How to beach launch a boat with your 4WD

Australia has some truly epic boating locations, right around the country. The problem is, often boat ramps are few and far between once you get off the beaten track. Launching a boat on the beach has been common practice in many areas of Australia for a long time, and there’s a few ways in which it can be done.

The smaller the boat the easier the job is as there is less chance of getting bogged and you don’t have to go so far back to launch it, but even bigger boats are launched on some beaches in WA. If you want to beach launch a boat trailer, this post covers everything you need to know.

Beach launching a big boat
This is what you want to avoid when launching a boat!

Our setup

A few years ago, I built a 4WD boat trailer with the intention of taking it to some of the more remote parts of Australia. It’s been to Steep Point twice, and done the Gibb River Road with zero failures or problems.

I’m confident its been designed well, and proud of what I’ve done, in matching it to the 80 Series Land Cruiser (now towed by our Isuzu Dmax or a friends vehicle). 

4WD and off road boat trailer
Our previous 4WD and off road boat trailer

How to beach launch a boat

In general, we avoid launching the boat where the waves are more than half a metre. It just becomes too hard trying to control it all, and the risk of someone getting hurt goes up dramatically. Water easily gets over the back of the boat and it just becomes a nightmare you don’t want to be a part of.

For the most part, in calm conditions where the water drops off relatively fast, we just back up enough until the wheels of the 4WD are touching where the water rolls in, and push the boat off. As it sits very high on the trailer, often it drops down a lot before floating away, and often water goes over the back, but the bilge pump soon takes care of it.

Alternatively, we unhook the winch rope and reverse back before jarring the brakes on, which sends the boat off the trailer by itself.

Launching the tinny
Beach launching the tinny at Horrocks

If its rougher, or the water takes a very long time to get deeper, we detach the trailer, and push it into the water before tilting it up and pushing the boat off. With 3 people pushing the trailer and boat around is fairly easy, but it can be difficult to retrieve depending on how soft the sand is.

We always let the tyres down on the 4WD to around 15 PSI, and the boat trailer usually around 5 – 6 PSI.

You should avoid driving through salt water in a 4WD, and I can’t stand seeing it get onto nice 4WD’s.

Steep Point beaches
Keeping the salt in the ocean, and not on the car!

Retrieving the boat

When it comes to putting the boat back on the trailer, if its calm we leave the trailer attached and winch it up. However, more often than not, the trailer is detached, pushed into the water, the boat winched onto the trailer and then we pull the trailer back up the beach with a snatch strap or winch. This is done very slowly and carefully, and can be a bit sketchy if waves roll in.

Once the trailer is out of the way, its just a matter of hooking it back up to the 4WD.

Boat retrieval at Lucky Bay
Retrieving the tinny at Lucky Bay, Esperance

How can you make launching and retrieval easier?

Long/extendable drawbar

Boats that are regularly launched off beaches will either have long draw bars, or in some cases a draw bar that folds or slides out to make it much longer. Obviously when towing it you fold it away, but it makes the need to back your 4WD into the water so much substantially reduced.

Double boat trailer launch
Launching at Duke of Orleans with a double trailer setup

Third wheel at the front on a hub

A fantastic way for making a trailer easy to manage on the beach is to mount the spare wheel near the winch post, on a wheel hub, so it can spin. This allows you to detach the boat trailer and it will sit on wheels, and can be pushed in and out without much drama.

Our trailer and boat is light enough (and the tyres are too big to fit) that I’ve never bothered, but it does mean you never have to worry about supporting the front of the trailer while you move it around.

Break back trailers

My understanding is that you can’t build break back trailers anymore, but they are a fantastic solution for beach launching. Instead of having to wind your boat up over the first few rollers, you just break the trailer’s back and it lowers itself as you winch the boat back on.

Let your tyres down properly

If you are lazy and don’t let your tyres down for a soft beach, you run the risk of paying the ultimate price. There’s a lot of 4WD’s that end up drowned by the sea because they got stuck too close to the water. A bit of preparation makes the boat launching and retrieval simple, safe and fast. This is one of 6 reasons tyre pressures are critical on a 4WD.

Tyre pressures when 4WDing
The right tyre pressures make a world of difference

Prepare before going ahead with it

In time, you soon learn what makes launching a boat quickly. Things like having the safety chain disconnected from the boat, ratchet straps undone, rope to hold the boat out and accessible, fuel bulb primed and ready to go, bungs in, motor up, enough room to easily get into the boat and start the motor all make life much more efficient.

Of course, you’ll forget some of these things from time to time, and usually its not the end of the world. However, if a big wave decides to roll in the moment you are fluffing around it can end in tears!

Launching at Duke of Orleans
Getting the boat ready before you back into the water is a great idea

Time it right

Beach launching is all about being efficient, timing it right and not taking too long to get it done. This comes from practice, but if its calm and drops off fast life is made much easier. Watch the waves, and time it in between so you don’t end up with salt water covering everything!

Respect the ocean

At the end of the day, no amount of gear or preparation will overcome mother nature. If its rough, either find somewhere else to launch or give it a miss. Even with our little tinny we’ve had a few squashed fingers, bruised feed and minor cuts from when things haven’t quite gone to plan. If you don’t have a healthy respect for the ocean it will soon teach you one!

Lucky bay waves
Respect the ocean, or it’ll make a mess of you

Launching and retrieving a boat on the beach is quite simple, providing you do it right. Do you launch off a beach? What size boat, and how do you go about it?

Beach launching at Coronation
Preparation is key

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  1. Hey Cameron,

    I assume you are talking about rim size, in which case its a personal decision. Just be aware that its very hard to get some wheels these days, especially if they are an old pattern. If it is a light weight boat and trailer the tyre size will matter less, but the bigger the tyre the more it will float on the sand. The rim size is less important, as long as you don’t go for anything low profile!

    All the best

  2. Hey bro,
    Just rebuilding my tinnie trailer for offroad sand driving. Should i go up to 14″ tyres? Thry are 13 at the moment.