advice on beach landing desperately needed

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I just bought my first Laser and on Thanksgiving Day I took her out for the first time. (The boat is a 1986 model, so it's maiden voyage happened long ago, but it was my first time using it.) It has been 20+ years since I have sailed, but as I expected sailing is just like riding a bike and the rigging / launching / sailing was problem free. However, all my sailing experience has always been on fresh water lakes, and this was my first time sailing in the ocean. (I brought the boat to Bald Head Island off the coast of Southport, NC.)

I learned that I don't have a clue when it comes to landing a sailboat on a beach in the surf. It was fairly disastrous. This is how it went down: I headed in to the beach going with the waves, not quite perpendicular to the shore. I was sitting on the starboard gunwale sailing "by the lee". The starboard gunwale was slightly closer to the beach than the port gunwale.

I figured that I'd land much like I do with a paddle surfboard. My intension was to sail right up on the beach and let go of the sheet to de-power the sail. I didn't want the daggerboard to hit the bottom so I pulled the daggerboard up as far as I could. I realized that it was high enough so that if the boom swung by it would not clear the top of the daggerboard, so I pulled out the daggerboard entirely.

I thought that the speed of the boat would allow me to cruise up on the sand, but I was wrong. As soon as the bow of the boat hit the sand the stern swung around too so that the boat was parallel with the shoreline. Keep in mind that since I was "by the lee" the boom was now hanging out over the bow. The first wave that came in capsized me so that the top of the mast landed on the sand, and I landed in the surf with the hull being pushed up against me. The daggerboard was crashing into everything because it was still attached with the bungee.

Since I was by myself and not strong enough to muscle the boat in the waves that just kept coming and coming. I quickly came to the conclusion that my only choice was to de-rig the boat while it was on its side in the crashing surf. My first order of business was to get the rudder off so that it didn't get snapped off. I ran the rudder up onto the beach and ran back to the boat.

Next was the daggerboard. I unclipped the Brummel hooks and ran it up to the beach.

Next was the boom. I undid the clew hook and the boom fell off the gooseneck. I untied the stop knot from the main and pulled the sheet through all the blocks. (Amazingly when this whole episode was over the Brummel hooks on the traveller were still attached and I didn't loose the small block. Looking back, I deserved to lose that block, or break something, or get hurt. Fortunately none of those things happened. Happy THANKSgiving.)

At this point I decided that I needed to right the boat to drag it up on the beach. I ran back to the daggerboard so I could reinstall it for leverage. I walked the boat into deeper water, righted it, removed the daggerboard and once again ran it up onto the beach.

I then de-stepped the mast and ran it up onto the beach with the sail still attached.

Lastly I ran back out into the surf to get the hull that was being bashed around. I dragged it up on the beach, then dropped to my ass exhausted.

Because of the current, when I finally got the hull on the sand I was about 100 yds down the beach from where the rudder was. It was a true yard sale with my equipment strewn all across the beach. And ALL of it was coated with a thick layer of sand, including me.

If anyone has any advice on how to do a proper beach landing I'd love to hear it. As humorous as this whole episode was, I'd rather not repeat it.

Thanks in advance,



Just sailing
This is why very few people actually surf-launch a Laser. I've never done it myself, but that never stops me from offering advice.

I think your mistake was trying to sail right up to the beach. Instead, you need to stop the best you can in waist-deep water (admittedly difficult in the surf) and jump out of the boat. Let the sail out, get the rudder up, and get the board out. This would be a good application for the quick-release clew sleeve. This would allow to do quickly disconnect the sail from the boom and just let it fly.

Once you have the boards up and the sail loose, you can then walk the boat to shore through the waves.


My Mom was a WAVE. She absolutely would not have liked it if I sailed through her and the others in her unit on the way to shore
Well, if they had nothing better to do than stand in the surf, hope they would catch one lone bald headed guy on Thanksgiving.


I agree with Torrid. I've never done a beach landing in heavy surf, but once I knew the waves were carrying me in, I'd raise the rudder, disconnect the clew, put the centerboard in the boat and jump out in waist deep water. You could then control the landing. It doesn't sound easy, though, to try to control something as big as a Laser.
I launch from the beach on Lake Huron all the time since that's where I keep my boat. It's not an ocean, but the waves can certainly be ocean-like when the wind is right. Anyway, I never run the boat all the way in. I usually have the daggerboard up about half way to make sure I don't snag a sandbar. I also turn into the wind starting when I'm in about shoulder-height water (depending on speed/waves/wind). The goal is to essentially be pointed into the wind and gradually being pushed toward shore at a point where the water is about waist deep. From there, I have a second person get the trailer while I hold the boat and start taking the daggerboard off and rudder up (usually not off while still in the water). I then get the boat onto the trailer with the sail still fully rigged. I don't start taking the rest of the rigging off until I'm on solid ground because it's too hard (and dangerous) to do it in the surf.

I've found it impossible to gracefully (or even competently) launch and land from a beach in high winds and surf singlehandedly. A second person will make your life much easier.
I have spent all my life sailing from a shingle beach on the South Coast of England, where the prevailing and surf is straight onto the seashore. In the Laser, one thing you learn is that you do not want to be messing around trying to hold the boat and derigging it in the surf, you want to get the boat out of the water as fast as possible, a few small scratches from the shingle, are much more preferable than lost rudders, boards. bent masts, injuries all of which which can happen if you enter the wash sequence in the surf.

Our technique is as follows:-

About 100 yards offshore, directly upwind of where you want to land (+ allow for current), release the vang a bit , and go head to wind.
Grab the mainsheet at the end of boom block, pull the stopper knot end in (Making sure the mainsheet is free to run through the cockpit block) and untie the stopper knot, (which should be a figure of eight knot) then let go.
Then bear away (may need to reverse the rudder if you get into irons) , and the mainsail will run out infront of the boat.
Pull the surplus mainsheet into the boat.
Pull the dagger board up so there is approx 4 inches below the boat to give directional stability
Sit on the aft deck and aim the boat straight at the shore.
Undo the rudder holding down line from the cleat (The friction in the stock should stop it floating up)
Get the bow up as much as possible and with the mainsial just "weathervaning" you should have basically only wave speed for when the bow hits the beach. You want to get the boat to sail up the beach as far as possible.
Once the bow hits, jump out of the windward side of the boat, run to the bow, grab it and pull the boat up the beach as quickly as you can.
Once clear of the surf, sortout the rudder, board etc. and lift boat onto the trolley (dolley)

All this is based on having no-one to help you, if you are lucky to have a helper, then we still do the mainsail release offshore, but instead aim for the trolley that your helper has put in the water, and then slide off the back of the boat when it gets to the shore and guide it onto the trolley from the stern, while your helper pulls the bow onto the dolley.

In either case, don't let the boat get sideways onto the surf.

You might have guesed that our club is not the sort of place where people have polished hull finishes

Hope this helps.
Nipper, I agree with everything you said except I do not like scratches in the bottom of my boat. I use a small 5 lb mushroom anchor with an old lobster float tied to it. I leave it in the water in a spot that will be waist deep when I come back in, allowing for the tide difference. When I come back, I hop off the boat in waist deep water and tie the boat to the float while I go get my dolly. I also tie up the boat after launching the boat, while putting my dolly away. On a day with heavy surf, I put the anchor out past where the waves crash. My boat never touches the beach.
I live on a north facing beach of the Chesapeake Bay and beach launch every day. It requires a bit of seamanship, but here’s what I do;

Always launch the boat into the surf bow first; stern first launches are fine for calm days, but who goes sailing when the wind/waves are calm?

Second, I routinely launch by myself so I keep a small grapple anchor with a foot of chain, and a 5 foot rode, a small buoy and a loop to tie off my bowline. I'm 6'2'' tall so I set this anchor and buoy in about 4 to 5 feet of water just beyond the shore break if possible. This gives me a visual reference as I approach the shore as to how much water I have under my dagger board.

I wade out from the beach, set my anchor and wade back to shore then launch my boat. One the boat is afloat, I make the bowline fast to the buoy, and with the sail free this keeps the bow into the wind and waves.

I pull the dolly up above the high water mark on the sand.

I wade back out to the boat, insert the dagger board, attach the clew hook to the sail, drop the rudder, get in the boat untie the bowline from the buoy, and go sailing.

My beaching procedure is almost the same but reversed;
Before making my approach, I under the sister(bromel) hooks on dagger board shock cord, under the cleat on the tiller for the rudder downhaul line make sure the mainsheet is clear to run and commence my approach.

I make my approach across the wind as best I can, beam reach parallel to the shoreline is best (assuming the wind and surf are perpendicular to the shore, decelerate and pick up my buoy, making the bowline fast to it again. I undo the clew hook from the sail, I get out, remove the dagger board, and the rudder/tiller assembly then wade to shore

I retrieve my dolly and wade out with it (the tires keep it afloat) I then untie the bowline from the buoy, and slide the boat onto the dolly. With both the boat and dolly fast together I again wade to shore and push the boat to shore stern first. Then go back in and retrieve the buoy and anchor.

I have found this method works well in shore break up to chest high, anything above that I've working against the wave action too much to be able to control boat and dolly by myself. Hope this helps!
Nipper, I agree with everything you said except I do not like scratches in the bottom of my boat. I use a small 5 lb mushroom anchor with an old lobster float tied to it. I leave it in the water in a spot that will be waist deep when I come back in, allowing for the tide difference. When I come back, I hop off the boat in waist deep water and tie the boat to the float while I go get my dolly. I also tie up the boat after launching the boat, while putting my dolly away. On a day with heavy surf, I put the anchor out past where the waves crash. My boat never touches the beach.
I'm sure that would work, however, where I sail we have a 3.5+m tidal range, so sometimes we can launch at low tide, when the surf is not a problem, but at the end of the race, the water level is a 60m walk higher up the beach. These are the joys of sailing off a steeply shelving and then flat ,shallow, coastline.
I gave up on impressing the girls on the beach with a cool landing long ago :eek: I tried it a few times when I was younger (thinking I'd be the hero) and ended up with egg on my face every time :rolleyes:

These days the best I can come up with is quickly turning the boat into the wind at the last minute when the water depth is shallow enough for me to jump out and stand up.

I bail out quickly, grab the back of the boat and keep it pointed into the wind with my hands. When you're standing at the back of the boat you'll see two quick release blocks right in front of you - disconnect both of those and the boom will then be free to move wherever it wants and the boat will be 1000x easier to keep pointed into the wind. In fact, were it not for the waves it wouldn't matter if it was pointed into the wind or not.

You can then catch your breath and plan your next steps at your leisure.

Don't make it too complicated. Forget about the rudder - it pops up on it's own if it hits something. (obviously you don't want to hit rocks - only soft stuff). I focus instead on the centerboard. I only pull it up enough so that the boom is close to hitting it. That's fine. At that point you can forget about it.

Overcoming fear is the big thing when landing your boat at the end of the day. Practice makes perfect. Now that I think about it, I have had some great landings (but there were no girls present to impress :()

Unless the waves are really huge when you're standing at the back of the boat, and have the two blocks separated, you can then take your sweet time undoing the rigging in whatever manner you see fit. You can/should be able to relatively easily de-rig pretty much the entire boat except for the mast/sail assembly. Just stick all you gear in the cockpit and when there's nothing left but the hull with the mast and the sail on it you can then drag the boat right on to shore where you can then catch your breath or peel off the mast. It's a very clean way to do things and you won't loose your gear.

Again, this assumes the shore is not rocks. Believe it or not it's that simple. Don't overthink it or make a checklist in your mind. Resolve to do only one thing, turn into the wind, jump out at the rear, keep the boat pointed into the wind and disconnect the two blocks. Everything else after that is all at your leisure.

Great post by the way, you've did an excellent job of describing a very common occurrence. I could literally see the whole episode in my mind :cool:
If you are recovering in surf the last thing you want to do is point the boat into the wind. All that happens is you go through the washing machine and destroy your rig as the next wave picks you up. If surf is that bad you just have to head for shore and either sail up the shore (hopefully a soft shore) and accept the scratches or you need a beach crew to catch you and carry the boat out of the water. (Similar technique for launching with a crew to carry you to the water and only put you in the water when you are ready to sail)

Photos attached are from the Newhaven Q. I decided not to launch as I had a brand new boat that weekend and I hate surf launch/recovery. All credit to the beach teams who caught most of the boats. Still lots of breakages when people tried to turn up into the wind instead of keep pointing at shore on way in.

Full series


Sailor Chick, my experience of Laser returning to the beach in surf is based on sailing on the Solent, where in a South Westerly and high tide it can get a bit nasty. However this is toy surf compared to Newhaven.

I remember sailing a Fireball open meeting there in 1985 (probably before you were born). We wondered at the time why all the local boats (which were all wood at that time) were a bit comstically tatty. Launched without much problem in 6-7 mph of wind, but the wind built as the day went on. The sailing was fantastic, large rolling waves nuch nicier than the Solent chop (especially upwind in a Fireball). Finsihed the last race in about a 25mph South Westerly

Then we came to go home.... large surf bashing on the beach, and only a small beach crew. We dropped the main offshore, and because we had a lifting rudder, we sailed straight in, caught a wave at the last moment, went straight through the beach party and straight up and onto the beach. Ripped the centreboard gasket off, but that was minor compared to others.

The others coming ashore had all sorts of problems. They tried turning around head to wind in the surf, but you just could not hold a boat in it. There was chaos, capsized boats washing up the beach on their sides, boats going over to top of people, bent masts, lost gear, and these were good sailors.

We then watched the locals come in. They left there mains up, and sailed the boats straight up the beach at full tilt. One must have stopped 20 yards from the water. The crew then jumped out and swung the boat head to wind. They sustained no damage.

Thats when we knew why they had tatty looking boats!

I have a maxim for launching and recovery on a lee shore in any onshore wind or surf:-

Always have the boat between you and the beach, never be the filling in the sandwich.
I have a maxim for launching and recovery on a lee shore in any onshore wind or surf:-

Always have the boat between you and the beach, never be the filling in the sandwich.
Incredibly good advice!

And I'm not quite as young as you think Nipper - I was 5 in 1985. Although I did get ID'd buying a bottle of wine a couple of weeks ago :)


Just sailing
I'm real particular about scratches on my boat, so I would never even think of surf launching it. However, if I win that new Laser tomorrow - correction, when I win that new Laser tomorrow - I can turn my current boat into a beater and maybe try surf launching it.
I remember sailing a Fireball open meeting ... We dropped the main offshore, and because we had a lifting rudder, we sailed straight in, caught a wave at the last moment, went straight through the beach party and straight up and onto the beach.
I also remember sailing a Fireball open meeting at Whitstable many years ago and when we came back it it was blowing something horrendous onshore. We had a fixed rudder but as we had built the boat ourselves there was no way we were running up on the shingle beach. I cannot remember what we did but we managed without scratches/damage. It was high water and the shingle beach was pretty steep there and a fibreglass hull came hammering in and ended up completely out of the water. Amazing and thinking about it makes me cringe - damage to hull must have been bad. (Nobody in the water to help you ashore but then Whitstable is not normally subject to such conditions).



Upside down?
Staff member
This has been a really good thread; THANKS!

But I would still be quite hesitant about launching my (reasonably nice) Laser through a decent surf without assistance. In Cabarete (Dominican Republic; we had help, but even there we were not allowed to go out when the surf was up. To prove his point, the on-shore helper showed me a scar on his face he had sustained sometime earlier during a launching. In fact, the two of us had a pretty hard time holding the boat down and getting through the surf with an on-shore wind of around 15 mph.

I really admire those of you that have found ways to launch by themselves under such difficult conditions.