The long-range boat retrieve
  |  First Published: June 2013

Some of the best angling I’ve ever had has been from small boats launched through the surf to fish nearby shallow reefs that don’t receive anything like the fishing pressure more accessible reefs face.

It’s a matter of manhandling the boat out through the shore break until there’s just enough water to cover the propeller, jumping in and timing your run through the waves and then heading out to the reef.

Coming back in usually entails timing your run between the sets of waves and ensuring the boat has enough forward momentum to prevent a wave overtaking you and possibly broaching the boat. It’s all a question of timing and experience.

Sometimes the tide can leave a fair bit of soft sand between where the boat stops floating and where it’s safe for the tow vehicle to drive. There are similar scenarios at dubious boat ramps all along the coast and inland; places where you need to drag your boat to the trailer.

That’s when you need to employ the long-range retrieve.

You simply use the tow vehicle to drag the boat high and dry and then winch or reverse the trailer under it.


You’ll need a tow rope that’s strong enough to take twice the weight of your boat from a standing start, and long enough to run across the soft ground from your boat to the trailer. Twenty metres is usually heaps.

Don’t scrimp on the strength or quality. Silver polypropylene of 25mm is enough for a 3.7m-4m tinny and you should scale things up from there. Nylon rope will add a little stretch to the system and a 4WD snatch strap will add even more, but be careful of the stored energy in some of these stretchy ropes..

Splice a loop in one end or, if you haven’t yet taught yourself to splice (it’s pretty easy and there’s plenty of help on the internet), tie a bowline loop (you must know that one, surely!)

A lot of fishos like to splice or tie in a tow hook similar to the one on your trailer winch cable. You can merely add a shackle to the loop but a hook is quicker to attach and time can be important when waves are coming up the beach.

The other end of the rope or strap is attached to the strongest part of the trailer by a knot or by wrapping the rope around the trailer and back through the end loop in a ‘cow hitch’. If you use a knot, make it a proper bowline because it’s the easiest knot to untie when it’s tight and wet.

Especially if it’s a fair way from your boat to the carpark, it’s worthwhile trying to turn the boat around to face the incoming waves so that they don’t slop over the transom and into the cockpit. That adds extra weight and exposes your boat’s interior to corrosive saltwater. If your deckie can manage that while you’re fetching the trailer, so much the better.

By the way, if you and your deckie aren’t prepared to get wet launching and retrieving your boat from a beach, perhaps you should consider going back to that crowded boat ramp and its comfy pontoon.

Be absolutely certain that your vehicle won’t get bogged in the sand. That might mean lowering tyre pressures and locking hubs.

Reverse the trailer back towards the boat, keeping the tow vehicle’s wheels on firm beach. Ensure there are no rocks or other items in the sand between the boat and the vehicle along your intended tow track.


Secure the tow rope to the boat’s towing eye and to the trailer chassis, leaving just a little slack rope but not enough to catch in anything.

Have your deckie somewhere in your sight or rear vision and ensure everyone is at least 20m away from the boat and the trailer. You don’t want them injured if the rope snaps and flies around.

Engage a low gear and gradually take up the tension – very gently if you have to initially pull the boat around to face the trailer; you don’t want to roll it over if it catches a chine.

Then just tow the boat up the beach slowly until the hull is sitting on firm sand.

Unless you have an articulated or self-centring multi-roller trailer, it’s easiest to keep the trailer and the boat completely in line to load the boat.

Back down the beach until the trailer’s centre roller is touching the boat’s stem. This is the toughest part of the whole operation: lifting the bow onto the trailer and keeping things straight.

Attach the trailer winch hook to the bow eye and start winching. It’s a whole lot easier if you’re able to just slide the trailer under the hull and the best way to do this is to have someone in the vehicle driver’s seat and someone else on the winch.

Keep the vehicle in neutral if the beach is flat enough and simply wind the trailer back under the boat. The person in the driver’s seat should be ready to hit the brake if the vehicle starts rolling back towards the water too quickly.

The other way to do this is to reverse the trailer under the boat to lift the bow and forward sections onto the rollers to make light work of winching the rest of the way.

Fasten the safety chain and you can do the rest away from the water and on firm ground.

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