How to retrieve a trailer boat from a beach launch

By: Scott Amon

Presented by
  • Trade-A-Boat

Beach launching a boat can be tricky. But have you thought about how you’re going to retrieve your boat once it’s time to head back?

How to retrieve a trailer boat from a beach launch
During retrieval one person operates the winch while the other steadies the boat from the rear.

So you’ve successfully beach launched your trailer boat, fished some relatively unfished waters, and now it’s time to get back to shore. Where you do you start?


Retrieving your boat after a beach launch

Oceanic waves generally come in "sets". These sets are significantly bigger than the more constant run of waves and are often made up of 3-6 waves. You will need to observe the ocean for while to get a feel for the regularity of these sets.

The idea is to follow in the last wave of a set. Ride just behind the wave since this gives you additional water under the boat, something that is especially helpful at low tide, and can also help avoid obstructions (as mentioned previously, you should note the location of submerged rocks or any other potential hazard when launching).

Try not to let the boat come off the plane, but DEFINITELY DO NOT drive over the top of the wave. Follow the wave to the beach if possible, but stop short of touching down on the sand if you can, since this will save you wear and tear on the hull. Also, trim that outboard up at the last moment, preferably just as your crew jumps overboard into knee or thigh-deep water.


Boat pulled from water via 4WD at a beach
With the long rope attached, the 4WD drags the trailer and boat up onto hard sand for the rig to be re-attached.


Keep the boat floating

As soon as possible, and while the trailer is being collected and reversed down the beach, turn the nose of the boat into the waves and hold it that way until the trailer is close at hand.

This prevents any ensuing waves from breaking into the back of the boat and potentially filling the hull with water. This is important because too much water could weigh the boat down, which might prevent it from being winched back onto the trailer. At worst, a boat can virtually sink by being filled from waves breaking on the transom.


The difficult bit

Push the trailer (using the "jockey wheel system" described here) out to a suitable depth and attach a long rope to the tow-hitch on the trailer and tow vehicle.

Now turn the boat around and winch it onto the trailer. Try and time this with some sort of lull in the waves. One person will need to man the winch while the other clips the winch-cable to the tow-eye of the boat and guides the bow onto the first roller.

VERY IMPORTANT: Do not get between the boat and trailer because a wave could easily pick up the boat and bring it crashing onto the trailer, crushing you in the process!

You may need one or two helpers at the transom to pull the boat back and stop it from being driven by a wave hard onto the trailer. When in position, winch the boat onto the trailer as quickly as possible.

This process is something that you will get better at with experience, however, all boat/trailer combinations will be slightly different. The lower the trailer’s height and the lower the hull sits on the trailer, the easier it will be to winch on. Self-centring roller systems are a great help here.


Tractor retrieving boat from a beach
If you’re lucky enough to have access to a tractor then beach launching can be a lot easier, particularly for larger boats.


Get out quick

The longer you dwell once the weight of the boat is on the trailer before pulling the rig out, the deeper the trailer wheels will be allowed to sink into the sand — aided by movement created by swell action and water. So pull the rig out onto hard sand ASAP.

Once you’re on firm sand, the rig can be reattached to the vehicle towball. Before driving away be sure to check that the boat is sitting properly on the trailer, that the tow-hitch is secure, and that all trailer lights are connected.

Lastly, beaches often have a soft section of sand above the harder and wet sand. You may need to carefully select a range and gear in your tow vehicle and have a bit of a run-up in order to drag the boat and trailer through this area. If it’s a tight area where other vehicles (which could be difficult to see) might be entering the beach it’s worth getting a crew member to check that the track or area is clear before you go. Having to slow down or stop in soft sand is the prime recipe for a serious bog.


Hub and wheel bearing assembly on boat trailer
This hub and wheel bearing assembly is mounted on the drawbar of the trailer so that the trailer can be detached from the vehicle and rolled into the water for both launch and retrieval.


So is it all worth it?

After all that effort, you might wonder why you’d ever contemplate beach launching. The truth of the matter is that beach launching is very often the only launching possibility in remote areas. Of course these areas are also usually lightly fished, and therefore, often produce spectacular catches. I certainly don’t need a better reason…


Beach launching a trailer boat

More info: how to beach launch


Originally published in TrailerBoat #258, July 2010. Why not subscribe today?



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