Apr 06 2022 All Articles

Launching and retrieving your boat from the beach

Beach launching and boat retrieving tips

Just imagine you are the owner of a 4WD stuck on the beach and you’re left watching as the incoming tide washes right through it. And, as for your boat – that’s also beached with the waves lashing in the back and the trailer bogged to the axles.

John, from the Boatshow website (who is stunned that so many people don’t know how to launch a boat correctly), uses such a preamble to tell his story titled Beach Launching Tips. If only the man in his story had had the foresight to watch the Boatshow’s Beach Launching video – he may have saved himself a lot of grief. Do what John says and check out the video on the website… and/or read on!

Beach launching and boat retrieving tips and tricks are worth knowing about for many reasons, including preventing red faces (and damage to your vehicle and/or boat).

Once upon a time, the NZ Herald dedicated a story to “beach launching without embarrassment.” It’s likely the story would have had a high readership amongst boaties as launching and retrieving from the beach is the only way to get out boating at many popular holiday spots. Sometimes launching from the beach is considered simply because boat ramps are too busy.

The article assures that, while beach launching may present as daunting to some, it is actually quite easy. The key, the writer opined, is “just simple preparation”.

“Plan to be quick and efficient. Back the car, unhook, push the boat off and drive straight out. Every second the vehicle's rear wheels are in the water, the greater their chances of sinking into the wet sand.

“While launching is relatively easy, it is when retrieving that most problems happen, and cars get stuck. However, the same rules apply. Be quick and efficient and make sure everyone involved with the retrieval knows exactly what they have to do.”

The need for speed and efficient handling is reiterated by all who write on the subject.

Boat launching:

If your trailer boat is – like many – sized between 5m to 6.5m, then rest assured it doesn't require much depth to float. If there is about 400mm of water behind the boat, it should float just fine. Unhook the winch rope (quickly) and push the boat off. There are then two options, the NZ Herald article says.

  • The first is to have someone in the boat who can drive it off the trailer and then wait offshore while the vehicle is parked.
  • The other is to have someone with a rope take hold of the boat while this is happening. Be sure the rope is at least twice the length of the trailer.

If you’re adverse to getting your vehicle wet, check out the Beach Launching Without Embarrassment article.

Boat retrieving:

If using a 4WD and the tide is right and the beach is steep enough, it should be possible to back the trailer into the water and winch the boat straight back on. This is not always practical with a car so, again, the NZ Herald writer provides two options:

  • If it is possible to retrieve without unhooking the trailer then bring the boat as far up onto the beach as possible so there’s no need to put the car into the water.
  • The second option is to simply take the trailer off, push it into the water and winch the boat on. Unless the trailer is padded, there is no need to go deep enough for the boat to float on. Instead, use the winch wire to pull the trailer under the boat as it is winched on. Be sure to have the rope still attached and a driver in the car ready for a rapid retrieval. Don't hesitate.

There’s more to positioning your car than knowing how close to the water it can be. Try having the car on roughly a 45-degree angle to the trailer. This will help dislodge the trailer wheels from the sand as, driving forward, one side then the other is pulled out.

Discover Boating website offers a step-by-step guide to beaching a boat. It’s well worth knowing, the writer says, as the ability to beach a boat leads to wonderful opportunities.

Factors to consider when beaching a boat include knowing the bottom conditions before approaching any beach, understanding the tides, and keeping an eye on changing wind conditions (their strength and direction).

Beaching a Boat: Step-by-Step Guide

  • Examine the shoreline. How deep is the water and how quickly does it shoal? Is there a straightforward path of approach minus obstacles?
  • Approach slowly. 
  • Judge the water depth.  If you don’t have a depth sounder, estimate what is about waist-deep water. Watch for current, especially in a river or breaking waves on the ocean because both will mess with your landing.
  • Have a crew member hop in and hold the bow of the boat when waist-deep.
  • Turn off and trim up your engine (outboard or sterndrive). Pull the boat ashore bow first—this may take more than one person.
  • Always secure your boat. You can do this by walking an anchor up the beach, tying off to a stake, or securing it to a nearby tree.
  • Remember, the back of the boat will be heavier due to the weight of the engine, so make sure that you don’t pull the keel all the way up or it will be tough to leave.
  • Pull the boat further up once gear and passengers are unloaded; it will be lighter.
  • When it’s time to leave, pull the boat free of the shore until it’s floating.
  • Finally, load up and lower the engine or drive in waist-deep water, have the last of the crew hop aboard via the swim ladder and back away from shore.

The Discover Boating article includes information on beaching on a sandbar too.

Meanwhile, The authors of a Beach Launching Made Easy article on the Powerboat website and the Rayglass Guide to Launching Your Boat at the Beach article both suggest that liaising with the locals is good insurance. Locals can offer invaluable advice around where on the beach is the best place to launch. Some areas may offer a harder compact surface or deeper water for dropping the boat off the trailer.

The Powerboat article offers sound advice and is an entertaining read that’s been penned by someone who has often been called upon (with his trusty tractor) to rescue vehicles stuck in the sand (most often during the retrieving stage).

As well as knowing how best to launch, or retrieve, your boat it’s not silly to be mindful of things NOT to do. What’s the big no, no of beach launching? According to information on the Waikanae Boating Club website, floating your boat off or on your trailer is a dangerous practice to avoid at all costs.

“It will only take one rogue wave to hit the rear of your boat once it is floating. The consequence of this may be the potential for someone to get hurt or cause damage to your boat or trailer.”

The launching technique offered by this site encompasses the following:

  • Back your boat down to the water’s edge.
  • Lower hydraulics to a point where your boat won’t roll off the trailer when the winch rope and safety chain is disconnected.
  • When wave patterns allow, back your trailer steadily into the sea only to a depth where you know the boat will float when the hydraulics are raised. (This is usually at the point when the trailer mudguards become submerged).
  • Raise the hydraulics and, with either a dab on the brakes or change in direction, the boat should slide off allowing you to go and park your trailer on the beach.

Launching your boat at a slight angle is a smart idea should there be an onshore sea swell – it reduces the chance of waves coming over the stern of your boat. (But don’t make that angle too great just in case there’s a rogue wave waiting to put your boat up on your trailer’s mudguard!)

As for retrieving your boat from the sea onto a trailer on the beach, the key is to bring your boat in as far as possible onto the hard sand.

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