Highfield CL-290 inflatable RIB dinghy

Southport NC
Posted by Bill

As written in previous posts, our old Zodiac Zoom dinghy finally bit the dust this year, and we purchased a new Highfield dinghy in June. I thought that it might help other cruisers who are looking for a dinghy if I dedicated a post to review the Highfield, as we benefited from the posts of others before us.

Our selection criteria:
We wanted something that was a little shorter than our Zodiac which was 10′ 3″ long. It frequently got caught or bumped in to stuff when docking Island Bound, and we thought a smaller dinghy might help. We also wanted an aluminum hull, which is rigid but less weight than the fiberglass models. We wanted something that was designed to be dry in choppy/rough seas. The Zodiac was very very wet, and there were times where we could not leave the big boat because it was too rough for the Zodiac. A bow locker to store our crap was not a requirement but was a nice to have.

The evaluation process:
We talked to lots of people that we met in our cruising route about what they were using and/or considering. Based on our experiences it seems like AB is the current dinghy of choice with the cruising community. We were told that before AB was founded, Caribe was the most popular, and employees of Caribe left and formed AB. In the process they built upon the successes of the Caribe design and made further improvements. Highfield was founded by employees of AB with the idea of making further design improvements and providing a lower price point. We found the price of the Highfield to be around $1,000 less than the equivalent AB model, and the Highfield comes with more accessories as well. We were a little nervous about Highfield because there aren’t as many out there yet, and we didn’t find a lot of public reviews online, but after talking to owners we saw while cruising we didn’t find one person that was unhappy with their Highfield.

What we got:
The following features, specifications and options for the CL-290 model are from the Highfield web site.
Highfield CL290 Standard Features
Highfield CL290 Options
Highfield CL290 Specifications
We purchased a Hypalon version with a bow locker. It came with oars, a dry bag, one seat, a seat cover with padding and extensive storage, a patch kit, and a well designed foot pump.

Our review:
Overall, we really love this dinghy. It has 17″ tubes and a deep keel in the bow that becomes more shallow as it goes back to the stern, but it provides a deep, well protected interior. We have taken the dinghy across and through the lower Cape Fear River, which can be very rough on an ebb tide and can have large wakes from ships and high boat traffic. We would never have been able to do this in our Zodiac. The ride is dry and stable. This dinghy is very robust and stable. The design category of C is rated for 6′ waves, which we hope we never have to test, but we have taken on wakes and waves of 2-3′ with no problem at all. There is a flat double floor with rubber non-skid…I love the double floor. It keeps the dinghy dry and helps support stable footing. You can also run the fuel line under the floor if you keep the tank in the bow locker (we haven’t done that yet).
There are very robust lifting points built into the hull…2 sets on the transom, one low on the floor, and one high on the top of the transom; and two on the floor in the bow. This allows us to lift the dinghy very high on the davits (arms on the back of Island Bound), another improvement over the Zodiac. There are plastic protective rings inside the lifting points to protect the paint on the aluminum…nice design. The oars can be stored on top of the side tubes, ready for deployment, or can be stored inside along the sides with velcro straps. There are 3 large, robust, cleats attached to the outside of the tubes, one on each side of the stern, and one on the bow. They are excellent!
The bow locker is a nice feature. It provides lockable storage, a step to board the dinghy, and a seat. We keep our anchor and safety gear in the locker.
We have a 9.9 HP 4 stroke Yamaha outboard on the dinghy, and it takes about 20-30 seconds to get up on plane with Tricia, myself, a full tank of fuel, and a couple of beach bags of crap. I am not sure if we could get on plane with any more weight on board. It planes really well, but I wish we could get on plane a little faster. A fellow cruiser was able to improve the planing ability with prop modifications and fins on the engine, so we might experiment with that. Our only other negative is the seat. It is great that you can put it in 2 positions, but the plastic is slippery and it is hard to stay in place when you get in anything but smooth water. Also, the really nice seat cover, which has copious storage and is padded, slides back and forth. Maybe we need to do something different than we have. We will experiment with ways to improve the seat experience.

I would definitely buy this dinghy again and also recommend it hands down as a great cruising dinghy.

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