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What is a Slipway?

By Phil Shepley
Updated: May 23, 2024

A slipway, also known as a boat slip or simply a slip, is a ramp that connects the land to a body of water and is used to transport boats in or out of the water. It can be constructed of wood, concrete, gravel and other materials, or can even be a natural formation that is used as a slipway out of convenience. Boat slips can also be used as a place to repair, build, or deconstruct boats and are often located along shipyards, where they are constructed with keel blocks – lined up lengths of wood that hold the ship in place until it is ready to either be launch into the water or hauled away down the road.

Slipways can be built on practically any body of water, such as rivers, lakes and oceans. The ideal locations for their construction are those with calm waters as well as easy access from the road. Alternating tides can have an adverse effect on the ability to use a boat slip, since a low tide can render it unusable if it stops sloping into the water too soon. Slips can be either public or private, the latter of which can be owned by a private organization and can offer access either via some sort of membership or through charging boaters a fee for access.

Small watercraft can launch and exit the water via a slipway at any time the tides allow. The trailer for the boat is either moved into the water and down the ramp until the craft floats, or the procedure is reversed when the boat is being brought onto the shore. Large ships can also be built and launched on slipways, but cannot usually exit the water the same way, since a ship that is too large could potentially destroy a slipway’s construction due to the high amount of force it would take to pull it ashore. This would even happen despite the use of grease that is often employed to lubricate a slipway when transporting boats on and off of a boat slip.

One type of boat slip that is used by emergency boat rescue crews is a lifeboat slip. These are typically constructed of steel, with an emergency lifeboat resting on the slipway until it needs to be in the water. When ready to be used, the boat enters the water quickly at a high angle, and can be pulled back up afterward by the use of a winch.

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Discussion Comments
By ddljohn — On Sep 29, 2011

If anyone out there is planning on having a slipway made or making one themselves, I would recommend using plastic planks for it.

My dad and I had a slipway made for the lake near our house that we often use for fishing. The guys who did it used real timber wood planks which they said were the sturdiest ones around and also resistant to water.

We used it for several months with no problems and then went out of town for a while. When we came back, the slipway was basically destroyed, the wooden planks were eaten away from the inside out. Apparently there is a tiny kind of crustaceans (which I like to call water bugs) called gribble worms that feed off of wood. These guys ate away the entire slipway in a couple of months.

Now we're having a new one made with plastic planks. Don't make the same mistake we did!

By serenesurface — On Sep 29, 2011

I don't understand the idea of charging boats to use the slipway or moorings. Rivers and lakes are not privately owned, they are public goods. I don't think it's right to make slipways available for use in return for a fee. Slipways should be public and free.

I know that in some places there can be concerns about high traffic. The local government tries to resolve this by charging fees. Wouldn't it be better to have time slots for using the slipway and to make it first-come first-serve? Or better yet, another slipway can be made which would resolve the traffic problem. It's not expensive or difficult to make one.

By bear78 — On Sep 28, 2011

There is a historical slipway in our town. It was first built in the 1890s. It's been in restoration many times since then but they made it so well and strong the first time, that it's still there.

Small boats can still use the slipway, but since it's pretty narrow, other boats wouldn't be able to. It's nice to see it and think of how old it is though. I guess a well made slipway is something that can be in use for a very long time. It's such a simple thing but I doubt that we will ever stop needing it.

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