Beach launches can be easy if done correctly, or difficult and even dangerous if not.
- Firstly, determine if the conditions are really suitable for a launch. In particular, you’ll need to examine the size and nature of the waves, and the degree to which the beach drops off (and thus permits the boat to be floated off the trailer).
- Next you’ll need a suitable beach launching vehicle. A 4WD is best, and if there is much soft sand, it will be advisable to let down the car and trailer tyres. Sometimes (e.g. Seal Rocks), we’ve bribed a tractor driver to assist with beach launches. Sometimes you can use a 2WD car if the sand is hard packed and the beach drop off is suitable (e.g. Minnie Waters). Occasionally, we’ve even used just diver power to push (and dig out many times) the trailer and boat across the sand to the beach, but this is a hard option and needs a lot of people!
- Prepare the boat fully before starting, and get everyone ready. Make sure the safety chain shackle is going to unscrew, the motor brace, support bar and tie-downs are off, and that the winch handle is located and ready to be used to loosen the winch ratchet. Tilt the motor up fully (but watch the fuel connection on Tigger).
- Unless conditions are ideal, don’t load the boat with any heavy gear (tanks, weightbelts) before launch.
- If you’ve a 4WD, consider driving fairly quickly across the soft dry sand to the fringe of the wet, hard packed sand. We commonly do this at Mystery Bay.
- The next step depends on if the beach and waves permit the trailer to be backed far enough into the water to permit direct launching without soaking a drivers car (i.e. this is their call!). If it doesn’t, you’ll need to disconnect the trailer and manhandle the trailer into the water to launch the boat (and make sure someone holds the trailer light connector out of the water!).
- Remove the safety chain. Watch the waves and when a lull in the sets comes, then move rapidly to back the trailer into the water, loosen the winch strap to disconnect the clip at the bow, and pull the boat off the trailer. Try not to let it drop off the trailer.
- Immediately the boat is clear of the trailer, turn the bow into the waves.
- If the conditions are really rough, it may be best to have someone run the boat out to beyond the breakers and then only bring it in for loading when everyone and all of the gear is in the water ready to be loaded.
When retrieving a boat from the surf you need to keep the bow into the waves until the last moment possible, and keep the boat in deep enough water that a big set of waves coming through isn’t likely to throw the boat around like a heavy log against the sand and possibly catch a person between it and the shore. Then, having set up a car and rope, wait for a lull in the waves and rapidly move the boat into position with the bow directly to the shore, deftly clip a loop onto the boat’s painter carabiner and move the car smoothly forwards to take up the rope slack and tow the boat onto the beach without stopping. It is important that one person is clearly sighted and able to pass instructions to the driver. Other people around the boat should keep it lined up while the rope is being connected and not let it go sideways to the waves, even if a lot of waves break over the stern. If the boat gets away and turns side on in less than chest deep water get clear – don’t get between the boat and the shore as you could get badly injured.
When retrieving a boat from the surf onto the sand, it is important to keep the boat moving forward so that it aquaplanes on a cushion of water pushed in front of it and doesn’t ‘stick’ in the sand – pulling a boat stuck in sand other than very slowly can distort the frame and ‘pop’ some of the welded seams. The club keeps lengths of old anchor rope specifically for dragging boats and trailers on beaches – take these with you and don’t use the boat’s anchor rope unless there is no other option.
And there will always be days where even the most proficient at beach launching and retrieving should leave the boat on the trailer and go for a ‘pub dive’ instead.