifelines and lower it into the

water using the spare halyard.  We have an electric winch that works

really well but also works quite hard during this process (of course it

would be a great upper body workout to winch it by hand).  When the

boat rises up in the air the outboard mounting bracket flops down

unless we clip it in place with a large clip before raising the boat.  This

part of the process can be tricky in a large swell or in high winds, as

the boat is difficult to control for the guy on deck (Mark!).

6.

Move the boat to the swim platform, clip middle and

rear seats' eyebolts to two lines on Groovy's transom to

keep the Porta-bote perpendicular to Groovy for easy

access, and install the other two seats.

7.

Lower the outboard engine onto the

mountain bracket on the transom and

secure it in place.

TOWING the PORTA-BOTE

The Porta-bote tows beautifully, and we have towed it (without the engine

mounted), for hundreds of miles, a few times in some rather large and lumpy seas.

We have towed it with the outboard mounted too, and that works just fine, but we

wouldn't want to go more than a few very sheltered miles towing it that way.

We tie the Porta-bote's painter to two points on Groovy's transom, making a bridle.

We usually tie a second line to Groovy as well, just in case.  There's nothing like

trying to find and retrieve a lost dinghy in big seas (been there, done that!).

We have tried towing the Porta-bote far behind Groovy, but have found it behaves

much better when it is snugged up close behind.  We keep it about a foot or so off

of Groovy's transom.  Sometimes when we are sailing slowly in lumpy, following

seas it has a tendency to run into the back of Groovy.

HOISTING the PORTA-BOTE in DAVITS

We drilled two holes on the stern end of the Porta-bote just forward of the transom,

one on each side of the hull.  We had four stainless steel plates made to reinforce

these holes, and those are bolted in place (with stainless bolts), one plate on the

inside and one on the outside of each hole, sandwiching the plastic hull in between.

To create a davit bridle, we simply run a line between those two holes in the hull's

stern and run another line between the two factory-installed holes in the bow of the

boat to make a two-point hoisting system for our davits.

Because the lifting points are at the top of the hull, it is not possible to snug the

Porta-bote tightly into the davits.  Instead, it always swings a little, no matter how

high you hoist it.  If the lifting points were in the bottom of the boat, the top edges of the hull could be pulled flush to the davit

arms.  However, I am not sure how to install lifting points in the boat's floor.  So we don't travel with the Porta-bote in the davit

system.  However, the davits are ideal for getting the boat out of the water at night when we are at anchor, as the Porta-bote

sits snugly on the swim platform and we secure it with lines tied to the seats' eyebolts to keep it perfectly still.

Also, if it rains (which it doesn't do in Mexico's winter cruising season) or if there is a lot of dew, the boat doesn't have a drain

hole to release the water.  Water also collects in the bottom of the boat when we drive it hard, as waves splash in and water

jumps over the transom.  So there is occasional light bailing to be done, but not more than a sponge or towel can handle.

One thing we discovered is that the Porta-bote's black plastic seam tubes that run along the length of the hull are made of a

plastic that leaves scuff marks on Groovy's white fiberglass gelcoat.  When we hoist the dinghy in the davits, it invariably bumps

along Groovy's transom a bit, and over time it leaves a lot of marks.  They come off with a little elbow grease and polish, but

there are plastics out there that are non-marking, and if Porta-bote used that kind of plastic it would be a huge improvement.

FLOTATION

Just beneath the black plastic lip at the top of the Porta-bote hull there is a strip of foam rivited to the hull.  This provides enough

flotation to keep the boat afloat if it fills with water -- as long as there is no outboard engine mounted on the boat.  The foam

material deteriorates in the sun and flakes off, constantly leaaving little black flecks all over the Porta-bote's floor.  I have heard

of cruisers covering this foam with Sunbrella to keep it intact and prevent its total disintegration.  I haven't gotten to that project

yet...  This foam provides a little flotation, but the Porta-bote will definitely sink if it is swamped while an outboard engine is

mounted on its transom.

USING the PORTA-BOTE

A lot of this description so far includes many negatives and short-comings of the Porta-bote, simply because it is not designed to

be a cruising dinghy and is rather carelessly engineered and cheaply manufactured.  However, the great qualities of this dinghy

show up once it has been assembled and is out on the water.  We have found ways to work around its portability limitations, and

feel that because of its good traits on the water it is an excellent choice as a cruising dinghy.  We would buy it again, and here's

why:

The interior volume is enormous.  We have packed it with a month's worth of groceries (at the supermarket the provisions were

mounded way above the top of the shopping cart) along with three weeks worth of laundry (in two huge laundry bags), plus

ourselves, and we still had space leftover.  We have also loaded it with five adults and putted along at a good clip.  I think six

adults would be pushing it.  There is plenty of space on the seats for six adults, but the boat would sink too low in the water.

It is a fast boat that planes easily with both of us aboard using just a lightweight 6 hp 4-stroke outboard.  We raced a traditional

RIB dinghy driven by a 15 hp outboard and carrying two adults.  They barely pulled away from us as we reached about the

quarter mile mark.

I love rowing, and the Porta-bote is a lot of fun to row.  It tracks well and moves nicely through

the water.  For the passionate rower the oars are totally inadequate and should be replaced.

The oarlocks in the hull also seem a little flimsy to me and I wonder how long they will hold up,

as they flex ominously with every pull on the oars.

The oars themselves are made for very light, occasional use.  They are aluminum and they split

into two halves for stowage, the handle half and the paddle half.  The two halves are joined with

a plastic pin-through-a-hole system, but the pin doesn't actually go through the hole very well

because the plastic spring mechanism is flimsy and weak.  So the oars are prone to coming

apart if you don't keep an eye on them.

Each oar has an aluminum pin that fits into the hole in the Porta-bote's oarlock.  The pin is held

in place on the oar with a sleeve around the oar that is fastened with an aluminum bolt and wing

nut.  On our fifth time out rowing, the bolt on one of our oars crumbled mid-stroke.  We replaced

the bolts and wing nuts on both oars with stainless steel, and they have been fine ever since.

Whether rowing or motoring, it takes a while to get used to the Porta-bote's flexible floor.  You can feel every wave and bump

under your feet, and it is a very moveable platform, nothing like a hard dinghy or a RIB.  However, the movement is just part of

the package, and once you are accustomed to it, it's kinda neat.

All-in-all we are very happy with the Porta-bote.  No cruising dinghy is ideal, each type being a pain in the neck in at least a few

ways.  We like the lightweight nature of the Porta-bote and being able to get most of it off the deck and out of the davits and out

of the way while on a long passage.  We like its good manners while towing, its speed under power and its voluminous interior

space for provisioning runs.  The compromises and required upgrades are okay with us in return for its many good qualities.  If

Porta-bote ever went back to the drawing board and studied its plans and re-engineered the boat for use as a cruising dinghy,

they could create a truly superior dink that surpassed everything else on the market.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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