Whether I’m fishing solo, or taking someone for a run, the reality of my boating is that 80% of the time or more, I launch and retrieve my boat on my own. This is basically because for a number of years recently I operated a single handed guided fishing business, which means that the breakdown of my fishing for the past few years has been 70% fishing with clients (where you simply can’t risk having them involved in the launch/retrieve process for both their safety and yours); 20% Fishing solo to get my own wind down time; and as unfortunate as it is, only about 10% actually fishing with friends or family that know the process to assist with launching and retrieving the boat.
It’s actually funny now that in 2020 when I’m taking a break from guiding, that I’ve actually finally pulled my finger out and got this sorted!
Anyhow, after several years of launching with the help of a rope around my winch post, and retrieving using a half drive-on, half winch-on sort of process, I decided it was time to get things sorted once and for all.
My Boat/Trailer Setup
To give things a little context, I’ll give you a run down of my boat/trailer setup.
The boat is a 5.4m Alloy hull, with a hot foot throttle (I’ll explain why this is relevant later), sitting on a dual axle trailer with Keel and wobble rollers. It’s a lot more common for an alloy boat like mine to be supported on skids, which is great if you only ever launch at ramps that you can sink the trailer enough to assist in taking the weight, or if its a light enough boat to push it off. Well neither of those work for me. My boats heavy for one, and I launch at a few spots that honestly I probably shouldn’t. Like dropping the trailer off of mud banks or using dodgy makeshift ramps to access some less pressured waterways. Now if you’ve ever tried to push over a tonne of boat off a trailer, thats resting solidly on skids, and you’re not at an actual ramp to get your trailer even in the water (let alone sinking it enough to float the boat), you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Long story short – rollers work for me.
Rollers. To put it bluntly, bloody rollers! Ok, to make things easy, forget all the stuff above about launching at dodgy ramps etc etc. Let’s just take a normal concrete ramp, I can get the trailer in a good depth and everything should be easy, right?
So I reverse the trailer down, get everything unhooked, but can’t unhook the winch cable. Why? Because as soon as I do the boat wants to fly off the trailer thanks to rollers that are simply doing what they are designed to do! And its too heavy to just hang onto. So I use a makeshift solution – Grab the bow line, and wrap it around the winch post to hold the weight of the boat, back off the winch and unhook the winch cable, then allow the rope thats tension wrapped around the winch post to slowly slide loose while I scramble up the drawbar, over the spare wheel and flop onto the front deck so I’m in the boat as it flies off into the water. Seamless (and totally safe too…)
Then it’s time to retrieve the boat. Trailer goes in and I drive the boat onto the trailer – awesome, perfectly aligned. But as soon as I let the power off, it just rolls straight back down. Now remember I mentioned a hot foot throttle earlier? Yep bloody amazing bit of gear for long runs at full throttle in rough water, pretty much shit house the rest of the time. Except for looking like a mad race car driver when you’re on the water. So as soon as you take your foot off the throttle, it returns to idle. Hey, it’s just another bit of kit doing what it is designed to do – If I copped a seagull to the face at 100kph and went limp over the wheel, I wouldn’t want my throttle to be like ‘I don’t need no human input, I do what I want!’
Problem here is when I need a bit of throttle at the console to hold the boat up the trailer, but I need to be at the front of the trailer to hook on the which, my legs just aren’t long enough to be in both spots.
So the solution? Drive onto the trailer and let the boat settle about half way up where it will stay in place when in gear at idle. Then climb out the front, hook up the winch and winch it up the rest of the way, then hop back into the boat to knock it out of gear, turn the motor off and trim it up, then climb back out again to drive the car out… An even more seamless process that launching…
So after doing all the above for a number of years (and somehow not loosing any fingers or running myself over on the ramp), I decided to fit some form of boat catch/latch/release system. I weighed up a few things, but the main 2 were functionality and cost. What I settled on that would do what I wanted at a price that I considered reasonable, was the L&R Boat Latch.
This particular latch is one of the cheapest, so thats a big tick for the cost front, appeared to have excellent functionality for both launching and retrieving, so it got a tick for the functionality front. And the other bonus was, from the outset at least, would fit just about any existing winch post set up easily without modification… (pfft, as if anything is ever easy)
So yeah like I said – as if anything is ever easy. Look, to be fair, fitting this did require some customisation, but I wouldn’t say it was hard. Anyone with a more normal winch post than mine would probably say it is easy to fit. But heres a bit of a step by step of what I needed to do to make it happen.
Obviously the first thing I did was to get all the bits out, figure out how they all came together and then checked roughly how and where it all needed to sit. I didn’t get any pics of this process im afraid but using clamps to hold it in place I was able to work out what needed to happen.
This is where I worked out the modifications I needed to make. First of all was the latch section (that attaches to the winch post) and the catch section (that attaches to the boat) need to be at a certain distance apart. If I fitted the latch to the winch post normally, I would have had to move the winch post forward, and space out the bow roller to line back up with the boat and even though its a suggested method by the product manufacturer, it just looks dodgy to me. I measured it all up and decided if I just shortened the end of the latch mounting plate, I could position it just right to line up with the catch, and not hit anything it shouldn’t. I also discovered that no matter what, I had a support bracket on my winch post that needed to be totally removed to fit it up anyway, so I decided to take to both bits with the grinder.
So in the above images, the red circle on the right image, is the end of the latch mount plate that I shortened which you can see in the image on the left. The green space is the distance back I needed to mount the latch so it was in the right position for the catch without the need to space out the bow roller. The yellow circles show the brackets on the winch post, the one on the left had to be removed (I’d already done it by the time I took this image). I didn’t like the idea of just removing this bracket like it was nothing, but the latch simply couldn’t be fitted with it there. I decided my course of action here was to remove it, and monitor the winch post closely and make sure no problems arise, and so far theres no issues. (The entire trailer has been built like a brick shit house to be honest anyway).
Once I’d cut some shit with the angle grinder, I then measured everything up to drill some holes. The way the latch is designed to fit is to utilise the existing mounting holes for your winch. Unless your winch post is one of these weird things like mine. As you can see in the pics, my winch doesn’t sit directly above where the latch needed to sit, so it needed its own dedicated mounting holes and bolts.
The image on the left is the top view, the hole furthest from the winch is the main bolt/support of the latch, the hole closest to the winch fits through the ‘slip’ hole of the latch (the end I cut a chunk off).
The image on the right is the underside, the third hole you can now see in the foreground of the image is the second main support bolt of the latch. This is actually the only supplied bolt that comes with the latch and the instructions are pretty clear that if you don’t use this bolt, you’re a dumbass and your warranty will be voided.
Once the holes were drilled, and everything was ready to go, it was just a case of bolting everything in place. I used some galvanised bolts for the 2 extras I needed, plus the third stainless bolt thats supplied with the latch. Having a clamp handy helped out when doing this step.
The only problem I found with the latch once fitted was the tolerance for the centre bolt was very fine for the latch handle to not hit. As you can see in the image blow, my bolt turned out to be about 1mm too long and the latch handle would clip it as you flicked it back and fourth.
‘No big deal’, said Mister Angler Grinder as he solved that problem, but it is something to be aware of.
So the latch was on, time to fit the catch. The image on the left below shows how the catch needed to be fitted up, and the one on the right shows the little alloy sleeves supplied with it. As you can see, with a little persuasion by the hammer, the lower of the sleeves pressed into place nicely on my boat. However the upper sleeve wasn’t so nice.
Now you don’t have to be a genius to know that due to some simple leverage, it doesn’t matter how tight you have that top bolt, it will never hold in that spot. Never. So if its just bolted up like that, the catch will pivot on the lower bolt, and pull the bottom half of the catch forward. My solution was to cut a nylon bush to fit the larger hole, and press the alloy sleeve into that.
With the bush and sleeve fitted, I was confident in bolting up the catch and it not moving when catching the boat on the trailer.
The above images show the latch and catch fitted, and the winch rope and safety chain all reattached ready for action.
The Latch In Action