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Old 05-02-2020, 12:24   #1
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Dinghies and surf landings

I've had two or three scary moments now involving dinghies and surf breaks on beaches. I think I may finally be learning to approach beaches with caution, and watch and listen for the break which can be very hard to see from seaward.

What strategies can be used to safely deal with surf landings? I know that there will be some beaches, on some days, that are simply impossible to land on or leave safely. But I'd like to get more confident again and learn about what to do, especially in those situations where you surf in safely but are potentially stuck ashore.

Secondly, can a different choice of dinghy help? I don't know whether big and powerful is better, or small and light.

Maybe once we are sailing somewhere warmer, we will just anchor the dinghy and swim ashore??
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Old 05-02-2020, 12:34   #2
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Re: Dinghies and surf landings

What are the details of your current dinghy set-up? This is going to be a challenge.

Too slow and you can get broached and roll

Too fast and you can easily surf, but have very little run-out. grounding at too high a speed can throw people forward, or still cause the boat to broach.

Plus, once beached, there is a chance that surf will come in over the transom and swamp the boat.

My approach is not to beach when there is breaking surf.
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Old 05-02-2020, 12:59   #3
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Re: Dinghies and surf landings

My scary moments have all been in different dinghies.

First time was in a tiny Bombard AX2. Not really a big surf break, just little breaking waves that quickly filled up the overloaded dinghy as we slowly motored back to the yacht. We switched to a bigger dinghy, with bigger tubes, and haven't had a repeat.

Second time was in a much larger and heavier sailing dinghy. Came in to land on a steeply shelving beach with an invisible, large, break. Touched the sand, and instantly were swamped by a following wave. Managed to push off and get past the break- fortunately the wind was offshore and we were able to drift clear of the beach and then bail out.

Third time, I was on my own in an Avon redcrest with a little 2.5hp outboard. It was a large beach with clear breaking surf, but I thought that the corner I'd picked was safe enough. In the last couple of boatlengths I felt the surge lift me and smoothly carry me on to the beach. I only realised I had a problem with I looked back and saw the break behind me. I needed three attempts to row off again, with the dinghy being forced back on to the beach sideways, half swamped. Definitely gave me pause for thought.


We're now shopping around for a tender for our liveaboard boat, which we hope to take across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. It's likely to be a bit larger than the Avon, with a bigger engine. We're exploring a few options, so it would be interesting to know if any of them will behave better in surf than others.

And yes I know the best answer is 'don't land through surf', but sh*t happens
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Old 05-02-2020, 13:04   #4
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Re: Dinghies and surf landings

It's a big subject, Kelpie, and a lot depends on how spry you are. However, I agree with Shrew that if you think you'll "get stuck" ashore, do not land in the first place. Also, if the break is too big, if it's likely to get bigger, don't go ashore.

Jim and I used to use 7 ft. oars to row our 13 ft Zodiac ashore, and our most spectacular dump occurred in warm water in Mexico--you're in cold water in an area of worse weather.

Here's how it happened: We tandem row, and Jim does the steering strokes, so we were sitting outside the break, looking ashore and getting a feel for the timing of the waves. You wait for the largest in the series to go through and then row as fast as you can for the shore, then jump out and start hauling the dinghy up the beach. It takes a few series to learn how many there tend to be, but generally there's one that's significantly bigger, and that's the one we'd count from. All fine when it works. One time, though, Jim said, "Pull!" and the row lock came unglued from the hull, so we immediately spun side on to the next wave, and didn't move, so it dumped us then and broke on top of us.

It took me a 20 minute shower in cold water to completely de-sand myself, and I sure looked funny, me and my new dress sloppy wet, in the cafe. Lots of folks laughed at us.

For getting off when it's scary, you either wait, or you tow the dinghy out beyond the break, diving underneath the waves as they break. Start as the big one of the set is going away. It is hard work. Practice without the dinghy till you get the timing, and have a buddy with you. It is such hard work, that I'd recommend going fishing instead, or swimming off the big boat, if it is the swimming you like. Give up on the stroll on the moors till you can access them from a protected dinghy landing. The decisions you make will be made based on what you like. [You may have noticed this method only works for strong swimmers, you have to like it, and not be bothered to arrive back at the boat needing a sun shower, imo, but I'm a sissy.]

Enjoy,

Ann
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Old 05-02-2020, 13:21   #5
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Re: Dinghies and surf landings

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Originally Posted by SY Kelpie View Post
And yes I know the best answer is 'don't land through surf', but sh*t happens
Ya, but not really, though. There are NEEDS and WANTS. If sh!t is really happening (e.g. medical emergency), then 'ramming speed' and deal with it. How many legitimate Needs are there that can't wait a little while? Otherwise, it's a WANT and you can make sound judgments about how badly you REALLY need to get to shore, or whether you can wait for a better day or an alternate location.

If we're talking about a simple lack of proper provisioning driving the need.......well......
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Old 05-02-2020, 13:44   #6
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Re: Dinghies and surf landings

This is how it's done:

https://youtu.be/MLaK-KPQYlc
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Old 05-02-2020, 14:12   #7
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Re: Dinghies and surf landings

www.latitude38.com did a good writeup years ago, reflects what Ann said in terms of technique and choices.
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Old 05-02-2020, 14:44   #8
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Re: Dinghies and surf landings

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Originally Posted by SY Kelpie View Post
I've had two or three scary moments now involving dinghies and surf breaks on beaches. I think I may finally be learning to approach beaches with caution, and watch and listen for the break which can be very hard to see from seaward.

What strategies can be used to safely deal with surf landings? I know that there will be some beaches, on some days, that are simply impossible to land on or leave safely. But I'd like to get more confident again and learn about what to do, especially in those situations where you surf in safely but are potentially stuck ashore.

Secondly, can a different choice of dinghy help? I don't know whether big and powerful is better, or small and light.

Maybe once we are sailing somewhere warmer, we will just anchor the dinghy and swim ashore??
You have to say what sort of dinghy & propulsion method you are using.
Its pretty easy if you have say a 15hp outboard & a planing dinghy & you are landing on a gently sloping sand beach. You just pick a bigger swell & stay on the back of the wave ( seaward side ) all the way into the beach. Requires a bit of throttle control.
Watch what surf lifesavers do with their RIBs if they dont just zoom straight in.

I know of no foolproof strategy in a rollup powered by a say under 8hp outboard or oar powered. The best technique that we've found is once you are in the breaking waves is spin around when you are about to get hit by the surf, take it bow on & then spin around again & head to beach in the trough. Repeat ad nauseum.

If anyone has a better method I'd like to know about it as have been bowled a few times with out 2hp outboard & 2.4m rollup.
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Old 05-02-2020, 14:56   #9
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Re: Dinghies and surf landings

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You have to say what sort of dinghy & propulsion method you are using.
That's part of my reason for asking. I have yet to choose what dinghy and engine we will use. The ability to tackle larger surf will be quite valuable.
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Old 05-02-2020, 15:19   #10
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Re: Dinghies and surf landings

We rarely attempt surf landings because they are risky, dangerous actually, and usually not worth it, however we have done it often enough and there are a few things we do to make it safer.

Landing:
First, Pick your spot. Often there is a corner where the surf is minimal.

Then, after watching and timing the breaks, try to follow a moderate size wave in, matching your speed to the wave. Stay on the back of the wave. This requires a boat with sufficient speed to plane or close to it.

When you get in to where you can jump out, immediately disembark and turn the boat around so that the waves hit the bow, not the transom. Then back the boat in until the receding waves leave it aground. Then you can work it up the beach.

Sometimes we put the wheels down after we are out of the dingy. Do not attempt to come in with the wheels down. Your speed will be restricted, and you will stop too far out in the surf, and possibly break the wheels.

Launching:
Push the dingy out bow first with two people holding it as the waves come in. (This is the dangerous part, the wave can throw the dingy against you knocking you down. Be careful.)

Be sure and put up the wheels before getting underway.

After timing the waves and finding a lull, one person jumps in and rows out or starts the engine), then the second person springs in and with the motor running motors against the breakers (Jumping in and getting underway is also dangerous, be careful but fast.) The strongest person should stay in the water and hold the dingy.

It is important to keep the dingy bow-on to the waves and hang on. When a wave hits you must be hanging on strongly or you can get thrown right out of the dingy, or, at best, tossed in the stern.

Once underway you proceed. If there are some small waves you go right out. Keep one person in the bow, holding tight.

If there is a wave too big you must turn very quickly and run in before it. Make this decision early because you do not want to be sideways to that wave when it hits you.

I have seen experienced surf drivers go back and forth inside the breaking waves looking for a spot to speed out. They drive parallel to the beach inside the breakers and turn briefly into each wave as it approaches. When an opportunity comes they go for it.

Many people have been injured, some badly, by being tossed under a dingy in the surf. We really don't recommend surf landings. We have not ever ourselves been tossed into the water trying to land or depart, and never had the dingy flipped or swamped, but we've been splashed plenty and generally we try to avoid surf landings. Some times we anchor the dingy outside the surf and swim in.

(I once was flipped in the dingy by surf not landing but when I ventured to close to a nice break and got caught from behind, and was too late to turn into it, another story)

Our dingy: A 11.8' Zodiac with inflatable floor and keel, and a 15hp two-stroke Mercury. This boat is fast and light, easy to drag up the beach or back out, and is less likely to injure you if it is thrown onto you in the surf.
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Old 05-02-2020, 15:29   #11
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Re: Dinghies and surf landings

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Originally Posted by SY Kelpie View Post
That's part of my reason for asking. I have yet to choose what dinghy and engine we will use. The ability to tackle larger surf will be quite valuable.
Ok sorry I failed to read your OP properly.
Yes well I'd say Wingsail has done a good tutorial. Pretty much how we do it.

Definitely if you want to do surf landings I'd recommend at least a 15hp outboard with a dinghy sized to suit.
RIB's are good but if you have trouble with stowage the air floors are good if you need to rollup.
Towing an inflatable is no good in a storm.
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Old 06-02-2020, 00:24   #12
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Re: Dinghies and surf landings

Thanks Wingsail, some great detailed advice there!
Interesting that more speed/size/power appears to be the way to go.
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Old 06-02-2020, 00:36   #13
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Re: Dinghies and surf landings

Our approach is a little different. We put the wheels down on our 9.8hp AL rib dinghy. Then sit just outside the waves and watch the sets. Once we have a handle on roughly how many waves tbere are in a set and how big they are; then we go in trying to stay on the backside of the last wave in a set. When the wheels hit the bottom we jump out and quickly drag the boat up the beach before the next set hits. This works better in places where the sets are fairly defined(like Pacific Mexico).
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Old 06-02-2020, 00:50   #14
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Re: Dinghies and surf landings

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Ya, but not really, though. There are NEEDS and WANTS. If sh!t is really happening (e.g. medical emergency), then 'ramming speed' and deal with it. How many legitimate Needs are there that can't wait a little while? Otherwise, it's a WANT and you can make sound judgments about how badly you REALLY need to get to shore, or whether you can wait for a better day or an alternate location.

If we're talking about a simple lack of proper provisioning driving the need.......well......
This. There is no NEED unless medical emergency. Provisioning? Everyone has a few cups of soup onboard. Eat em, go to sleep, tomorrow's a new day. Even if one of my mothers-in-law was waiting on the sand for me to pick her up for her first day of vacay, I'd tell her turn around and get a hotel for the night. It's like reefing: if I'm thinking about it, it should have probably already been done. If I'm peering at surf with binocs wondering if I can 'make it' in, why am I going to risk a day's work at best tearing down a swamped outboard?
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Old 06-02-2020, 01:15   #15
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Re: Dinghies and surf landings

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This. There is no NEED unless medical emergency. Provisioning? Everyone has a few cups of soup onboard. Eat em, go to sleep, tomorrow's a new day. Even if one of my mothers-in-law was waiting on the sand for me to pick her up for her first day of vacay, I'd tell her turn around and get a hotel for the night. It's like reefing: if I'm thinking about it, it should have probably already been done. If I'm peering at surf with binocs wondering if I can 'make it' in, why am I going to risk a day's work at best tearing down a swamped outboard?
Cause you are in an area where the swells run most all the time during cruising season and the beaches catch them. What looks like a ridiculous landing at the start of a sailing season might look like a typical, easy run by the end of the season.
That said, if it is simply a matter of waiting a day or going around to the next bay to avoid a harrowing surf landing, then sure don't risk it.
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