Living at the beach I am often called upon to bring out my big Nuffield 1060 diesel tractor and tow some poor sod, who has gone and got his tow vehicle stuck in the sand while launching or in most cases retreiving. Launching your boat off the beach doesn’t need to be something to fear – with the right preparation it can be quite simple.
Every summer, thousands of us head to the beach for our holidays and for many of us that means taking the boat along. Now if you are a suburbanite then you will normally do all your launching within the convenience of a concrete boat ramp. Every city has them, and some are better than others. Whilst some holiday destinations have them, more often than not you have no alternative to launching off the beach. Now if you are fortunate enough to have a tractor at your bach or camping ground, then that’s not a problem and launching is no hassle. But not everyone has that luxury so we are left with the car or 4WD to perform the task. This can be daunting if you are unfamiliar with the beach, its composition (soft or hard, shells or sand) and the last thing you want to do is get stuck on the beach. There’s nothing so embarrassing as getting the car bogged down in the sand with hundreds of holidaymakers watching you making a total idiot of yourself. Well, there is hope and if you do things right you shouldn’t ever get in that situation…again!
Firstly you need to be prepared and that starts with checking out the beach, looking at the sand and seeing how hard or soft it is. It is good insurance to check with the locals and see where on the beach is the best place to launch. Some area may offer a harder compact surface or maybe deeper water when you drop the boat off the trailer. Getting on and off the beach needs to be assessed also. In some cases the tracks that lead to the beach might be fine but the distance you have to travel across soft dry sand may be far too much for your 2WD car to handle and a 4WD may be the only option. Getting totally bogged down in the soft sand before you even get near the water is also not a good look!
Once you are on the beach, regardless as to whether it’s low or high tide, check that where you have chosen to launch has enough water for the boat to float when off the trailer. Some beaches run out very flat at low tide and launching may be almost impossible without a tractor or high wheelbase 4WD. If that’s the case then you may have no choice but to launch and retrieve around high tides.
When you do decide to launch you should carry out a very simple check list, which may sound simplistic but believe me it’s amazing how many times we forget the littlest things, such as putting the bung in (we’ve all left that out), removing the trailer tie straps from the transom (try pushing your boat off with those still in place) and checking that the shackle on the towing eye is only finger tight so you can undo it quickly. If you have a trailer with surge brakes you need to make certain the override lock is in place so the brakes don’t go on when reversing. Also, make sure you’ve got a good-sized rope tied to the bollard for your crew to hang onto when the boat comes off the trailer. Another good idea is to flick the motor over to make certain it’s going to start straight away and also check that the engine tilt lock is not still in place. A word of caution –running an outboard or sterndrive with a dry impeller can cause it to fry within 10 to 15 seconds, so as soon as the motor fires, switch it off quickly. Taking for granted that you already have all you need for the day’s fishing or family boating aboard, it’s time to launch.
Most modern multi-roller trailers allow the boat to slide off with ease, so it’s also important not to unhook the winch wire too early, otherwise you may have the boat sitting unceremoniously on the sand well short of the water. Beach launching can be a real bitch with a padded trailer and usually requires you to go so deep with your vehicle that the chances of getting stuck or at worst semi submerged are greatly increased. Padded or bunk trailers as found under many American imported boats are not suited to beach launching, but if you have no option then it’s best to unhook from the car and use manpower to push the trailer as far out as necessary for the boat to float off. The hull will never slide off as easily as a multi-roller trailer and even retrieval requires the trailer to go deeper than a multi-roller set up. A 5m to 6.5m trailer boat doesn’t need a lot of depth to float so you don’t need to bury your multi-roller trailer too far. If you’ve got about 400mm of water behind then you should find the boat would float just fine. There are a couple of ways to beach launch with the car. Firstly, if the beach is steep enough you can simply back down until the rear of the trailer is in enough water, quickly unhook the winch rope and push the boat off. Either have someone in the boat who can drive it off and wait offshore until you return or have someone with a rope, that’s at least twice the length of the trailer, to take hold of it until you return.
If there is a wave rolling in and you have no option but to hold the boat by the beach, then get the crew to turn the bow towards the waves. This will make it easier to prevent the boat from getting pushed back into the shallow water, which if the tide’s going out will make it a hard job to get back into deep enough water to float. The procedure is quite simple…be quick and efficient. Back the car, unhook, push the boat off and drive straight out. Every second your car’s rear wheels are in the water, the chances of them sinking into the wet sand beneath are increased. Speed and efficiency is critical so make certain your pre-planning is done and everyone knows what they have to do. If you don’t want to get the car wet then the best method is to carry out the same preparation for launching as already mentioned but get yourself a really strong, long rope. Drop the trailer off the towbar and attach the rope from the towbar to the front of the trailer. For this method you should really have a pneumatic jockey wheel to make manoeuvring the trailer much easier both in the launching and in the retrieving.
Plastic wheels are bad news on soft sand and more often than not act like a plough rather than assist the easy movement of the trailer. Simply push the trailer and boat into the water, unhook the boat when you think there is enough depth and then after making sure everyone is out of the way, drive the car up the beach and the trailer will follow.
So you got the boat in okay, now what happens when you return? This is when most problems happen and cars get stuck. Again, the same rules apply. Be quick and efficient and make sure everyone involved with the retrieval knows exactly what they have to do. If the tide’s right and the beach is steep enough, most times you will be able to back the trailer into the water and winch the boat straight back on. With a 4WD that’s often an option but more often than not, it’s not practical with a car. Again, there are a number of options. Firstly, if you can retrieve without unhooking the trailer then bring the boat as far up onto the beach as possible so you don’t have to put the car into the water. It’s times like this, when dragging your boat over the sand or shells may be the only option, that you shouldn’t get too precious about the underside of your boat!
However, more common is the rope method, where you simply take the trailer off, push it into the water and winch the boat on. You don’t need to go so deep that the boat floats on (unless you have a padded trailer), but rather, use the winch wire to pull the trailer under the boat as you winch it on. All of this time you have someone in the car and the rope still attached in readiness for a rapid retrieval. Don’t hesitate. Don’t delay. It is important to get out as soon as the boat is hard up against the snubbing block. You can worry about connecting the chain and tie downs when the boat is high and dry on the hard. Just get it out of that water! To assist in getting the trailer wheels dislodged from the sand you should have the car on roughly a 45-degree angle to the trailer so when you drive forward you pull out one side, then the other. With a straight pull you have the resistance of both wheels to contend with at once, and that’s often too much for the family car to manage. Once on the beach, back the car up, hook up the trailer, tie the boat down and head home. Beach launching is simple and easy if you are properly prepared and a little preparation will save you a whole lot of embarrassment.