Getting a Motorcycle Aboard a Sailboat





Introduction: Getting a Motorcycle Aboard a Sailboat

I have a 32ft sailboat. For years I have taken bicycles aboard to use while cruising. When I got a motorcycle, I thought I'd try to take that along instead

Step 1: Setup

Getting bicycles aboard is trivial - just pick them up in one hand and step aboard. The motorcycle weighs 250lbs, and I can't do that. Even with both hands. I had thought about slings and winches etc - the sailboat comes with a boom, mast, lots of rope etc. - but it is not as easy as it looks, particularly single-handed. You really need one person to work the winch, and one person to guide the load, and the boom is in the wrong place (over the cockpit - OK for removing the boat engine but not where I want a motorcycle). Using a ramp was the obvious answer.

I had a piece of C-section steel beam I had rescued from scrap, which I had used to load the bike into a van. It's easily strong enough, light enough to pick up, and nicely fits the bike tire. The edges are over an inch high and prevent the bike from slipping off sideways.

To use this on the boat, first I need to remove the safety lines. They are designed to easily unclip on the starboard bow (the bit shown in the photo). Then I adjust the dock lines to pull the bow against the dock and hold it securely (usually closer than shown here). The ramp rests on the coaming (wood rail) and is secured with a rope to a deck fitting. This stops it sliding off with the bike's weight on it. It needs to be lined up with a clear space behind to get the bike on. Well, actually, it doesn't, but it's easier that way.

Step 2: Driving Aboard

Drive the front wheel up the ramp and stop. Line up the back wheel with the ramp if it is not already. It needs to be exactly in line otherwise it may climb up the side of the channel and fall off. It's quite easy to hold the bike like this - leave it in gear and use the clutch and front brake to control the motion. You don't need the back brake.

When everything is lined up properly, start the bike and drive it quickly up the ramp, stepping smartly aboard while holding it upright.

I secure the bike to the port side shrouds, and cover it with a tarpaulin to keep spray off. In heavy seas this area can get very wet, and salt water is not good for bikes. I have not had the motorcycle aboard in these conditions but I used to keep a bicycle there and it was seriously degraded by the experience. Now I keep it across the stern, but that's not an option for the motorcycle (unless I built a special rack for it).

Step 3: Unloading the Bike

Getting the bike off is a matter of reversing the steps in getting it aboard.

Set up the ramp, and lift the back wheel of the bike onto the top of the ramp, making sure the front wheel is lined up properly. Put the bike in first gear, and hold it on the clutch and front brake. Slowly let the brake/clutch off until the front wheel onto the ramp. Step smartly backwards onto the dock, allowing the bike to roll down the ramp.

The photo is actually taken from the getting aboard video, but shows the start point with the back wheel on the ramp.

I had originally fastened a spinnaker halyard to the handlebars in case I dropped the bike. That's a rope that goes to the top of the mast. The whole operation turned out easier than I had originally thought, and this safety rope is not necessary. I might still use it if I was unable to get the bow against a dock - the idea was that the rope would prevent the bike sinking if it fell in the water, or at least enable me to pull it out more easily. But with a regular dock there is no chance of that as the gap is too small.

If you have someone to help, I'm not sure that it would be a good idea to let them - they might get hurt. It's easier to use the bike engine to drive it aboard than to push it. With 3 strong guys, maybe you could just pick the thing up safely.



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    20 Discussions

    Oh lord... after 20 mins of struggling with creating an account on this site JUST so I can comment I bloody hope to get a response...

    I reaalllyyyy wanna sail my gsxr 750 to Australia from NZ... wondering if you think this is possible with a 36 foot yacht? I know you mention salt etc... perhaps wrapping it in a trap or two?

    Email me back or something if this site is too finicky

    The first time I tried, I think I rigged a line to the bike in case I dropped it. But mostly I just re-set the mooring lines so that the bow overlaps the dock slightly, so there is no chance of the bike going in the water. I've only misjudged it once, I think, but was able to hold the bike upright and lift it back on the ramp.
    The Suzuki was stolen in September and I now have a Zero electric. That will be fun - totally different torque characteristics and no clutch.

    My most insane trip was getting it onto a small island by way of a tiny island - I brought the boat alongside the rocks at high tide with a log as a buffer, and had a four-foot gap to cross. Then I had to wait for the tide to go out to ride the bike to the big island. That was before I made the catamaran.

    1 reply

    Curious how that turned out? The Zero electric, I mean?

    What about rust? Doesnt the salt air get to the motorcycle or have you had it onboard long enough yet to see any effects. I know bikes will rust like crazy unless you constantly treat them and or put them in a bag on deck.

    1 reply

    It got a bit of rust on the handlebars where the ropes rubbed it, but otherwise not much. I wrap it in a tarpaulin if the sea's choppy and there's much spray.

    Man, that ramp makes me super nervous. It looks like a screenshot from a Youtube Fail video. ;) It certainly takes a leap of faith. But it must definitely be worth it to take the bike around.

    1 reply

    Messed up my reply with the picture. It was supposed to be here in reply to yours.

    I had a Downeast 32 and am starting to look again...but meanwhile, I've learned to ride and LOVE IT! Now I don't want to choose between the riding and the sailing. I was convinced I was not alone but all my rider friends and sailor friends all said "can't be done" Of course it can! My bike is 320lbs and I'd been thinking, Sling & Halyard but this seems easier. I'm only 100 lbs myself so not sure if it would be easier for me but as soon as I acquire my sailboat, I'll let y'all know! Thanks for the info!

    I did that the first time. It just gets in the way. Normally I secure the boat close enough to the dock so that if I did drop the bike, it would fall on the dock not in the water. I haven't dropped it yet. The most ridiculous thing I did, which I'm not going to repeat, was getting the bike onto an island with about a 3ft gap and the boat bobbing around in the waves. I think I did rig a halyard that time.

    here the problem now u need to counter weight the motorbike on the boat some how, the pedal bike wont flip yr boat. but the motorcycle might.

    1 reply

    The boat weighs 6 tons. The 200lb bike is insignificant. I wouldn't try it with a sailing dingy. I also have a small catamaran I've adapted to take the bike (might write that up), where placement is a bit more critical.

    Much safer to get someone to help and push it up the ramp. I did that riding thing a few times. The last time the tires were wet and the back tire started spinning on the ramp. The motorcycle (720 lbs.) and I (220 lbs.) both started going over the side. I was lucky, there was a very strong young man that caught me and the bike so neither got hurt. But his back bothered him for several weeks. I always get help and push it up now, much safer.

    1 reply

    I agree with SandLizard. It's always very tricky to ride a bike onto a trailer. I have a very low two bike trailer, and I live the trailer by a curb, so my foot can always touch ground as the bike goes up. As long as your feet can touch something solid the entire time the bike is lifting up, you're okay. If that's not the case, winch it up with a strong person on each side as the bike moves forward. We made sure there was something I could step on the entrire distance in getting two Harley's onto the trailer - and it still was tricky. A lot of clutch action is used.

    What makes this work is the relatively short ramp. Same as loading a bike in the back of a pickup truck, if the ramp is too long the bike has more opportunity to wander off the edge of the ramp. In the video you can see the front tire is almost at the top of the ramp when he checks the rear tire for alignment on the ramp. with a short enough ramp you can ride the bike up the ramp by: SLOWLY while both feet are on the ground advance the bike up the ramp until you can move your feet from the ground to the tailgate of the pickup in one step. I used to do this every weekend until I learned that it is better to stay sober and just ride your bike home that night rather than haul it the next day ;-)

    Kudos on the can-do attitude, but if making a regular operation of this maybe you should look into a davit that could be stowed when not in use. Or even some stowable davit-like assembly that would use an existing winch would be cool.

    Wow, that would've been so fail if the board broke. LOL! Nice job taking your motorcycle on your boat with you. Wish I had both of those. : D

    2 replies

    The board is a steel beam; no way that will break. The risk is of slipping, losing balance, and dropping the bike on the dock. Worst case, falling with the bike on top. That's why it's important to do it quickly and not mess around halfway up.

    No kidding! my uncle used the same technique to unload his new motorcycle from the rented delivery truck and ended up dropping a Kawasaki KLR on himself. It broke a rib. Be careful with those things!

    Great instructable! There are very few people out there who will probably ever put this to use, but I am one of them. I've been around bikes and boats for almost my whole life, and occasionally the two means of transport intersect. I'll file this one away for future use.