Extreme boat launching: beaches and cranes

By: Martin Ellul

Boat launch facilities on Victoria’s south-west coast are less than ideal. This has forced many anglers to resort to unusual methods of launching and retrieving their trailer boats.

I met my now very good mate Peter Harkin when I moved to Warrnambool, Victoria, over 10 years ago. He’d hired me for a job, which was a good lead into our friendship, and when talk soon turned to fishing it was obvious that Peter had done his fair share over the years. He regaled me with stories of dropping his tinnie off a crane and of the many extreme beach and ramp launches he’d done — and still does — in Victoria’s south-west.


Originally published in TrailerBoat #266, February 2011.


Extreme boat launching

The area between Apollo Bay and Warrnambool is very lightly fished and when the weather’s good the angling is simply breathtaking. Even so, my first impression was that this bloke was slightly mad. I owned a nice shiny glass boat at the time and I would never have even contemplated risking a scratch to the gelcoat. However, after living there and experiencing the fishing on offer, I’m now familiar with most "extreme boat launching" techniques.

A word of caution though: local knowledge and experience are essential in these situations since different opportunities present their own set of solutions. Here are some launching options along the south-west coast of Victoria.


Launching from a pier crane

Pier launching crane
The Port Campbell Pier crane is a purposely built lifter for the local cray fishing fleet, but recreational anglers can use it once they obtain a licence. The crane can take boats up to 3000kg and is restricted to key-holders only.

"Swinging it off the crane" is a phrase used to describe lifting a boat on and off its trailer and deploying it via a crane alongside (in this case) Port Campbell jetty. You need to be a member of the local club and also a licensed operator to use the crane, but once that’s under control you can use it whenever you want.

This system is used by the local cray fishing fleet so it can take 3000kg boats up to 9m, which would certainly take care of the biggest recreational fishing boats.

Your boat needs a few modifications before you can use the crane though. Engineering firms in the district suggest that only aluminium and plate boats be fitted-up — a wise suggestion considering the swell in the Southern Ocean and the fact that fibreglass and pier pylons don’t mix.

Two holes are drilled into each sidepocket — two on opposite sides forward and two again on opposite sides aft. D-shackles are fitted and then seatbelt material is attached in four equal lengths. These in turn are connected to the lifting point, which is a seriously engineered oval shackle. This connects to the crane’s lifting hook. The lifting points are all strenuously tested prior to the initial launch and are deliberately over-engineered.

Once the crane hook is attached the boat is simply lifted of its trailer and lowered alongside the jetty and off you go. The situation is reversed when reloading.

Launching a trailerboat from a crane
Note the four purple straps and oval ring on this boat being carefully lowered to the water. This method provides safe and stable deployment.


Boat Bay ramp

Peterborough Boat Bay
Heading up the extreme ramp at Peterborough’s Boat Bay. A 4WD is a must in this situation.


We’ve all seen those massive ramps that seem to go forever — thin, nasty pieces of work to the uninitiated. Boat Bay, located 5km west of Peterborough along the Great Ocean Road, has one of these beasties. It has stairs running along its entire length for pedestrian access. The ramp fails to make water’s edge and so is transversed by driving forward down the ramp. A tight U-turn on the small beach allows the trailer to reverse into the water, similar to a beach launching situation.

Fortunately there’s good depth at any tide and the sand is firm and compact enough for a quick debark. But you need to be mindful of the swell in the days leading up to your trip as hull-piercing rocks can wash into the ramp area during heavy seas.

A good 4WD is mandatory at any ramp resembling that at Boat Bay. Although boats up to 7m are launched fairly easily here, good local knowledge is vital. You’re better served by heading to the local pub and asking for a few pointers, or even getting a lesson prior to tackling a ramp like this for the first time.


Beach launching in south-west Victoria

Beach launching a boat
Driving parallel to the water in preparation for a beach launch. Note the firm, compact sand, a necessary condition makes for hassle-free launching.

There are any number of places to safely beach launch along the Great Ocean Road and they share a number of characteristics you should know about before you dive in.

The first of course is beach conditions. Firm, compact sand at the launching point is very important. This ensures your vehicle and boat remain on top of the sand rather than sinking below it. Check with locals about this, watch how they do it and don’t be shy about asking questions.

The second consideration typical of beach launching points would be the degree of protection. By that I mean protection from nasty offshore winds that can cause chaos while launching and retrieving. Protection can come from an exposed reef, thereby creating a natural breakwater. Headlands, floating pontoons and jetties can also provide some sort of protection from the wind.

Beach launches need to be quick. Getting in and out with the boat on or off smoothly and in good time, is the key to success. Once your rig is launched, point it into the wind, especially where there’s risk of swell or chop breaking in and over the boat.

The third necessary ingredient to successful beach launching is access. It should be open and unobstructed.

Legality is another issue. Make sure you’re not breaking some local ordinance before you launch, and of course the best source of info on that subject is local boaties.


Local knowledge

Local information can prove invaluable when you’re visiting an area for the first time. Tackle shops, pubs and even the local milk bar can help.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and more importantly, be gracious about it. Drop a couple of stubbies off after your trip as a thank you. These people may end up being your only hope if your trip doesn’t go to plan, so a bit of respect goes a long way. Use the internet to research your destination, find contact details for angling clubs, and ring or email to introduce yourself. And most importantly — ask plenty of questions.


DIY beach launching tools

A number of tools are available to ensure your beach launch goes well. Don’t leave home without them.

• Extra-long drawbars can help with angles and also reduce the depth that the tow vehicle needs to be in the water.

• Over-size jockey wheels can also assist with reducing the depth and encroachment of the tow vehicle.

• Probably the most important piece of equipment is a good, strong length of rope. This can assist in retrieval and also help get you out of trouble if you get bogged.

• Of course you can add accessories to reduce the chances of getting stuck, but you really shouldn’t be getting yourself into that situation, especially if you’ve done your research prior to heading down to the beach.


Originally published in TrailerBoat #266, February 2011. Why not subscribe today?



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