Boat Maintenance : Launching & Tying up your Sailboat

When it is time to come back land-side and your journey is temporarily cut short for crummy excuses of “reality” , you want to guarantee that your sailboat is super happy with you when you leave her. Don’t just keep the boat tied up to one bowline if you are going to leave it dockside for weeks on end. Make sure to use plenty of lines. Especially when you are sailing on something 20ft and larger. (Keelboats to larger sailboats). Here are some pointers to take with you:

  • Make sure to double check for line chafing
  • Do not forget to utilize your fenders and fit them between your sailboat and your porting station (dock or piling)
  • Make sure to utilize spring rope anytime you can (We would also go with Norestar’s nylon anchor rope for this application as a spring line, as we have faired really well with it)
  • For dock lines, go double braided (You want a thickness of at least 2/5 in for boats bigger than 20 ft
  • Be certain not to pull the lines to taught (especially the cords at the stern and bow, as these, are opposite sides of the boat!) Make sure the boat is laying away from any rub action against the dock
  • Make sure that when you tie off your lines at the stern and bow, that they are at an angle of about 40-50 degrees away from the boat

stern line, aft line, spring line, bow line, dock diagram, tie off sailboat

Do not underestimate the power and control you get with spring lines, which are those lines that “spring” from around the centerline of your sailboat and really work hard to keep your sailboat from rocking forwards (aft spring line,  which you tie off on the back centerline, and stern line are both tied off to the dock)  or backward (forward spring line tied off at the front centerline and bow line which are also both tied off to  the dock). WE CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH! MAKE SURE THE DOCKLINES ARE SECURE ON BOTH ENDS! If you are tying off on a cleat, make sure that the cleats are on securely. You won’t have to worry about a Piling moving around as they are typically secured really well to the surface.

You may ask yourself, why does the tide tend to pick up at night?! This phenomenon is due to the presence of the moon which creates tidal flow! So if you experience a lot of tidal flow and you must leave the boat in the water, you will want to fasten the boat with the additional angle as far as your lines go. You will want to tie them off at spots farther away from the closest line to the dock or a piling.

Steps for Launching your Sailboat

Ok, so you took your sailing courses and now you are ready to hit the water out on your own! You got away with using someone else’s boat (sailing trainer’s vessel) while training and never really had to get a completely dry boat into the water. You skipped the launching class and you have no idea what to do. Have no fear, we will explain everything here!

Regardless of whether you are using a trailer hitch, carrying a small boat with another by your big muscles or using a dolly rig  (smaller boats, such as sunfish sailboats), the first thing you want to be certain of is that you are staying as clear as you can from any power lines, so make sure you are keeping your eye on your mast by looking up right up until you have reached the point where the boat will be launched from.  You will notice that most launching areas make sure to clear the airspace above the launch areas ingress. Most sail clubs and marinas take this into consideration. With that being said, we would still keep an eye out for any power lines no matter how careful the launching space management team is. New ownership of land adjacent to certain marinas may not account for it being a serious hazard and they may apply for an easement for their own benefit, which will leave marinas in the crossfire and your boat on fire!

Typically if you are storing your boat on land you will be utilizing a drain plug. The reason you want to keep the drain plug released is simply that when you have overcast days and rain gets inside the boat, you will not flood the boat out to ruin your console or finishes on-board. However, when you are ready to put the boat back in the don’t forget to plug the drain plug! Tons of sailors forget to plug it and it becomes catastrophic to fix and usually shuts the door on any chances of launching that day since the clean up can take hours and hours.

How do I launch a sailboat via trailer?

The first thing we will recommend is making sure you get some bunk boards for your trailer. These bunk boards by C.E. Smith are the ones we use for launching. The quality is there and they are mountable in every which way. The uprights run at about 74-76 degrees (we measured) and it’s pre-galvanized which is what you want. Do not trailer without bunk boards because you can really ruin the hull fiberglass over bumps if the sides are not secured properly. You want ZERO rocking and vertical bumping around.

Bunk Boards by C.E. Smith

The key to launching would be to first know what boat you are dealing with! many dinghy boats are dry-sailed meaning when it is time to store them, it will be on dry land and they will usually sit on a dolly or trailer. This is ideal because there will naturally be less maintenance involved since your boat will not be sitting in water, where barnacles attach to your hull/keel and discoloration occurs when weeds stick to the bottom of the boat.

You will always save money by not having to incur docking fees in whatever fee schedule the club or marina implement. So our best recommendation would be to use a trailer or dolly if you can. The only purchase you may have to make after setting up the trailer rig or dolly would be to pay for a permit when your vessel is wider than 8.5 ft if you need to travel on the highways with it. It won’t break the bank so this is an expense worth paying for.

So let’s look at some methods for launching a keelboat ….


Crane or hoist method

Assuming you have access to a crane on the marina or launching area, this is probably the easiest method to pull off – so long as you have a crew member or friend to help with the prop

Lift ez’s lifting bridle: nylon sea-water resistant

setup, you will also need a good lifting bridle (We like Lift it ez, as you will not find a cheaper bridle on the internet especially at the quality we came to find out it had) and you need to make sure that the sailboat’s weight is in accordance with the crane’s max lift capacity!.  It’s proper to have your own lifting bridle. Not just for etiquette, you will find times where you will need a set one they are not accessible.

Steps to take with a crane…

  1. Position the sailboat underneath the crane. You will notice that the crane will usually have a positioning drawing of an arc which will help you when figuring out how to position the sailboat in relation to the crane. Just follow the arc! Make sure to position the boat where the crane lifts the boat straight and vertically right off the trailer. Some sailboats that have a backstay (a cord from a point near the top of the mast to the stern side of the boat) then you will probably have to twist the crane’s arm right over a sailboat, concurrent with wheeling the sailboat in place.
  2. Connect the lifting bridle -the nylon sling that balances the boat as it is being lifted. Make sure your lifting bridle is not old and’s the last thing you want so don’t just think the bridle will be reliable since it has been before. Check to make sure there are no tears all the way along the sling.
  3. You can now attach the stern and bow lines so that you get the sailboat into the right rotation when it is dipped into the water (carefully).
  4. Designate someone to control the hoist and designate another to hold the lines. If you are working as a duo then you can hold the lines.
  5. Start to lift, and keep an eye on the mast and shrouds have clearance from the arm. The best positioning would be perpendicular positioning in relation to the crane’s arm as you hover the boat over the water. Then begin lowering
  6. Once the boat is safely in the water, designate someone to release the lifting bridle while you keep the bowline secure (attention on bow line and stern lines both need attention)
  7. Even before you start to rig your sailboat, get the boat (and trailer, dolly or anything impeding the zone for that matter) in order for others to use the crane and space.
  8. You can now safely rotate the crane’s arm facing shoreside

If you plan on using a chain that houses grease from the hoist, try rigging the sails way after the boat is in the water. Don’t forget to wash those greasy hands before playing with those sails!

How do I Launch Off a Ramp Using a Trailer?

One thing is for sure if you do not like getting your feet wet for whatever reason, then stop and do not read ahead! You’re probably taking up the wrong hobby if that is the case. So if you can get over it and you do well with planning ahead, then this may be a sweet option for you. Make sure to take note of the angle of the ramp. If there is a massive drop-off right at the end, take a mental picture of it and think about how you want to position the trailer. Take into consideration how much actual dock space there is. Once you actually get the boat in the water, where are you trying off in order to hoist the sails? What route are you going to take to get to the dock? These are all questions you need to have answered before you get launching.

jackknife sailboat, sailboat jacknifing, sailboat launch, trailer sailboat, trailer launch

Pictured: Jacknife routine right into the water!

Once you have a plan of action, we suggest you go with your gut and make it happen. If it isn’t perfect it really isn’t the end of the world. Just don’t look too silly doing it and try not to damage your trailer or boat in the process. Trailers will naturally not want to cooperate when they are backed up so do not expect this to be a breeze, as it tends to be something to get used to.

If you turn the wheel too hard you run the risk of jackknifing the trailer, which happens when the trailer skids and will pull spin all the way around creating this pocket knife look between your vehicle and the trailer (closing in and facing each other) ! If you can help it try walking the trailer up to the water right at the top of the ramp. Make sure you have a team of 2 or more before attempting this though. You also do not want to attempt this when the ground feels like an ice rink.


If you must use your Truck/MV then make sure to follow these key elements one at a time:

  1. Get the mast up and ready
  2. Make sure the car and trailer run on a parallel line in relation to the ramp. It is a much easier feat to back up when you are not turning, so try not to turn or steel at all one backing up. 
  3. Release all the cables and straps that function in securing the boat and get them out of the way. The only two cables you need to leave is the line that attaches the boat to the trailer and a bowline which will be needed to coordinate the boat over to the dock station. 
  4. Make sure to ease it down the ramp and when you feel as if you are losing control with the trailer as in possibly jackknifing,  correct this by turning the back of your truck the same direction as the direction of the back of the trailer is angled towards. Do NOT go the turn the opposite direction or you will probably end up completing the jackknife and will really struggle to get back to par!
  5. Make sure you are backed up enough to where there is a small gap between the waterline and trailer and which the boat is floating barely off the water. This needs to happen before your truck’s wheels or breaks/bearings are touching the water.
  6. Be certain that your emergency brake is engaged before even thinking about leaving the car to disconnect the cable attaching your boat to the trailer. Word of advice here: Try not to be a ramp nutball and put your car all the way into the water. With saltwater, you will be dealing with corrosion and if you are dealing with a ramp in saltwater you will also come across slick algae. The last thing you want is for your truck to get stuck in this. 
  7. Once the boat is fully floating, you can release the bow side of the boat from the trailer. Make sure the sailboat is now fully floating before doing this. This will require you to get out of the truck and get wet! It is so funny how many people we’ve come across over the years that really don’t like this step. We say those people need to have a little bit more fun! If you do not plan on using a dock then rigging the sails before you launch may be your best bet. 
  8. Once your boat is tied off or ready to go, time to move the car and trailer to a place where you can park both!


How do I Launch with NO Trailer?

So when you are typically sailing a dinghy sailboat, trailers may be overkill. You can usually get away with a launch right off the dock, beach or ramp without using a hoist or trailer. Roof racks are made for the top of your cars to slot the boat right in between. You will want to check the specs for your car and see if the rack would be a good fit but many are  universally compatible like the KPDG

Pictured: hard hulled catamaran on roof rack


  1. This time you will be using a dolly which is easiest to get padding around the boat.
  2. Don’t strain, find people to help you
  3. carefully slide the sailboat off the roof and gently lower it onto the dolly (edge first) . avoid grounding at all costs, you do not want to take a risk of damaging the hull
  4. While most of the boat weight is being supported edgewise, time to flip the boat over so that it is right side up and ready to be lowered back onto the dolly for rigging purposes. 
  5. Once rigged, lift boat into the water being very careful not to scratch the hull. Do not be shy about asking for help when you are going solo. 



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