Aahhhhh...beach launches. My specialty. I cut my rocketry teeth at the
beaches of the New Jersey shore. To answer the question of whether you can fly
from the beach... if my 27 year old still flight worthy Big Bertha and its
handful of vintage Estes friends are any indication, absolutely yes. Depending
on what you want out of your rockets, you can go crazy waterproofing (as some
here have suggested), or follow the few simple, easy, steps in my "Beach
Rocketry for Fun and Non-profit" primer and enjoy about 80% recovery rate and
lots of low cost Estes fun. You have definite limitations with what you can
do, but the benefits of beach launches far outweigh them.
There are a few key ingredients to a successful beach launch. First,
unless you are lucky enough to have a monster wide beach, you need low tide.
You also need a sea breeze, or in a pinch a breeze running along the beach
(north or south on the east coast, for example). Finally, you want to go early
in the morning so you don't land on sundbathers. On the other hand, having a
few surfers nearby is a plus, as they can handle the deep splashdowns the best.
For construction, your basic techniques are actually ideal. Water based
elmers glue will allow easy removal the entire engine mount should you splash
down and get the motor stuck (more on this later). For finish, I used mustard
yellow and lime green wall paint latex on my beach birds, but then again, it
was the 70's and I was a ten-year old (also cut my fins with a steak knife that
first year). Actually, my first year ('77) I didn't paint at all...and the
rockets were still cool as all heck to me and my friends.
I actually think you'll do better with balsa, paper, and standard finishing
techniques than plastic as repairs will be easier and your rocket won't sink in
the ocean. I've never splashed down plastic fin units, but my bet is they may
not float as well as paper and balsa.
While a splashdown does sound fun, you actually do want to avoid it. The
preferable technique for beach launch is as follows...Of course, check weather
the night before to see that tides and winds will be favorable. Plan on
launching around 8 am. Let the neighborhood kids know. With luck, you'll all
get to the beach by 9. This gives you a good hour of empty beach with just you
and the surfers and maybe another half hour after the guards arrive with only a
handful of sunbathers.
Setup location is key and is a fine skill. None have ever mastered it
quite like the great rocket master, my father. If you have a good ocean
breeze, go about two thirds toward the ocean and angle out over the ocean.
After chute deployment, you'll blow back over the beach. If winds are light,
and either from the ocean or parallel to the shoreline, go about half way down
to the ocean and angle accordingly. If they are blowing toward the ocean,
remember I told you not to fly, use lots of Off bug spray, and go about one
third of way to ocean and angle inland. Remember, the idea is to NOT land in
the ocean. Pad placement is a key skill, and you'll want to start with lower
altitude flights till you get the hang of it (unlike certain ten year olds, who
put a C into his third flight ever and never saw it again...very sad, I still
dream of that rocket at night...ahhh). Seriously, remember...if your on the
east coast, most beach towns are barrier islands that are only a mile wide.
2000 feet up with a 10 to 15 mph steady ocean breeze means no recovery....low
and slow is the way to succeed on the beaches. Actually, add that to the must
have list at the beginning of this post. I'd stay below 500 feet or so unless
you've got a humongous beach and very light winds.
Now, of course you're going to have a splashdown or two if you fly enough.
Warn your kid of this possibility and remind him/her that that was how NASA
did it on the moon shots. Be aware that swimming five hundred feet out with no
lifeguard for a 9 dollar rocket is not smart. (even two hundred feet is pretty
far by ocean swimming standards...this isnt the pool at the Y and 200 feet is
eight lenghts with no goggles, an undertoe, and no wall to grab if you get
tired. Also be aware that surfers will totally dig what you are doing and will
happily paddle over to get to your rocket, which will be floating and very
visible with it's orange parachute.
As soon as your rocket gets back on shore, remove the motor (always remove
it immediately after beach launches as the humidity will cause swelling).
You'll have a fifty-fifty chance of success. If this fails, you'll probably
want to pull the whole motor mount assembly out (very easy as the water will
have loosened the glue) You might be able to salvage the centering rings and
engine hook. Estes sells replacement motor mounts, or you can just take a
lenght of bt-20 and build a new one (save your instruction sheets, trace your
centering rings, and measure all parts during assembly...this is a good general
Please note none of this reconstruction is possible with plastic motor
mounts...these rockets will likely be a total loss if you have a splashdown.
Another good idea is to regularly be sure your motor mounts stay secure...the
humidity at the shore softens the white glue over time and you'll possibly have
to reinforce. (Second season one of my motor mounts launched right through my
Finally, check local laws as beach launches may be illegal, as well as
going on dunes to recover (both are problems at the Jersey shore now). That
being said, you'll have a great time flying estes size rockets at the beach...I
can stilll see the thirty year old image of my mustard yellow Der Red Max, or
my watermellon green Big Bertha arcing out over the ocean...white sand, green
sparkling ocean, and clear blue skies with the mid morning sun....the sound and
thick smoke my heavily build rocket gave off on a B4-2. Drifting down the
beach after deployment.These would be totally forgettable flights on a farm or
big open field, but these were gorgeus in their setting and were the flights
that hooked me on the hobby I still enjoy almost thirty years later.
For first beach launches, I'd recommend Fat Boy on a B, Big Bertha on a B
and maye later on a C, or Alpha on 1/2 a then on an A. Enjoy and let me know
if you need any other info.
South Jersey Area Rocketry Society
NAR# 34201 L1