Guide for Practicing Proper Boat Ramp Etiquette

Boating has its own set of protocols and etiquette, and you’re far more likely to make friends with fellow boaters if you follow them, especially at the boat ramp!

Boat ramp etiquette tips

Boat ramps can get busy with impatient people anxiously awaiting to get their boats in the water. Anyone who gets in the way of the loading process or slows it down is going to make tempers rise. Let’s just say you won’t exactly be Mr. Popularity at the boat ramp if you’re not prepared to launch. If you’re not comfortable with evil looks and potential verbal abuse, follow these protocols to be prepared for a quick and efficient boat ramp launch. 

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Be Prepared Before Approaching the Boat Ramp

The biggest boat ramp sin anyone can commit is to approach the ramp before they’re ready. Don’t be “that guy”! When you pull onto the ramp, be prepared to back the boat in and release it as quickly as possible.

Boat ramp protocol guide

Stopping on the ramp prevents everyone else from using it, and every minute you spend stationary increases the ire of your fellow boaters. Park near the ramp where you’re not hindering other traffic, install your boat’s drain plug and load up all your gear. Remove all trailering straps and tie-downs except for the bow strap, safety chains or front cable. Detach the trailer light’s connector, and get the bow and stern lines ready.

Have the boat operator board the boat and remain there until the boat is in the water. Check that your outboard engine starts and then shut it off, and tilt the motor up so the propeller won’t strike the ground.

Have an Action Plan in Place

Make sure everyone knows the role they’ll play in launching the boat and exactly how to execute their role.  

Boat ramp launch protocol

Establish a set of basic hand signals for back, left, right, stop and forward so everyone involved in launching the boat can communicate with one another. Ideally, one person drives the tow vehicle, one pilots the boat and another acts as a spotter and signaler for the tow driver. If you’re short a pair of hands, don’t be afraid to ask another boater for help with the launch. Somebody will surely be happy to help if it moves things along. 

Boat ramp launch etiquette tips

Be prepared to stop and drive forward if your trailer begins to veer off course or jackknife. Moving forward is the most effective way to straighten and realign the tow vehicle and trailer. If you aren’t proficient at reversing a trailer, practice in an empty parking lot or a similar unoccupied area before attempting it at the ramp.

Don’t Dither in the Water

Having gotten your boat down the ramp and into the water, you still need to keep it moving, meaning there should already be someone in the boat. 

Boat ramp launch tips

As soon as the boat is floating free from the trailer, that person should untether the bow strap, safety chain or front cable holding the boat to the trailer. They should also lower the outboard until the lower unit is submerged. Finally, they should back the boat away from the trailer and maneuver it away from the ramp, leaving it clear for the next user.

While the boat is being maneuvered away from the ramp, another person should be simultaneously clearing the tow vehicle from the ramp for the next users.

Load as Quickly as You Launched

When it’s time to load your boat back onto its trailer, you’ll want to be every bit as quick as when you launched it to minimize your time occupying the ramp. 

Boat ramp launch what to do

Approach the boat ramp and have everyone except for the pilot quickly move ashore. Move the boat away from the ramp so others can continue to use it. Fetch your vehicle and back it down the ramp until the trailer is almost submerged. Have the pilot drive the boat onto the trailer, then secure the bow strap, safety chain or front cable. Tilt the outboard up to protect the propeller before slowly driving off the ramp.

Boat ramp protocol tips

Once you’re clear from the boat ramp, you can spend as long as you like removing gear from your boat, reattaching the straps and tie-downs to the trailer, and undoing everything else you did to get the boat in the water. And you can also take pride in knowing that you followed the protocol for proper boat ramp etiquette. Because again, nobody wants to be "that guy"!



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