Highfield CL310 Full Review - the Great, the Bad, and the Downright Ugly!
Updated: Jun 11
Note: I/we are not sponsored by any companies mentioned in this article. We cruise full time on our test bed, SV Confianza, and we enjoy sharing our tests and opinions to give back to the community.
Finding the right dinghy during the pandemic era was quite a challenge. Our Caribe dinghy had quite a long life, even longer than we expected. For eighteen years, it brought its multiple owners to and fro.
But, alas, it was getting to be a handful. Multiple patch jobs to the hypalon, the transom plate, the tow point... The threads in the seams were starting to go, and the floor had gotten soft. We hadn't even planned to let it go that far, but finding a new dinghy that we actually wanted, was in stock, and we were able to get to the boat, proved to be a challenge for over two years.
We Thought We Wanted Ultra Light
At first, we thought we wanted to go as light as possible. Reducing weight on a catamaran is always important, but, more importantly, we wanted something that we could pull on up on a beach with ease and generally fling around without much effort. Our Caribe Dinghy was spec'd at 140 lbs, but, in reality, it was probably a lot heavier with soggy decks and a waterlogged hull.
There are some great options now in the ultra light range. Highfield and AB both make ultralight aluminum models. And carbon reinforced ridged dinghies have come onto the scene like the OC Tender, ASTender, and Aspen Carbon Cat.
We couldn't justify the price of the carbon rigid options. Money being no object, though, I would have taken the OC Tender with the sailing rig option. Imagine being able to easily take a dinghy trip by sail! So much more fun!
Once we started shopping in person, our priorities changed. We decided that we could stick with the same weight, but get more conveniences that we hadn't realized we wanted:
A double floor so our feet weren't soggy
Less splash while under way
A locker to store the fuel tank, lifejackets, and a dinghy anchor.
Weight is still a factor of course, so, as in all things boating, we needed the right balance between a light boat, and a boat with the proper features. Fiberglass hull boats, although easier to repair, are heavier than their aluminum hull counterparts, especially once you start adding a bow locker.
The Highfield CL310 checked every single box and had the looks to match. The newest version of the CL310 even has an bow step with a popup cleat. That wasn't on our list, but it sure looks nice pulling up to a dinghy dock!
We purchased our Highfield CL310 at the Annapolis Sailboat show this fall. After a week, we got a call that we were ready to take delivery. Shout out to Annapolis Inflatables that gave us great advice, a good price, and helped us launch the boat right down the street from shop.
I'm off on my first quick mile from second street in Eastport back to Confianza. I was initially impressed by how well it steered with only one person. Our Caribe was definitely more challenging to steer with one person on board. You had to kneel in the center and move your weight as forward as possible to have some decent control over steerage.
The CL310 steers just fine with one person sitting on the tube upright. Yes, moving weight more centered between the tubes does still help, but it almost wasn't necessary. A slight lean was all it took.
I believe the fuel tank locker and fuel tank in the bow to distribute the weight helps significantly with this.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to play around much more on the maiden voyange. We had to weigh anchor in a hurry to make the fuel dock in time before heading on an offshore passage.
We would take it out a few days later for a much more rigorous test. We anchored in the wind shadow of Tilghman Island and wanted an evening off the boat. We were going to bring the anchor up and move Connie around, but our anchorage was actually the best wind protected.
The dinghy ride to Dogwood Harbor would about 3 miles each way and right into small Chesapeake chop from 15-20kt winds. What a perfect test for the new dinghy this will be. Will we have any comfort at all or arrived soaked from head to toe?
The Splash Guard Rubrails Work
The splash guard rubrails are not just marketing. They really do make a significant difference. We played with different speeds and different weight distribution. We found that the best results were actually just not being afraid to be fully planing. This Highfield is significantly drier than our Caribe.
We got to the restaurant with one wet arm and one wet leg each, but we would have been soaked on our Caribe. In fact, we definitely would have turned right around in favor of dinner on Confianza.
Double Floor is Quality of Life Upgrade
Dealing with wet feet is an inevitable part of sailing life, right? The dinghy floor always seems wet when you need to get ashore.
The Highfield double floor is meant to keep your feet dry, and it does! We used to put our shoes and socks in a wet bag before heading ashore, another annoying step to get ashore, and these annoying steps really add up.
Now we arrive with dry feet every time. Big improvement. Between the double floor, and the splash guard, it's a lot easier to hop to land and a restaurant without being worried if we're walking in with a wet bottom.
So Easy to Get on Plane
This Highfield gets on plane in a hurry and at lower throttle. We're noticing a significant reduction in fuel usage. In fact, we had to change the motor trim and may need to reduce lift from the outboard motor stabilizer fin.
Hull Shape - The Right Amount of V
The hull shape forward seems to be a perfect balance of V deepness for a smooth ride, yet the boat is nice and stable walking around. It might be slightly less stable when stepping aboard the bow than our Caribe, but the ride is significantly more comfortable.
Forward Locker Saves Time, Organizes Boat
Having the fuel tank stored away in the forward locker has many benefits. No tripping or fumbling around with the fuel tank and line. It's a much better look.
It's also practical for the handling. Moving the weight forward must help the quickness to get up on plane, and I find that it's way more stable than other dinghies with one person. The combined weight of the fuel tank and the bow locker really help the stability with one (or even two) riders. The second rider doesn't have to sit as far forward, keeping them drier and more comfortable.
New with this model is the wider bow, allowing for a 6 gallon tank. We opted for the 3 gallon, so that we could also have the storage for tank, life jackets (belt ones), and a dinghy anchor. This means that we can just leave all of the necessary safety gear, lights, whistle, etc inside the locker at all times. This saves us a lot of time when launching the boat, since everything is already ready to go.
Previously, there had been many times when we've opted to not get off the boat and go explore because we didn't feel like going through all the steps to launch the dinghy. Reducing the time it takes to launch really is a life improvement for cruisers and work from boaters.
Seat Bag is Not Getting Use
The seat bag is awesome for storage, but we find that we're not using it. It gets dirty so easily sitting out. It was taken off two weeks after we got the boat, and we've never put it back on. It's just another step to launch the dinghy that hasn't been necessary. Maybe if we are going on longer trips with more people, we will find a use for it.
Speaking of the seat, it's quite hard to move/remove. We don't want to deflate the boat each time we want to move it, so we've found that you can use the cupholder in the seat as leverage to yank it to one side. It's still difficult to remove and even more difficult to put back in. Ultimately, it's not a huge issue, but it's a minor inconvenience.
Welded Hoist Points
The hoist points are beautifully welded and appear to be very sturdy. However, the mounting location didn't work for us. We had to add a new mounting point near the bow locker.
Also, the aforementioned wider bow means that the new boat didn't quite fit where our old one did. If you have a transom mount for stowing your outboard, you may run into the same issue. We solved this by offsetting the new mount to starboard, and then countering the offset with an off center bridle aft.
Infalatable boats never make for good rowing. You lose a good amount of your force into the tube flexing as you try to row. I'm not sure why no one has solved this problem yet. Why not make detachable oar lock posts that anchor to the floor? Or make some sort of attachment to the seat itself (which is always required for rowing anyway).
Given that we're expecting RIB type rowing performance, it gets a passing grade, maybe. The hull shape does not help tracking through the water, so there's a good amount of sliding. Wind and chop do not help. This won't be a great rower, but no RIB on the market really will.
Faux Teak Floor
The Faux teak flooring is a nice upgrade, especially for comfort, anti-skip, and of course, dock vanity. But how long will it last? We've noticed that it stains quite easily, and you can't give it a rigorous scrub. I believe this will be the first thing that really starts looking ratty.
Overall, sounds like we love it, so what's with the title? Let's talk about some of the not-so-nice...
The Drain Plug Gave us Lots of Guff
We had the boat for three days when a big thunderstorm hit, and by morning, we found the dinghy full of about 6 inches of water (well over the double floor!). I had forgotten to pull the drain plug. No big deal. Pulled it out, and....nothing. No draining!
I already knew that the smaller Highfield's come with a one way valve, so you can drain while moving, but to be designed to not allow draining on the davits seemed crazy. I was puzzled by this for a couple of weeks, and had to drain the dinghy by motoring it around a few times. We both were thinking how it could possibly be normal that we can't drain it while up on the davits!
I assumed that this was just a poor design and started messing with it to figure out how I could modify it. And by poking around a bit, I accidentally fixed it.
It turns out that the rubber piece of the valve was just stuck, and once it was freed, it drains just fine, albeit slowly, while on the davits.
What about "the Ugly"?
The rub rail that I have been praising about keeping us dry has a fatal flaw: it's way too soft. We had our brandy new Highfield for I believe 48 hours before we messed it up.
The rubrail just rubs itself right off when rubbing against a perfectly smooth surface, like our stainless steel davits (no burrs or anything). After just a few hours of rubbing against the davits, there was significant damage. Our old Caribe had been rubbing in that same spot for almost 20 years!
We've had to tie a towel to the dinghy and the davit to keep more damage from happening. And we lost a few towels offshore in the process. We'll have to come up with a more permanent chafe solution. Some sort of rub rail or chafe guard on top of the rub rail, which is a shame.
There's a pretty significant defect in the transom. The top corner where it attaches to the tub is bent, which is putting the tube joint under constant stress.
I assume that this will dramatically lower the life of that bond. It could be that this was somehow bent in shipping and overlooked when our dealer took delivery.
The warranty is only 2 years unless you register the dinghy online. Why poison such a good buying experience with this silly maneuver to collect data. We spent quite good money on this dinghy, and to withhold the warranty if someone does not realize to register it online is just heinous.
Overall, we are very happy with our purchase, and it has been a huge upgrade for us. The most noticeable benefits are the increase of convenience (decreased time) in launching, staying much drier when going ashore, and ease of getting on plane and resulting fuel range increase.
I just wish the rub rail was much more durable. My fear is that we're going to have a beat up looking boat in a few years unless we are meticulously careful.
I'll also be posting a full analysis of all of the boats we considered and tested, plus feedback from various dealers, and why we went RIB instead of carbon fiber dinghy in a follow up post. When it's completed, I'll like it here. Stay tuned!