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Chapter 14

Beaching and Retracting Operations

The term "landing craft" implies that the craft can safely land on a beach or shore. The most important phase of landing craft operations and the most severe test for the crew is beaching. Poor seamanship during beaching can risk life and property. The first task of the coxswain or master is to get past any obstructions that may be between deep water and the shore. The craft must be beached in a way that will not cause it to broach to and which will permit troops or cargo to be unloaded quickly and safely. A craft is broached to when it is thrown broadside to in heavy surf, heavy seas, or on a beach. After the craft is firmly on the beach, it must be retracted safely off the beach to be of further service to a unit. Like beaching, retracting from the beach requires skill in boat handling and seamanship.


  14-1. During land operations, the landing craft coxswain or master must remember (even when he has the right of way) the importance of doing everything possible to avoid a collision. If there is immediate danger of a collision, his prime responsibility is to save the crew, passengers, cargo, and boat. Heavy surf, fog, smokescreens, and similar hazards met during landing operations call for special precautions and good judgment. Some general traffic rules for landing operations are as follows:
  • Heavily loaded boats have right of way over lightly loaded or empty boats.
  • Boats in tow have right of way over all boats.
  • Retracting boats, which have their bows toward the beach and are in the surf zone, have right of way over empty or loaded boats.
  • Boats, after clearing the surf zone, should keep clear of inbound craft. They should also make for the designated flank before continuing back to the transport.


  14-2. To better understand this chapter, you should know what causes a surf and also the definitions of the terms. Definitions are as follows:
  • Breaker. A single breaking wave.
  • Breaker line. The outer limit of the surf.
  • Comber. A wave on the point of breaking. A comber often has a thin line of white water on its crest.
  • Crest. The top of a wave, breaker, or swell.
  • Foam crest. The top of the foaming water that speeds toward the beach after the wave breaks.
  • Surf. A number of breakers.
  • Surf zone. The area between the first break in the swells and the shoreline.
  • Swell. A broad, rolling movement of the surface of the water.
  • Trough. The valley between waves.

Figure 14-1. Cross Section of the Surf

  14-3. Surf is caused by the swells as they move in toward the beach (Figure 14-1). As this movement approaches shore, it is confined between the rising ocean floor and the surface of the water. The more confined the water becomes, the more the crests peak up in the form of combers. Combers usually, but not always, form into breakers. A sandbar or reef between the outer surf (or breaker) line and the beach sometimes causes two (more or less) well-defined surf belts.
  14-4. Breakers vary in size and sometimes may follow a sequence for a short interval (such as a large breaker following a certain number of smaller ones). There is no regularity to the pattern, so do not count on, for example, every seventh breaker being larger than the six preceding ones. However, the interval between breakers is fairly constant, tending to stay the same for several hours. Swells causing surf are created by winds far out to sea. The distance the swells travel from their origin, which may be several hundred miles, determines the interval between swells.
  14-5. The important points to remember about surf are that you must not be lulled into expecting the surf to be consistent, you must respect it, and you must learn how to make it work for you while beaching and retracting.


  14-6. As stated earlier, the most important phase of landing craft operation and the severest test for the landing craft crew is beaching. Poor seamanship during this operation can jeopardize life and property. A number of important rules to be observed by the master or coxswain when hitting the beach are as follows:
  • Check to see that all equipment and cargo are properly secured.
  • Ensure that all personnel are wearing life jackets.
  • Make sure that each crew member is in his place and ready for the run.
  • Prior to entering the surf zone, check the ground swell and attempt to gauge the nature of the surf. Surf will appear only half as high as it actually is when looking from seaward to the beach. Therefore, what appears to be a 3-foot surf is actually a 6-foot surf.
  • Cross the surf line at a right angle to the advancing waves (Figure 14-2). Waves are not always parallel to the beach.
  • Approach the surf line at reduced speed and take each wave carefully. Pick out an object on the beach as a guide (range markers are desirable), select a stern wave of considerable size and, as the wave gets under the craft, increase speed to that of the wave, and ride in just behind the crest. If impossible to keep up, select another wave and repeat the process. However, be careful to ensure that the surf is kept perpendicular to the stern to prevent broaching to. Once inside the surf line, the course should not be changed, and the craft must be kept lined up with the object on the beach.
  • If a bar stops the forward progress, reduce speed, wait for flotation, and proceed. If necessary to unload at the bar, check the depth of water prior to debarking troops or equipment. Do not debark troops or equipment into water too deep to ford.
  • Hit the beach at the fastest speed possible. Keep the engines ahead, and use the rudders and engines to keep the craft on the beach.
  • Constantly check the seawater strainers and discharge to prevent engine failure at this critical time. When the ramp is down, it will help keep the boat on the beach.

Figure 14-2. Crossing the Surf Line


  14-7. There are a number of hazards that can be encountered. Be prepared to take the appropriate safety measures to safely maneuver your vessel.
  14-8. Sandbars encountered on the run to the beach should be hit by slowing down your craft. In many cases, the boat's momentum and the following wake will be sufficient to carry the craft over the obstruction. However, if the forward motion of the craft is stopped, the engines should be slowed immediately to idling speed. Then, when the stern wash comes under the craft, the engines are run at half throttle until the craft works free. If this method fails, it is still possible to get the craft over by use of the propeller streams. The starboard or port engine is reversed and set at half throttle, and the other engine is held at half ahead. The screw current from the reversed propeller will then wash the sand away from the side of the keel, cutting a small channel through the bar. If the freeing of one side is not enough to get the boat free, the engines can be shifted to dig the sand away from the other side of the keel. Turning the wheel from side to side helps to work the craft free. As soon as the boat becomes free and begins to move through the bar, both engines are put ahead until the craft is completely clear. In some cases, it is possible to work a boat clear by moving its cargo, combining the shift in trim with lift of the waves, to provide the necessary flotation. When the craft is free, it is run into the beach just behind the crest of a wave. As soon as the craft beaches, the engines are throttled down until the wash or a wave provides additional flotation, at which time the engines are accelerated to move the boat up on the beach. In a calm surf, the engines are slowed when about two boat lengths off the beach and then accelerated when the stern wash lifts the craft. The sudden stopping of the boat when it touches on a bar or beach can cause serious injury to personnel in closed spaces. All personnel aboard should therefore be kept out of the engine room during the last stages of the run.
  14-9. Two general types of reefs are fringing and barrier. Fringing reefs are attached to the land, while barrier reefs are separated from the land by a body of water called a lagoon. The problem of crossing a reef in a landing craft is largely a question of water depth. At high water, the minimum depth over a reef should be about equal to the tidal range. Under certain conditions, the rising and falling action of tidal waters usually cuts passageways through the reefs. Whenever possible, use the channels when approaching or clearing a beach.
  14-10. A shelving beach is one where the shore gradually slopes toward the sea. Where there is a long, shelving, sandy beach it may be necessary to run the craft a long way over the bottom to reach the beach. In this case, it is best to continue ahead by taking advantage of the waves for added flotation whenever possible to aid in carrying the craft onto the beach. When small sandbars are encountered, the craft can be freed by using the propeller streams as described earlier. If the craft cannot be freed by this method, lower the ramp and use a boat hook or sounding pole to check the depth of water immediately ahead. If shallow enough, one man should be sent in with a pole to test the depth all the way to the beach before troops or cargo are unloaded.


  14-11. The most difficult task of the coxswain or master, in heavy weather, is to keep the craft from broaching to (or turning broadside to the sea or wind so as to risk capsizing). This occurs when the bow stops in still water and the stern is thrown around by the impact of the next wave. The same thing can happen, however, when the bow stops on the beach and the stern swings in toward the beach. In the first case, the craft probably will be thrown up on the beach before the coxswain can regain control. In the second case, the craft is already on the beach with the seas pounding it, and the boat may fill with water. In moderate surf, a broached landing craft sometimes can be freed under its own power. If the stern lies to port, it may be brought around by accelerating the port engine in reverse (causing the port screw current to wash sand from under the craft), and idling or accelerating the starboard engine ahead with the rudders hard left. The procedure is reversed if the stern lies to starboard. During this operation, the engine saltwater discharge lines must be visually checked to make sure the saltwater pumps are functioning properly.
  14-12. The five measures listed below are designed to aid in avoiding situations that might cause broaching to.
  • The coxswain or master must watch the seas carefully and maintain all possible headway during the run to the beach.
  • Breaking seas must be kept dead astern and perpendicular to the craft at all times, even if it means hitting the beach at an angle.
  • If the stern starts to swing, the engine opposite the swinging side should be accelerated and the wheel put over sharply in the direction of the swing.
  • As incoming waves float the boat, the engines should be accelerated in forward gear to force the craft well upon the beach so that as much of the keel as possible is on the beach.
  • The stern anchor on LCUs should be used as an antibroaching aid.


  14-13. During beaching operations, the operator must stand by the helm to hold the boat securely on the beach. This is true especially when the craft is on a steep beach with its stern partially afloat or while it is being loaded or unloaded. If the stern begins to swing around, the antibroaching procedure must be followed. In every case, the stern must be held directly into the seas or it will broach to immediately. The operator should apply forward throttle in varying amounts on each engine, depending on the particular situation, and also use the rudders as needed. The thrust of the propellers from a LCM will build up a sandbar in back of an average beach. On a steep beach, however, this problem will not occur because of the depth of the water at the stern.
  14-14. The engines must get enough seawater for cooling while the craft is beached. If the engines show signs of overheating or if there is inadequate seawater discharge, the craft must be retracted sufficiently to allow the seawater suction pump to draw in more water.
  14-15. The tides must be carefully checked during a prolonged stay on the beach and the craft moved in and out with the tide so that the stern stays in the water while the bow remains properly beached. In some localities, circumstances may require that the craft be beached prior to low tide and left resting on the bottom while the tide is out. In this case, the operator should select a position where the bottom is clear of rocks and obstructions.
  CAUTION: Boats must never be left on the beach unattended or unwatched.


  14-16. When beaching an LCU, the crew should be alerted as to the intended beaching operations and crew members should be at their assigned stations. The following procedures should be used:
  • Before entering the surf line, select a stationary object on the beach to help you establish your angle of approach.
  • At all times, keep the LCU at right angles (90 degrees) to the surf line, even if it means hitting the beach at an angle.
  • Begin the approach to the surf zone at a reduced speed.


  14-17. The following procedure will be used when retracting an LCU:
  • Have personnel at their assigned stations.
  • Put the rudders amidships.
  • Have the chief engineer start up the anchor windlass engine.
  • Put the port, center, and starboard engines half speed astern to break the LCU free from the beach.
  • Stop the engines once the LCU is free of the beach.
  CAUTION: The chief engineer must keep up the speed of the anchor windlass to take up all the slack in the anchor cable. This will prevent the danger of the LCU overriding the anchor cable and fouling the propellers.
  • If sandbars are encountered, put one engine half astern and the other half ahead. Alternate the outboard engines until a channel has been cut through the sandbar. The center engine on the 1466 class LCU is also put at half speed astern and is used to help the engine that is backing to cut a channel.
  • House the anchor.
  Note: The next step is accomplished after the anchor has been housed and the surf line has been cleared. The direction of turning will depend on the wind. Use the wind to your advantage.
  • Put the rudders hard left, starboard engine full ahead and the port engine half astern. Reverse the procedure if turning to starboard.
  Note: The turn is made at the crest of a wave as rapidly as possible and the turn is completed in the trough so that the LCU can meet the next sea head on.
  CAUTION: Never turn in the surf zone. Boats retracting which have their bows toward the beach and are in the surf zone have the right of way over empty or loaded boats coming into the beach. Boats beyond the surf zone and leaving the beach will keep clear of inbound boats.


  14-18. The procedures for retracting or backing the boat off the beach are generally the same for all landing craft except the LCU, in which case the stern anchor and winch are employed. Before retracting, the coxswain or master ensures that the rudders are not turned. All engines are backed down and used to steer until the craft is in deep enough water to permit proper rudder control. Landing craft are normally retracted at low speeds for control through the propellers. If bars are encountered during retracting operations, the procedure described earlier is partially reversed. One engine is backed down at half throttle and the other is put ahead about half speed, alternating until a channel has been cut through the bar. Both engines are then put in reverse and the boat is backed straight out. When completely clear of the surf line, the craft is turned to starboard by putting the starboard engine in reverse, the port engine in forward, and the wheel hard over right (this procedure is reversed when turning to port). The maneuver should be started on the crest of a wave and completed in the trough so that the craft will meet the next wave head on. When the breeze is fairly strong, the coxswain should use the wind to aid the start of the turn by letting the bow swing off to leeward. When putting about, the coxswain must make sure that the turn will leave the craft clear of incoming traffic. Turning in the surf zone must be avoided. When going against the waves, headway is maintained between waves but reduced somewhat when larger crests are encountered. This reduces the craft's resistance to the sea and allows it to ride over without danger of taking on excessive water.
  CAUTION: The coxswain must make sure to pause a few seconds in neutral before engaging the opposite gear to allow the propeller time to stop turning. Failure to do so will result in transmission slippage plus an expensive and time-consuming repair job.
  14-19. Retracting from a shelving beach in a bad surf poses special problems for the landing craft crew because, in most cases, the boat has been landed well up on the beach. The best solution is to rely on the seas and the power of the engines. By this method the engines are accelerated in reverse each time a wave washes under the stern and the process repeated until the craft works free. When completely cleared, the boat is turned seaward.
  14-20. Retracting from steep beaches presents no special problems under normal conditions, but because of the depth of the water just off the beach the surf has a more direct and immediate effect on the operation in heavy weather. This situation calls for careful handling and rapid response in getting the craft off the beach.


  14-21. Experienced salvage boat crews never lose sight of the fact that their main objective is to keep the beach clear for incoming waves of boats. They never become so involved in freeing a disabled boat that they impede the progress of other landing craft en route to the beach. On the other hand, salvage boat crews must free broached and stranded landing craft as quickly as possible for the safety of the crew of the disabled boat. For their part, the men in the operable boat must do all they can to keep the craft shipshape. The engines must be kept running at all costs. Once the engines fail, the landing craft is helpless, even if free from the beach.
  14-22. In a light surf, the salvage boat may back in far enough to pass the towline to members of the crew of the stranded boat who wade out to receive it. Whenever possible, it is better for the salvage boat to remain outside the breaker line and let another inbound landing craft carry the towline to the beach, from which it may be passed to the stranded boat. Another possibility exists if the beach is flat and the surf is breaking well out. Under such conditions, the salvage boat may be beached and the line then passed to the disabled boat. But if the surf is breaking close in-shore or if the beach is steep, the salvage crew may approach the weather (windward) side of the broached boat and throw a heaving line so that the heavier towing line may be hauled aboard. Approaching from windward enables the heaving line to be thrown more effectively. The distance between the boats also decreases, as the salvage boat is set toward the stranded boat by the wind.
  14-23. In a heavy surf it may be necessary to remain outside and use the line-throwing gun. At other times, it may be better seamanship to anchor the salvage boat by the bow outside the breakers and pay out the anchor line so the salvage boat drops astern close enough to pass a line to the helpless boat. The strain on the anchor line will hold the bow of the salvage boat to the sea. This procedure is generally undesirable, because it is difficult for the salvage crew to haul in the anchor line with sufficient speed when their boat begins to move seaward in the direction of the anchor.
  14-24. Once the towline has been passed, the crews of both boats should keep in mind the following procedures (see also Figure 14-3):
  • Both the salvage boat and the towline should be perpendicular to the waves.
  • A bridle is always used when freeing an LCM.
  • The towline must not foul the screws of either boat.
  • A broached boat is never towed by one quarter. Such a tow would be both dangerous and inefficient.
  • The salvage boat never attaches the towline to its own bow but, to maintain maneuverability, the towline must be secured well forward of the screws and rudder.
  • After the salvage boat has moved out beyond the breaker line, a steady strain is put on the towline. Slack must be taken up smoothly. Do not use full throttle until all slack is removed. The stranded boat should come off the beach a few inches at a time as each sea raises her. The broached boat may not break free immediately, so a steady pull should be maintained until ordered otherwise.
  • The coxswain of the disabled craft should keep it in forward gear. As the engines are gunned forward while a wave is receding, the discharge current blasts the sand away from the rudders and skegs. This prevents rudder damage and enables the boat to draw off the beach without digging into the sand. Likewise, keeping the engines in forward gear adds to the strain of the disabled craft. When the stern is broken free, the engines are reversed to assist the salvage boat. Once freed from the beach, the boat is towed clear of the surf. The towline is cast off unless the tow is crippled.
  14-25. The foregoing general rules serve only as examples of common procedures followed in typical situations. There are no hard-and-fast rules for salvaging. No two salvage jobs present exactly the same problems; each must be solved individually. The below are a few examples that illustrate procedures carried out in more unusual situations.
  • When a boat is stranded and lying almost parallel to the beach, attaching the towline to the bow may be desirable. Sometimes the boat can be swung around with its stern serving as a pivot. In such cases, slip the towline under the bow, bring it up around on the shoreward side, and fasten it to a forward bitt or cleat. When freed, the boat is towed out to sea, bow first.
  • On a steep beach, made treacherous by a heavy backwash and current, the best salvage approach may be for the salvage boat to beach at some distance from the stranded craft. The towline may then be carried across the beach by hand and secured. This method of passing the line lessens the danger of the heavy backwash carrying the towline into the screws of either or both boats.
  • In the foregoing situation, if the salvage boat cannot draw near the shore, attach a light line to a life ring and let the life ring float in with the surf. The crew of the stranded craft can use the line to haul in the heavier towline.

Figure 14-3. Correct and Incorrect Angles for Towing Broached Boat Clear of Beach


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