Safety: View from the Launch Driver

launch ride

Riding the launch in anticipation of Wednesday night club racing, this crew sits for safety.

It’s nearing the end of the summer and the kids who’ve been driving the yacht club launch are leaving to go back to college. So, I’ve been recruited to fill-in a few days a week, until Labor Day, then weekends after that until the season winds down. I have plenty of experience getting on and off all manner of ships and boats, but seldom experienced it from the view of the launch driver. The things that I have seen recently in terms of safety have been troubling me, so I’ve decided to write about them, from my new launch driver’s perspective, in hopes that someone, somewhere, will avoid injury.

General Safety: First, let the launch get alongside and tied off before getting on or off a launch. Expecting the launch driver to hold two heavy rolling boats together by arm strength alone while people pass coolers and duffels and then board, isn’t optimal. Placing a cleat or tie-off on your boat for this purpose will be appreciated by the launch driver and serve to make your own comings and goings safer.

Height differences between a big boat and a launch can be daunting. Anything you can do to make the climb less challenging, like using gates in your lifelines, helps. I can’t tell you how many times people eschewed opening the gate and unsteadily balanced over the lifelines before dropping into the launch. There is also a technique for climbing over a lifeline without a gate that I wish people would follow. Step over the lifeline to the rail of your own boat first, then get in the launch.  Having one foot inside the lifeline and the other on the launch with the lifeline in your crotch as the boats bounce independently up and down is not the way to do it! Most people are good about passing equipment, letting one person board the launch or boat and passing the baggage—never carry bags over the rail when boarding. If you are alone place your bag onto the boarding vessel then, leaving both hands free, board yourself.

Kid safety: Fortunately most kids are wearing PFD’s, but a toddler should not be allowed to board a launch without direct adult supervision—the launch driver has all they can do to keep the boat alongside. Ideally, I’d like to see the adult board first and assist the child.

launch ride

Boarding a boat with a lifeline gate from the launch with both hands free is the safe way to board.

I’ve seen a disproportionate amount of older folks on boats in my brief tour. Retirees enjoying their boats, guests coming out for dinner—great! I have also seen more than a few of these senior citizens with some physical limitations. I know it may be a bit humbling when the legs don’t work like they used to, but if you have to, sit down and swing your legs over—more than your pride will get hurt if you fall.

Pet Safety: See kid safety above, including life jackets.  Some additional thoughts: Sit down in the launch. Don’t help shove off to save your paint–keep your hands inside the boat, too. Is it really necessary to close the gate as you depart? You will only have to open it again on your return and anyway lifelines are meant to keep you in, not keep the riffraff and pirates off.

If you are entertaining guests, please help them with all of the above—they may not be as boat savvy as you are. Lastly, please be patient with the launch driver — their view may be a bit different, but we all want you to board safely.


  1. Boat Wax says:

    Really informative post. Well written too! No one can ever stress safety enough. Thanks for sharing this!

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