Every so often a concept comes along that can genuinely be called ‘revolutionary’ – and the Balex Automatic Boat loader is one.
The concept is the brainchild of Lex Bacon, who first told me what he was working on over a couple of cold ones at Great Barrier Island some 10 years ago. Since then it was been an ‘interesting journey’, not to mention an expensive one, to get the Balex ABL to market.
The concept was first made public at the Hutchwilco NZ Boat Show several years ago, where it won the innovation award, but it has taken until now for the product to be brought to a level Lex and his partners are really happy with.
If you want to see the potential pitfalls of launching and retrieving a boat, simply visit a busy ramp over the summer period. You’ll likely witness many ramp disasters, some of which end in divorces and broken friendships! Letting the rope go at an inopportune time, flying winch handles, and hulls that refuse to line up centrally on the trailer, are all situations which frustrate budding boaties.
However, add a Balex Automatic Boat loader system into the mix and many of the frustrations and potential for embarrassing cockups are eliminated.
At the heart of the Balex system are the Ultra Grip belts and Hydra drive, which grip the hull and push or pull it on or off the trailer.
After a quick demonstration from Lex at the Whitianga trailerboat contest, it was a couple of weeks before I had the opportunity to launch and retrieve our Stabicraft 1850 Frontier via the ABL and its controls.
After dropping the tie-downs, the boat was backed into the water. Then, when the right depth was achieved, the bow rope was handed to the crewman, who stood on the ramp finger while the hook and safety chain were undone. (The Balex ABL will hold the boat in place on most ramp slopes, but I wasn’t prepared to risk dumping the bright yellow, sign-written Stabi’ onto the concrete, hence the safety chain and winch rope remaining in place until the trailer was in the water!)
Using the small controller, I hit the launch button, sending the Stabi reversing down the trailer and, once free of the rollers, the crewman easily pulled it dockside.
Coming home, the reverse applied. The crewman, using the bow rope, positioned the bow so the hull came in contact with the Balex ABL unit’s belts, which gripped the alloy hull and steadily pulled the boat onto the trailer until it reached the snub. Then, with the winch hitch and safety chain attached, I jumped into the vehicle and pulled the rig out of the tide without having to touch the winch.
Once clear of the ramp, half a rotation on the winch handle secured the boat snugly, and with the tie-downs on and prop flag in position, we were ready for the road.
On another day I had my mate back the rig down to the water with me at the helm. With the bow freed, I used the Balex ABL remote to back the boat off the trailer until deep enough for the hull to become free of the Balex units. Then the Honda was lowered, started, and reverse engaged to take me to the ramp’s finger.
Coming back in, I dropped the driver off, and once he’d backed into the tide far enough, I idled to the trailer and felt the belts grip the hull, pulling it forward. As it came up on the trailer the engine was turned off and raised, and with the boat fully on the trailer and the bow secure once more, we were on our way without anyone getting their feet wet.
The battery and the hydraulic system for the NZFN Stabicraft 1850 Frontier are mounted high off the trailer’s drawbar to keep them out of harm’s way when surf-beach launching.
The Balex ABL2500 has enough torque to pull 2.5 tonnes onto a trailer sitting on a ramp at nine degrees – a 1:6.3 gradient/slope of 16%.
The Hydra 4 adaptive drive has four axes of movement to handle any hull shape, and is powered by two high-torque hydraulic motors. The non-marking ‘ultra-grip’ belts deliver the traction produced at the heart of the Balex system and work equally well on both GRP and alloy hulls.
The Hydra 4 power unit includes a high-output 1600W Bosch Rexroth hydraulic power pack and wireless control interface. The Balex ABL can be operated either by the remote control or on a panel located on the unit itself.
The Balex ABL is able to be retro fitted onto an existing trailer or included in the build of a new one, and can be located in a range of positions on the trailer.
On our rig it was an after-market fit-up, with the Balex crew altering the winch post to enable the battery and the hydraulic unit to sit side-by-side, also making the positioning high enough so they wouldn’t get wet when beach launching.
Unfortunately, big surf over Easter prevented me from attempting a beach launch and retrieve, but I have every confidence it will all go to plan.
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