(Extracts courtesy of A.N.T.A. publications, Ranger Hope © 2008



Boat preparation 

Reserve fuel 

Notification to a responsible person/organisation 

Weather forecasts 

Safety equipment 

Suitability and seaworthiness of your boat 

Marine radio 




The Trailer



Launching and retrieving from davits 





Boat preparation 

Reserve fuel


Figure 1 Reserve fuel in an approved container


It seems too obvious to bother mentioning but we do need enough fuel to get home safely!  Running out of fuel is not only embarrassing but at the wrong time could leave you exposed to danger, as well as putting the people who have to come and rescue you at risk.

To be able to calculate your fuel requirements for the day you must know how much fuel your motor uses.  This is generally worked on an hourly basis from experience and manufacturers figures.

If you know your average speed you can estimate the distance you can cover.

Example:  Your planned fishing rip is to take you 25 miles along the coast, several miles shifting from spot to spot and home again, a distance of approximately 60 miles.  If you average 15 knots you need enough fuel for 4 hours travel.  If your motor uses 20 litres per hour you need a minimum of 80 litres of fuel.

It is usual to carry a reserve of about 30% in case things go wrong.  For the above trip you would therefore need a little over 100 litres.  If you can comfortably carry more, then do so.

Reasons for a reserve:

·        Chasing that elusive fish you are tempted to go further than you planned.

·        Your motor is not performing as well as usual and is using more fuel.

·        Weather deteriorates causing an increase in consumption as you fight your way home or to other shelter.

  If you are carrying extra fuel in containers not part of your fuel system make sure the containers are an ‘approved’ type and that you can transfer the contents without spillage. Petrol fumes can be explosive.


Notification to a responsible person/organisation

Figure 2 Tell someone where you go and when you are coming back

·        You inform a family member or a local organisation of your intended route and destination and the time you expect to return. Volunteer groups who encourage this include fishing clubs, yacht clubs and the volunteer air-sea rescue groups. A written ‘trip sheet’ should be lodged containing the details as set out above. Don’t forget to inform everyone of your safe return.

·        Unless you are in radio contact, it is vital that you stick to your original plan. If you run into trouble, rescuers will know where to look when you are overdue. As this is likely to be late in the day, at the very least it could save you a miserable night at sea.


Weather forecasts

Figure 3 Get a weather forecast

Always check the weather forecast. If conditions are poor or if the forecast suggests a change for the worse, is the trip worth the risk? There are no acceptable risks when going offshore. When deciding on likely conditions you need accurate up to date information which is available from:

·        The Meteorological Office – phone numbers can be found at the front of your local telephone book.

·        The local volunteer rescue organisation.  You can double check the latest reports when you lodge your ‘trip-sheet’.

·        The weather section in the newspaper can help, especially as you learn to interpret a weather chart.  Be aware that it is usually 24 hours old and is a forecast rather than a report of current conditions.

·        The internet.

Be wary of last nights TV weather report.  It is very general and local conditions can be quite different.  Local knowledge and experience can be your best guide and remember, don’t hesitate to turn back if you have any doubts.

Safety equipment

Figure 4 Check your safety gear

The types of safety equipment required was covered in Section 2.  Be reminded that requirements may differ between States and they will certainly differ as you venture from inshore out into open water and also as the size of your boat increases.

Common sense tells us that the further we venture offshore, the longer we may have to survive in an emergency.  Out of sight of land and other boats means our signalling equipment must be more sophisticated.  Waving our arms and shouting isn’t going to help if there is no land or boat in sight.

Check with your local authority in order that you comply with the law, and don’t hesitate to carry extra equipment if you feel it will add to your safety.

Prior to departing, go through a check list of your equipment making sure that:

·        it is all there.

·        it is in operating condition.

A lot of our equipment has a ‘use by’ date when it either has to be replaced or serviced by an authorised person or company.

All gear should be stowed so that it does not become damaged by being exposed to the elements or used and abused for the wrong purpose.

Let’s work through a check list of some of the items you may be required to carry as an example of what we are looking for.

·        EPIRB:  Check the expiry date.  Is it stowed out of harms way but where we can locate it in a hurry?  We don’t want it going down with the boat!  For details on EPIRBS see the following pages.

·        Inflatable liferaft:  These must be serviced every year so check the date marked on the canister.  It should be easily released in an emergency but secured firmly to your boat.  Small boats don’t usually carry these.


·        Life jackets: Is there one for each person and the approved type for where you are going? Are they in good condition, stowed in a handy position but not used for pillows or cushions which could puncture or damage them.

Figure 5 There are different types of lifejackets. A PDF 1 is required for small craft.


·        Flares:  Check the expiry date.  They must be replaced 3 years after manufacture and stowed in a waterproof container.  Do you know:

-                                                                                 how to activate them even in the dark?

-                                                                                 which types you need to carry?

Figure 6 Red hand held flare


·        Bilge pumps:  Check them by actually operating them.

·        Torches:  Do they work and do you have spare batteries and globes?

·        Anchors:  Do you need one or two?  Are they the right type for where you are going.  Is the cable attached to the anchor and the boat?  Is it stowed so it won’t fall overboard while you are going along?

·        Tools and spares:  Check what you might need and stow them in a dry place.  Have they been on the boat for so long they are rusted and no longer serviceable?  A spray can of lubricant/water repellent comes in very handy!

·        Fire extinguishes:  Should be stowed in their brackets and easily accessible.  They must be serviced regularly, so check the date.

The importance of having the correct equipment in working condition will only be fully tested in a real emergency. Don’t be caught short and fail the test!


Suitability and seaworthiness of your boat

Don’t overestimate your boats (or your) capabilities.  Ask yourself these questions:

Was my boat designed to cope with open water?  That is, is it strong enough?

Is it of a suitable size to cope with the sea conditions by keeping water out?

Is my boat overloaded with people or equipment?  The more weight you have the less responsive it is to the sea conditions and the harder to steer.  Weight also lowers freeboard which further reduces your boat’s capability to keep water out.  It won’t lift with the waves but tends to push through them.

Figure 7 Is your boat equipped for the planned passage?

How old is your boat? It may be your new pride and joy, but no longer capable of handling rough seas. Regardless of the construction material, they all deteriorate with age and are likely to fracture and crack in heavy seas.
In summary don’t go beyond your limits. The open ocean is very unforgiving.


Marine radio

Figure 8 Marine VHF radio


·        In an emergency you can advise other people that you need help now instead of waiting until you are reported missing.

·        You can advise people of your exact location.

·        It is most comforting to have spoken to someone and know that they are on their way rather than just drifting around hoping that someone will miss you.

·        You can listen to regular updated weather forecasts which increases your safety.

·        You can let people know that you are changing your plans if the fish aren’t biting at your planned spot or you decide to stay out longer.

All in all, Marine Radio is the best piece of safety equipment you can carry on your boat.  Don’t go offshore without one!

A few points to note:

All marine radio transmitting equipment must be licensed so that you can be identified by your ‘call sign’ in an emergency.  There is an annual fee which helps pay the cost maintaining radio services.

Some radio equipment requires the operator to have a radion license.  The Certificate is issued for life and ensures you have a detailed knowledge of the equipment types, how they work, possible problems and operational procedures.  In an emergency, correct radio procedures are important and it is recommended that all mariners gain the qualification.


Figure 8 Marine VHF radio


It is compulsory in most, if not all States, for all boats to carry a 406MHz Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon when going offshore. Make it your business to find out the requirements for your State. In the absence of a marine radio, an EPIRB provides you with that vital link to rescuers on a 24 hour basis.

A detailed study of EPIRB’s is part of yourradio license but a few do’s and don’ts to go on with:

Don’t activate an EPRIB unless you are in DISTRESS. Running out of fuel is not sufficient reason. Lives must be in immediate danger.

Don’t forget to stow it properly and check the expiry date.

In an emergency do tie it to your boat, activate it and let it transmit while floating in the water. It uses the surface of the water as a reflector.

Figure 9 GMDSS





Launching small boats 

The Trailer



Launching and retrieving from davits 


The trailer

If you bought your boat and trailer as a package they should be matched for size and weight, but here are a few things to look for to make life easier:

·         a trailer with a long draw bar (distance between tow bar and trailer wheels) is best because it is easier to reverse.

·         the weight of the boat should be slightly forward of the trailer axle to put some weight on your car for traction, but this should not be over done.

·         the more rollers (especially keel rollers) the better so the weight of the boat is evenly shared.  Maintain them so that they actually roll.

·         wheel bearings should be protected by quality marine seals,  Keep them full of grease to stop water entering.

Figure 4.1  Quality rollers and submersible lights

Figure 4.2  Bearing buddies.

·         trailer lights should be on a bar which is easily removable with wing nuts.  The alternative is to have expensive fully submersible lights.

(See illustration on previous page).

·         the rear rollers should be capable of locating the bow of the boat and guiding it onto the next rollers.  There are several commercial brands available that will do this.  They are essential if you are trying to retrieve the boat by yourself as you can’t winch up and keep the boat aligned at the same time.


Figure 4.3 Rear locating rollers

·         if you have a ‘break back’ or ‘tilt’ trailer, maintain the mechanism to ensure easy release and generally only use it to retrieve.  Tilting in shallow water can cause your motor or stern to bottom and cause damage.

Figure 4.4  Break back trailer mechanism.

·         make sure the winch and cable is strong enough to haul your boat out on the worst day on the worst ramp.

it should be equipped with a chain and shackle to secure the bow and webbing straps to secure the rear of the boat.

Figure 4.5a Safety chain on the bow.






Figure 4.5b Securing the rear of vessel to trailer 

·         check the requirements for fitting brakes.  When the boat exceeds a certain weight it is a requirement that brakes are fitted.


Figure 4.6 Jockey wheel and brake assembly

·         a spare wheel, jack and suitable wheel spanner could come in handy!


If you follow these simple steps you shouldn’t have too many problems.

·        prepare for launching away from the ramp by:

                        - undoing the retaining straps

                        - removing your lights if necessary

                        - attach a long bow line

                        - tilt your motor

                        - check drain plugs are in

·        inspect the ramp carefully, especially if you have not used it before:

                        - how steep is it?

                        - at low tide will it be slippery due to mud or marine growth?

                        - check for obstacles, pot holes, etc.

- decide where to beach your boat while putting the car and trailer away.

·        back your trailer down as far as possible but try not to immerse your hubs and axle especially if you have brakes fitted to the trailer.

·         release the shackle and chain from the bow after securing the bow line.  If your rollers have been maintained the boat should roll off easily with a ‘push’.

·         control the launch with the bow line and secure your boat or get someone to hold it while you park the car and trailer.

·         carry out a last minute check of your equipment and start your engine before you push off from the shore.

·         have your anchor ready – if your motor is going to ‘play up’, this is a likely time while it is still cold.

If you have prepared for the trip carefully you should have a great day!


Regardless of whether you caught any fish and are cold, hungry and tired, go about the retrieval methodically.

·         tilt your motor and remove excess gear to reduce weight in the trailer.

·         before reversing into the water, run out the winch cable and hook it to the rear of the trailer.

·         reverse in as for launching and attach cable to boat securely.

·         make use of the ‘tilting’ mechanism and the bow location rollers if fitted.

·         as you winch in, check that the boat is straight on the keel rollers.

·         when fully ‘home’ attach safety chain and remove your bungs to allow water to drain on the slope of the ramp.

·         pull off the ramp if others are waiting and then reconnect your lights (check them) and secure the rear of the boat to the trailer.

·         remove the bow line, check the stowage of gear in the boat and start thinking up stories of ‘the big one that got away!’

·         once at home, flush your engine with fresh water, hose down boat and trailer thoroughly and make sure your battery is isolated.


Figure 4.7  Retrieving boat on break back trailer

Ensure each time that you go out in the boat for other practical activities that you play an active part in the launching and retrieving process following the steps outlined above.

Launching and retrieving from davits

Davit systems on larger vessel are used as a convenient place and method of stowage for the dinghy or tender while providing a quick easy method of launching.  They come in many designs and sizes depending on the needs of the particular vessel.  In this module we will look at two common types.

Twin stern davits

The figures below show a typical arrangement at the stern of a 17 metre vessel.  It consists of two fixed davit arms extending over the stern.  Two sets of tackle are shackled to the outer ends and clipped to the lifting points in the dinghy.  The lifting points are arranged to ensure the dinghy is balanced.  Some method of securing the dinghy to prevent it swinging about while at sea is required.  In the figure below this is achieved by passing another line from the end of the davit arm, around the dinghy and back to the boat.

Figure 4.8  Typical stern davit arrangement

When launching, proceed as follows:

·         attach bow line from dinghy to boat.

·         check the bung is in!

·         release the hauling part of the tackles and lower the dinghy evenly into the water.  It is easier with two people but can be managed by one.

·         allow some slack and unclip the tackle from the lifting points.

·         using the bow line, secure the dinghy alongside and load your motor and other equipment.


Figure 4.9  Tackle used for launching

When retrieving your dinghy, simply reverse the steps paying particular attention to securing the hauling parts of your tackle and the dinghy to the boat.  If by yourself you will need to haul front and back alternatively keeping the dinghy reasonably level.

Single pivoting davit

The system as shown below is preferred if it is necessary to keep the stern clear and uncluttered.  It consists of a single arm which can pivot and some form of lifting device.  In this case it is a manual winch as would be found on a boat trailer, but could be electric or hydraulic.  It could also be a set of tackle as shown in Figure 4.9.  The cable is clipped to the lifting points which once again are arranged for balance.  Having only one lifting point makes this even more critical than in our previous example, as would the loading of equipment prior to launching.

Proceed as follows:

·         release the retaining straps securing the tender in its cradle.

·         check the bung is in!

·         check you have a bow line attached.

winch up until clear of deck and pivot the davit arm to swing the tender clear of the vessel.  You may need a stern as well as bow line to keep control especially if anchored in choppy seas.

·         lower to the water, tie off your bow line and unclip the cable being sure to secure the end.  It is usually weighted and can cause considerable pain and damage.  Retrieval is the reverse process with due regard to safety and securing the tender to the boat.

Figure 4.10  Single davit arrangement

Two people make this launching simpler and safer, especially if anchored in a choppy sea.  One person should work the winch while the other steadies the dinghy with the stern and bow lines.