By Joe Grez, EP Carry Inventor/Founder
With a dog and taste for beachcombing and hikes, we never resist the temptation to explore. Relaxed transits between our mothership and the shore are so important. Here's a few thoughts and tips on beaching your dinghy with safety and comfort, including how to choose the right beach to land on, dealing with fast currents and windy ship-to-shore passages, as well as negotiating power boat wakes.
Most landings will offer a range of beach slopes and the trick is to look for the right slope. I've seen beaches that fall off to 6-10 feet deep within an arm's reach of dry land. These are generally unstable under foot and are to be avoided. Wet feet are far better than total immersion especially if you have kids or eager dogs aboard, so if it becomes clear that the entry is unsafe after landing, push off and try a shallower slope. The ideal slope has your bow on the beach and the stern in 6-10” of water. Using this simple rule, we rarely need to get our feet wet.
Current and wind
Landings often have cross-currents and winds that can throw you off course. We use the range method: line up your destination with a far-away feature, and keep them aligned as you approach. The boat may not point to the destination but so long as the range stays aligned, you're traveling a direct path. If you're rowing and facing aft, you can line up two marks to the stern instead- such as your anchored mothership and a spot on the far shore. Either way, start ranging while still out in deep water and you'll find your way accurately and without stress.
Landing in open surf conditions is for the more experienced but even in bays you need to take stock of conditions
Wind waves: Even if it's not windy, long fetches can still contain wind waves from distant or recent winds reaching a height greater than your dink's freeboard, especially as you enter shallower water. The first line of defense is to choose a landing protected by a local land mass. If you are forced to land on an exposed beach, learn to ride waves safely by avoiding surfing. Instead, keep station on the back surface of a wave. Outboards have enough power to maintain this position.
Powerboat wakes: Before nearing the beach, take a look for wakes and make the conscious choice to hold off in deeper water where they pass as gentler deep water waves. Once you're clear of any wakes proceed with confidence.
You may have read how maneuvering through a sea of anchored boats is considered the most dangerous part of ship-to-shore; fast dinghies may appear suddenly from behind an anchored boat. It's a shared responsibility to avoid a collision so the best course is to be observant. Having a quiet motor helps you hear the speedsters ahead of time even if you can’t see them.
Weight: With 11 foot tides, we are always dragging the dink up and down the beach. For us, a beachable boat must be light enough to drag to the water after the tide recedes. If you have a heavy motor, consider a second lighter motor just for beaching activities.
Trim: Trim is especially important in beaching situations. We often beach with two persons sharing the center thwart which helps in two ways: It trims the boat to maximize waterline length so the dinghy can respond to speed commands better, and it lowers inertia in the ends of the boat keeping you drier and less prone to broaching in surf. Finally, a lighter bow scoots up higher on the beach making for drier feet.
Using a motor when beaching
Most motors require you to reach over the stern to raise the motor. This lowers transom freeboard which is not desirable in the surf. So most motors will need to be raised well outside the surf zone so you can land using oars. The EP Carry, unlike normal outboards, allows you to raise the motor with a simple pull of the tiller so this motor can be used all the way.
Inflatable, wood, fiberglass are all robust enough for beaching and we consider the most important factor to be weight- for handling the craft ashore. We use a plywood floor inflatable, a wooden CLC Eastport pram and a 9 ft Minto fiberglass dink. We have found our hard dinks keep us drier with more freeboard, they have generous reserve stability, feel better in rough conditions, tow better, and take to the rocky beaches of the Pacific Northwest without damage. The inflatable is more stable but provides a wetter ride and slower speeds while rowing, towing and motoring.
PFDs for all. They must be worn to be of use, so insist that all aboard the dink are fitted and secured with their PFDs.
Oars: Even if you use a motor, oars are an important safety device. Plus they are useful for polling through the shallows and through heavy kelp that no motor will get through.
Anchor and rode: We recommend at least 30 feet of anchor line and a small anchor for securing your beached dink from incoming tides. The alternative is to draw your dink up above the high tide mark or tie it to some stable beached driftwood.
Communication: In coastal cruising we find that cellphones are very reliable on the water- not so much on land. Make sure to use a waterproof case or plastic zipper bag. A hand portable VHF, and flares are also primary safety gear.
About EP Carry
We started producing electric outboards in 2009 expressly to make ship to shore easier. The EP Carry is designed, assembled and supported in the US to serve any beachable craft under 13 ft. It's a premium product designed for reliability, survivability, and simplicity.