How to Take a Boat to the Sea

Unless you live just by the sea or keep you boat in a marina, taking your boat to the sea and back to you place is normally the beginning and end of every sailing trip. It can be the most challenging and exhausting parts of it, too. In this article, I will try to give you some advice on how to avoid damages on your boat when you have to face on- and offshore winds, tidal torrents or heavy waves.

Imagine you have succeeded transporting you beloved boat to the shore, the weather is nice and you are all keen to get started. Releasing the boat might now be the biggest challenge. It is very common that boats get damaged at this point, from minor scratches in the varnish to major cracks, for example in the keel.

It is useful to step back for a moment and think of the obstacles that you will have to face now. The main problems are tidal streams or other kinds of torrents; waves, that might hit you unexpectedly if generated by a large yacht passing-by; and the wind.

Remember: In case that the wind is blowing off the land and towards the see, it is called “offshore wind”; the shore is called “weather shore”. Under these circumstances it will be much easier to launch you boat, it is likely that you will encounter only few waves. This can change once you are further off the shore, though – check the weather forecast to avoid waves that could potentially spoil your trip. Check the strength of the wind, too, as coming back to the shore will require you beating windward.

Mind the wind: Onshore or offshore?

In case that the wind is blowing from the sea towards the land, it is called “onshore wind” and the shore is then called “lee shore”. Depending on the strength of the wind, it can be challenging to launch a boat from a lee shore. As soon as the boat is floating, try to head windward and sail away from the shore. Landing can be even more difficult, because of waves, and you should be careful.

Other obstacles to keep in mind are tidal streams and torrents. While you should avoid launching spots near rivers and other places with natural torrents, tidal motion is a more common issue. In shallow water, these streams are generally not as strong as they are in deep water. Think of the relation between tidal stream and wind strength – is the wind strong enough to support the motion of the boat, even against the torrent?

Often it is the opposite, and you should sail away from the shore pointing into the tidal stream. Coming back to the shore, plan around the tide and use it to stop at the point where you want to take you boat out of the sea. Often, you can neglect the wind, using only a jib and rely on the tidal stream as the main force acting on your boat.

Using aids to launch your boat

Leaving the shore can be achieved under a couple of different circumstances: directly from the beach or using aids like slipways and pontoons. In the following paragraphs, I will discuss how to launch the boat from each of these.

1.) Ideally, you will launch your boat from a slipway. Using a trolley, slipways allow you to access the sea much easier than almost any natural surface. Slipways are normally smooth concrete areas that directly access the sea; some come with rails that normally lead into storage facilities or warehouses. For smaller dinghies, anyone should do the job and rails are not a necessity at all.

Be careful with slippy slipways. Algae and other marine life forms love to grow on concrete, and wearing good shoes is a must when you need to support not only yourself, but also the weight of your boat.

Have a look at the end of the slipway. Depending on the marine floor, they sometimes end abruptly into the open sea. Be careful not to fall into the sea, especially during low tide. If you are with other people, try to launch the boat together: One person dragging the trolley with the boat on it, another one holding the painter to keep the boat from floating away. If you are by yourself, make sure that the boat is tied to you.

Pontoons often come together with slipways and will help you and other people to get into the boat conveniently and even dryly. They will also enable you to sort out the rigging at the end and beginning of the trip much more handily.

2.) Launching the boat to the sea directly from the beach is usually more difficult than using a slipway. Look at the surface of the beach: is it flat or rocky? Is it sandy grounds with shallow water or stony with steeper access, but potentially damaging rocks under the surface?

For shallow sandy beaches, you will need a trolley with wide tyres. Beaches with steeper slopes can surprise you with larger waves. Try to stick with launching points that you know. If you are new to an area, ask local sailors for advice. If you want to launch a larger boat, get assistance and don’t try to do it yourself.

Further Reading

Back to "boats"

How to Choose a Sailboat

Hull care and maintenance

Wikipedia on Slipways

Registry of places for launching yachts