Top tips: Launch and recovery

Top tips: Launch and recovery - Launching and recovery is something that you pay scant regard to when you first think about getting a boat, but unless you keep your boat on the water, it is definitely a fundamental part of getting afloat.

Launch and recovery Launching and recovery is something that you pay scant regard to when you first think about getting a boat, but unless you keep your boat on the water, it is definitely a fundamental part of getting afloat.

The thing is that, if you don’t know what you are doing, launch and recovery can be very stressful, even dangerous. So a bit of planning and preparation can ensure that your boating enjoyment isn’t marred by launching and recovery disasters.

This excerpt from Paul Glatzel’s RYA Powerboat Handbook should help to ensure that you keep your wheels firmly on the slipway and your boat under control at all times. Here are a few pointers...


  •  Where will you launch? Some slipways are public and free, many are privately owned and a fee must be paid.   
  • Check if there are local bylaws to consider, some areas allow only certain types or sizes of boats.  
  • In some areas a permit is required to use a boat.   
  • Some slipways are suitable only for smaller craft, while others have a walkway or dock alongside, making launching easier. Others end abruptly leaving the trailer wheels stuck in the mud at low water.   
  • Ensure your tow vehicle will cope. Rear wheel drive vehicles will struggle on a slippery slope, while front wheel drives suffer from wheel spin if the weight of the trailer is excessive.
  • Choose the slipway and launch method which suits your vehicle. 
  • Check the local tide tables in advance to ensure you have enough water for launching and recovery.  
  • Are conditions safe for launching? Strong winds, especially if they are blowing onshore, can make a launch very difficult and dangerous.  


  •  On arrival, park well away from the slip.  
  • Remove the tailboard straps and boat cover.  
  • Insert the bung and check the hull for damage in transit.   
  • Load the boat with equipment and supplies.  

After a long journey let the wheel bearings cool for 45 minutes before launching. Immersing hot wheel bearings earlier may create a vacuum as the bearings rapidly cool, this draws in water and washes out the grease from the bearings.  


How far the trailer is reversed into the water depends on the gradient of the slipway, the size and weight of boat, and how easy it is to launch from the trailer.  

The rear of the boat needs to float so that it can be reversed or pushed off the trailer. Car wheels are best kept well away from sea water.   

  • Manoeuvre the trailer to the top of the slipway.  
  • Reverse down the slipway if possible only partially submerging the trailer’s wheels (to preserve the bearings and brakes) then push the boat off the trailer or hop into the boat and reverse it away.


  • If the gradient of the slipway is shallow which prevents you launching with the trailer attached to the car, use a rope or metal extension bar to enable the trailer to be reversed further into the water (see photograph above).  
  • At the top of the slipway, disconnect the trailer, lower the jockey wheel and put the handbrake on.  
  • Connect a long line between the trailer and the tow hook using bowlines.  
  • Drive the car forwards to take up the slack in the line. Remove the handbrake and slowly reverse down the slipway while an assistant keeps the trailer in line.  
  • The assistant may need to enter the water to ease the boat off.

Tip - Launching with a rope between the vehicle and trailer can be useful to keep the tow vehicle’s wheels clear of the lower slippery part of the slipway and water.

To avoid the boat sliding off the trailer when backing down the slipway; ensure the winch strap remains attached to the boat along with an additional safety chain or line between the boat and trailer.


In many instances it is possible to stop the boat whilst drifting towards the slip, jump out when the water is shallow enough and hold the boat until the trailer comes into the water.

On other occasions, especially where the slip is steep, it is best to drive the boat onto the trailer.


Driving onto a trailer

This technique requires careful throttle control and more care is required than with a manual recovery. The helmsman needs to line up the approach to the trailer compensating for wind and stream, arriving at the trailer so that the forward ‘V’ of the hull aligns centrally on the trailer. 

  • Ease the trailer into the water so that it is partially submerged and allows the boat to drive on to it.  
  • Trim the engine up so that the prop does not ground on approach, ensure that cooling water is still circulating.  
  • Drive the boat on to the trailer compensating for wind and stream.  
  • For safety reasons, you should get out of the boat when it is towed out of the water.
  • When the boat is on the trailer, either attach the winch strap to the forward D ring or lash a line from the boat to the trailer.   
  • If a rope or bar was used, chock the wheels and reattach the vehicle to the trailer.  
  • Ideally, flush the engine cooling system with fresh water and give the boat and trailer a hose down. If your engine does not have a dedicated flushing point, use a hose attached to muffs to direct fresh water to the intake.

Start the engine and run in neutral for three to four minutes. Check your engine manual for ‘care after use’ details.

If launching or recovering with the trailer detached from the tow vehicle, ensure the trailer is well in the water before pushing the boat off or winching it on.  

The nose of the trailer can be forced rapidly skywards as the weight transfers to the rear of the trailer. Serious injury can occur when boats roll off trailers with the winch strap attached and the winch handle rotating rapidly.  

Use the safety lock to prevent this happening. Never grab a winch handle if it is spinning.  

Before towing
  • Ensure the boat is fully secure on the trailer.  
  • Use tie-down straps on the D-rings on the transom to hold the rear of the boat to the trailer.  
  • Connect the D-ring on the bow to hold the front of the boat in position.  
  • Use a safety chain between the vehicle and the trailer as the two may become detached (see below). 


Tip: Steep slipways and heavy boats can cause serious harm; so take things slowly. Plan what you are going to do and double check everything before you start. Remember, a good launch is one that is slow, controlled and safe.  

Hopefully these tips have helped you out and if you would like to learn more about all aspects of powerboating, Paul Glatzel’s RYA Powerboat Handbook is an ideal guide, you can pick up a copy from the RYA's web shop.