Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

How to Launch and Retrieve a Sailboat with a Trailer

Apparently, a lot of people want to know

Since my postings about the construction of the trailer for Black Magic, I have noticed a number of visitors to this blog have arrived via searches having to do not just with trailers in general but also with how to launch and retrieve boats. While many of my faithful readers probably already know how to do it, there are people who are new to sailboats, or who are new to trailer launching, or who don’t do anything with sailboats at all but who could benefit from understanding some of the apparently bizarre behavior of sailboat people during the launching or retrieval process. Part of the inspiration for this post is the two little old ladies in a minivan who drove right over our launch rope (it wasn’t all the way taut, thank goodness) while Tadpole, Seymour, and I were repositioning Black Magic on the trailer as we prepared to move it north.

First, this procedure doesn’t apply to all sailboats. The ones with a keel that pulls up can launch without much more difficulty than the typical motorboat. But those boats that have a fixed keel that sticks down several feet into the water need a lot more work to launch. To get the boat out into the water deep enough to float off the trailer, the trailer has to go way down the ramp, which means the towing vehicle can’t just back it down – the truck would get submerged.

Before you launch the boat, you want to make sure you have the right equipment. Your towing vehicle needs to be fairly heavy – at least a midsize SUV or pickup truck. The mass is important for keeping everything balanced. Also, your towing vehicle must NOT be front-wheel drive – when the weight of the trailer presses down on the back of the vehicle, the front wheels lose traction. Best is rear-wheel drive with an option of engaging four-wheel drive manually; next-best is all-wheel drive, which uses rear-wheel drive most of the time but switches to four-wheel drive when the black-box computer under the hood senses the need. A two-wheel drive truck is also a reasonable option in all but the most marginal conditions, so long as it’s rear-wheel drive.

In addition to the proper towing vehicle, you also need some accessories: a good, long, strong rope to use to let the trailer into the water; some good wheel chocks, preferably with ropes attached to make them easy to yank out when the time is right – you absolutely do NOT want the little cheap yellow things; possibly some additional tools depending on the design of the trailer.

The basic procedure: Driver backs the trailer up to the edge of the water. Crew places wheel chocks behind the trailer wheels. Trailer is detached from towing vehicle. The trailer’s spare tire is mounted at the front of the trailer (the exact means of mounting vary from trailer to trailer) so that it will hold the trailer tongue up and roll smoothly. A very long rope is tied from the trailer to the towing vehicle.

Next, the towing vehicle pulls forward until the rope is taut. (This was the stage at which the little old ladies threatened our operation.) The chocks are pulled out from behind the trailer wheels, and the vehicle backs up as the trailer submerges itself in the water. If all goes well, and if the boat ramp has been well maintained so there aren’t any sandbars right at the base of the ramp, the trailer should roll on out until the boat floats free. If there are sandbars, additional help may be needed, such as having people holding onto dock lines running out on the courtesy dock parallel to the ramp to try to pull the trailer and boat into the water, or enlisting the help of a nearby powerboater to pull the trailer in deep enough.

Once the boat is launched, the driver pulls forward enough to get the trailer out of the water; the trailer wheels are chocked, and the driver backs down to pick up the trailer.

Retrieving the boat isn’t all that different from launching it. If there are sandbars at the foot of the launch ramp, there may be more need to pull the empty trailer out than was needed when the boat was on it. And the boat’s mass contributed momentum to getting the trailer to roll out. Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same deal as above – chock the trailer wheels, get the line taut, unchock, back up the truck, get the boat onto the trailer, make sure it’s secure, pull out.

It’s a bit ironic, I suppose … my brother has become the Internet authority on frying eggs over-easy – I seem poised to be the world’s sailboat-trailer guru.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Adrift At Sea said...

Yes, I am spoiled. Launching the Pretty Gee is exceptionally simple. And the water doesn't even have to be all that deep to do it. :D

I haven't seen anyone launch a keelboat at my marina with out the assistance of the forklift truck... which is massive and just picks the boat up off the trailer and lowers it into the water... but that takes none of the skill and planning needed to actually use a trailer to launch the same boat.

Thu Jun 15, 05:06:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

Our boat, unlike some, has another option for launching and retrieval. It has lifting eyes built into the bottom of the cockpit, and we have a couple of very-heavy-duty lifting straps (6,000 lb. working load for a 3400 lb. boat). So, at some marinas, boatyards, sailing clubs, and yacht clubs, we could launch with the use of a crane. That's how Black Magic got out of the water in Ventura Harbor when Carol Anne first got the boat.

Another important note for retrieval is having things set up so that the keel is properly centered on the trailer. Very bad things can happen if this isn't the case, as was hinted at in a previous post on this blog. Setting up a trailer with some sort of alignment indicator, and clever use of ropes and keel stops can help prevent disaster.

Thu Jun 15, 02:51:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Our other boat, the MacGregor, is really easy to launch, since it has a swing keel. It doesn't need very deep water, it can be launched from a reasonably firm and smooth shore if a ramp isn't available, and it doesn't even require a truck -- a midsize or larger car will do.

On the other hand, it's a Shetland pony, while the Etchells is a Thoroughbred racehorse, in terms of performance.

Fri Jun 16, 12:57:00 AM MDT  
Anonymous Adrift At Sea said...

My trailer has two five-foot PVC pipe sections that stick up out of the water to help you line the boat up properly on the trailer, even if the water is too murky to see the trailer.

Fri Jun 16, 04:13:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

We're putting bicycle flags -- those flourescent-orange pennants on 8-foot flexible staffs -- on the rear corners of our trailer, and we already have the ladders at the front, to make aiming the boat at the trailer really easy.

Sun Jun 18, 10:30:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Greg Lloyd said...

I would really love to have the Etchells but am concerned about the dry sailing as you mentioned above. I would be using the boat in the SF Bay and the lakes of No. Calif. Can you asuage my concerns?

Fri Jul 14, 01:42:00 AM MDT  
Anonymous wyejay said...

This is a good set of instructions. I'd make two additions.

At some point on the displacement scale, you'll want to substitute chain for rope. I use 3/8 chain on my 8,000 lb. trailer-launched Privateer.

When you put the trailer on the rope/chain, have it angled to roll slightly AWAY from the launch dock. You won't be able to steer it as you let it down into the water, and you don't want it coming up against the dock before the boat floats.

Tue Mar 06, 02:26:00 PM MST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

George in Toronto
I'm new in sailing and bought a mirage 26 sailboat,on a land cradle. Boat is located in Keswick Ont. The Marinia wants $250 to lift off the mast(no pivot),$350 to lift the boat onto trailer and $140 land storage for one month- and 7% GST Yaaks!.
Local marinias in Toronto are the same--crooks.
We do have alot of free use lake ramps and many thanks to the author for his posting--

Fri Oct 03, 07:01:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Bristolview said...

I use a similar method. I back up to the edge of the ramp then park the tow vehicle. I then hook up a ComeAlong winch to the hitch and trailer. Once that is on, I drop the front wheel on the trailer (making a 3 wheeled trailer), unhitch it, and then slowly let the trailer back down the ramp on the ComeAlong cable winch. Once the boat is floating, just winch the trailer back up, hitch it and drive away. Couldn't be simpler. If the trailer needs a bit of steering on teh way down, it's easy to do just by pushing the tongue one way or the other. Works for me.

Sat Feb 28, 02:56:00 PM MST  
Anonymous Free Sailboats said...

This is really, really informative. I never encountered such a situation but in the event that I do, I'll keep your words in mind. Thanks a lot.

Thu Feb 02, 02:19:00 AM MST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have trailer with two hitchs. One fix and one that pulls out about 15feet. My reg dose not even get wet. I have 76 Oday 22.

Fri Aug 24, 05:09:00 PM MDT  

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