Page updated: 6 April 2009
Launching a SeaHawk into and recovery from sheltered waters is easy to do single handed. This page shows how one owner does it. In tidal waters, windy conditions, or where the slipway has no sides, it may require additional help or adaptations to the trailer. One solution for these problems is described below in the Wind and Current section.
The first thing to do is prepare the boat by stowing the sails, tiller and rudder. The keel should also be raised to avoid any possibility of it becoming fouled on the trailer. The mast is not lowered until it is ashore. You don't want the bolt through the mast step or tabernacle going overboard, do you? It'll be easier to find on land! In any case, having the mast hanging over the stern just means it's more likely to get damaged.
Having got the trailer to the slipway, don't forget to remove the lighting board. (In this case the step ladder too. It's used to climb aboard once the boat is on the trailer and goes in the cockpit on the return journey.)
Next, check the extent of the slipway. Unlike coastal harbours, where the bottom of the slipway is often buried in firm sand, on many river and lakes the concrete stops abruptly, often leaving a significant drop to the bed of the river beyond. A trailer going too far can easily become grounded with the wheels hanging uselessly over the edge of the concrete and making it near impossible to recover.
To increase the depth of water over the back of the trailer when it is in the water and thus make it easier to get the boat onto the trailer, adjust the jockey wheel to raise the front of the trailer as high as possible.
If one is available, secure the trailer to the ground winch. (The base of the one seen here is buried deep in a large block on concrete, itself well buried in the ground.) If not, to avoid dunking the back end of your car, especially the exhaust pipe, tie a long line to your car's tow bar and secure the other end to the trailer.
Finally, pay out just enough line or reverse to the point where the trailer wheels are just short of the end of the slip or the boat is in deep enough for the boat to float onto the trailer. On some slipways the slope is not great enough for the trailer to descend the ramp without assistance! Often, you will find that it grinds to a halt as soon as it hits the water, or one wheel catches and it turns unexpectedly. It can then be difficult to get straight and requires more paddling in cold November water than is good for you. In such cases try to clear the obstacle or line up to avoid the underwater obstruction, measure out enough line from the ground winch or car to the end of the slip and attempt a good shove instead.
Once the trailer is in the water and either as far as is possible or deep enough, then take up any slack in the line to the winch. This will both help hold the trailer straight and ensure it doesn't roll over the edge of the ramp.
Before untying the boat, if suffering significant current or side winds, take two lines to the boat from a single ring or post on the bank. Arrange the lengths of these, as best you can, so that when both are taut the boat will swing in an arc directly onto the trailer.
Release the boat and taking a (third?) line from the bow, climb aboard the trailer. Play out the belt from the trailer winch until there is sufficient to reach the ring bolt on the bow. Using the bow line, bring the boat close enough to the trailer to connect the webbing strap to the bolt.
Those with a pulpit will find the next stage much easier, as at the same time as getting the boat in line with the centre of the trailer, you need to work your way back to be within reach of the winch.
At this point, the leading edge of the keel should either just be scrubbing on the trailer's central platform or touching the back roller, depending on the depth of water, type of trailer or steepness of the slipway. Now the slack in the strap can be taken up, by turning the winch handle.
When there is only a couple of inches of slack left and with the front of the keel in contact with the trailer, check how the boat pivots. It should be pivoting on that point. Swing the bow to each side to check that the point of contact is on the centre line of the trailer. If necessary push the boat off to take up the slack and then pull it back again. Repeat until satisfied that the point of contact in on the centre line. If there is one, holding the central upright of the pulpit will help this process.
Reflections off the water and general murkiness will often make it impossible to see the position of the bilge fins, so checking how the boat pivots is usually the only way to confirm that the bilge fins will arrive on their rests. Once happy that the alignment is correct, and all slack has been taken up, then is the time to turn the winch handle with more vigour.
If water levels are especially low and the leading edge of the keel, rather than its bottom, is in contact with the trailer, then the initial few turns will be quite tight and the boat and trailer may groan a bit. But once beyond the point where there is more vertical movement than horizontal, progress should be obvious and steady. Continue until the bows sit in the jaws of the winch.
With the boat sitting neatly on the trailer it is time to return ashore and to the ground winch. Steadily turn the winch handle, or hop into the car and drive forward, and so bring the trailer out of the water. As soon as possible check the position of the bilge fins, in case it is necessary to return the boat to the water to reposition it. However, if full precautions were taken to ensure alignment when in the water, all should be well.
Depending on the approach to the slipway, its steepness and the grip it provides, it may be possible to avoid the use of a ground winch or rope extension to the tow hitch and to be able to keep the car directly connected to the trailer throughout the operation. The netting on this slipway surface would certainly provide those with 4x4 vehicles adequate grip, while front wheel drive cars would get no benefit as their drive wheels would be in loose cinders higher up the ramp while the boat is on the steepest part of the slipway. Not only that, as the track on this slipway turns sharply above the ramp the normal action of a differential gear would increase the likelihood of skidding.
In this case, as the towing vehicle is a 1600cc Renault Scènic, it was felt prudent to use the winch to draw the trailer all the way up the slope and only then hitch onto the car. As the trailer will tip when you are on board and any distance behind the trailer's main wheels, it is always vital to hitch the trailer to the car, or prop the back of the trailer, before using the ladder to climb aboard and lower the mast. Finally, the mast needs to be supported and the boat must be secured to the trailer ready for towing home.
Launching is little more than the reverse process. If anything it is slightly more difficult to get the boat off the trailer. Water levels can frequently prevent the trailer from going deep enough to allow the boat to float off and it can be harder to push the boat off the trailer, even with keel rollers, than to use a trailer's winch to drag it onto the trailer.
Perhaps the most important thing to say is, don't forget to attach a mooring rope and secure the loose end somewhere if you are not prepared for a swim!
The Pedro is a boat that uses the same hull as a SeaHawk and so has similar concerns when it comes to aligning boat and trailer on recovery from the water. One Pedro owner regularly launches at Lerryn on the Fowey estuary and at Malpas on the Fal estuary. In both places the tide sweeps straight across the slipways and there is nowhere to stand to hold effective side warps. Accordingly, using only the techniques outlined above you would be limited to launching at slack water as, at other times, the boat has a very strong urge to go sideways.
As I couldn't use side warps at my favourite launching sites I fitted my trailer with one inch square steel section guides going up to gunwale height. Connecting these is the same size section running across the trailer and welded in place just in front of the wheels. To protect the hull, the uprights, which would be fairer to call restraints, are enclosed in plastic pipe with a tennis ball covering the top. With these the boat is, in effect, held in place at its mid section. Because the uprights finish just below the gunwale they do not increase the total towing width and the white pipes do give a clear indication of width for other road users and me.
Another owner sent a photograph of the slipway at Liverpool Sailing Club saying:
"I too have fitted uprights to my trailer to help align the boat in tidal situations. Mine are made from 2" x 2" x 3/8" angle bar with wooden blocks covered in carpet attached which act as guides against the hull. I find in strong tides I have a matter of minutes to get the trailer into shallower water before both the boat and trailer are washed away! My boat has to float onto the trailer which is made easier by positioning the trailer across the slip so not to have to fight against the current as much. I intend to adapt the trailer further with rollers with the hope of being able to winch the boat on after it is grounded on the slip.
In the meantime I have joined another club based on the River Weaver which is non tidal and I will be able to launch more easily with the trailer still attached to the car; more similar to the conditions that you enjoy."