Common Boat Ramp Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
Ahh, the dreaded boat launch fail. You’ve seen it happen before, whether in person or in a funny(?) viral boat launch blooper video. And you know you don’t want it to ever happen to you. Or worse yet, it already has!
Launching a boat can be a frustrating experience, especially on a busy weekend while others are watching and waiting to launch their own. Even if you’ve launched a boat many times and fancy yourself a pro, the most seasoned boaters aren’t immune to boat ramp fails. Ultimately, it all comes down to preparation and common sense. Here are some common boat ramp mistakes and how to avoid them.
Boat Ramp Mistake 1: Tow Vehicle Ends Up in the Water
We’re betting you’ve seen it happen in a blooper video or even in person. The classic “vehicle rolling down the ramp into the water and sinking while trying to launch a boat” blunder. It’s every boat ramp launcher’s worst nightmare!
How to Avoid It: Inspect your tow vehicle before taking the boat down to the ramp. Check the maximum weight the tow vehicle can handle, as carrying too much weight can pull the car or truck down the boat ramp and into the water. The tow weight capacity of a vehicle can be checked through the capacity sticker inside the door, or by simply looking at the manufacturer’s specs.
You’d think this would be common sense too, but put the tow vehicle in Park and use the emergency parking brake. It’s amazing how many people forget to do this while unloading on the ramp, resulting in vehicles rolling into the water and creating new viral blooper videos for people to laugh at. Not setting the parking brake is probably the most common cause this embarrassing (and costly) boating fail happens.
Boat Ramp Mistake 2: Holding Up the Line
One of the biggest boat ramp mistakes you can make is parking your boat in front of the ramp to prepare it for launch. Pardon our language but simply put, you’re going to piss other people off! Don’t be the guy that holds up the line. Blocking the ramp lane prevents others from launching their boats, and nobody wants to wait in line any longer than they have to.
How to Avoid It: Don’t block the launch lane, period. You’re going to end up creating chaos and possibly a physical altercation with another boater or three. Prepare your boat for launch in the parking lot, not on the boat ramp. Also, loosen the straps and undo the cables before you get to the ramp to speed up the process and prevent holding up the line. Get ready before launching by pulling into a parking space in the lot and packing all of your equipment ahead of time.
Boat Ramp Mistake 3: Ignoring Boat Ramp Etiquette
Remember what we said about not holding up the line? This is part of ignoring boat ramp etiquette, but it’s not the only thing. Cutting in line at the boat ramp is another etiquette violation. If you think blocking the ramp will piss other people off, cutting in line is guaranteed to get you in serious trouble! Were you the kid who cut in line at lunch time in school? Yes, it’s childish and you know better. Speaking of childish, it’s also bad etiquette to have children in the way. This is not only unsafe, but children are a distraction and often get in the way, which slows down the launch process.
How to Avoid It: Don’t be that [expletive] that ignores boat ramp etiquette! Be courteous and prepared. Get your boat away from the ramp immediately after unhooking it from the trailer. Once you’ve successfully launched your boat, get out of the way quickly so others can follow. And keep kids (and dogs) away from the boat ramp so they don’t get in the way during a launch. Also, if you’re going to do practice launches, for goodness sakes don’t practice on weekends when it’s busy!
Boat Ramp Mistake 4: Getting Distracted
This mistake ties in with the first, but not paying attention can do more than cause your vehicle to slide into the water at the boat ramp. When you’re distracted, a number of things can go wrong. For example, if you’re listening to the radio while backing your boat down the ramp, you won’t hear spotters outside the car warning you about hazards. Also, being distracted can make you overlook slippery spots on the ramp itself, which can cause personal injuries or even make the tow vehicle’s tires lose traction and slide down the ramp. Another blunder caused by not paying attention is forgetting to tilt the outboard up while going down the ramp, which can cause the motor and its propeller to get damaged by scraping the ramp during launch.
How to Avoid It: For starters, turn the AC and radio off, and roll the windows down so you can hear what’s going on outside. Noise from inside the car can distract you from the task at hand and disrupt your communication with others. Plus, if your tow vehicle does end up in the water while you’re behind the wheel, you could get trapped inside without the windows open. Inspect the ramp for obstacles, slippery spots and submerged objects, and tilt the outboard up before attempting a launch. Don’t forget to tilt the outboard back down once the boat is in the water.
Boat Ramp Mistake 5: Getting Personal Items Wet
Speaking of not paying attention, how about going in the water with your cell phone, wallet or other personal items while you’re unloading the boat off the ramp? You’ve probably seen the guy who jumped into the water without emptying his pockets shouting expletives because his cellphone got ruined. Or you’ve been that guy! Either way, it sucks, and it slows down the launch process as well.
How to Avoid It: Obviously you should empty your pockets and unload your personal items inside the tow vehicle before you go into the water. Always have your cellphone, tablets, wallet, key fobs and anything else that can get ruined packed in waterproof bags before launching. And for goodness sake, don’t talk on or even look at your phone during the launch, especially while guiding the boat into the water!
Boat Ramp Mistake 6: Launching By Yourself
Communication is vital to preventing boat launch mistakes, and getting stuck launching on your own is a recipe for failure. Having spotters to give you verbal cues and hand signals while you’re backing the boat into the water helps prevent fails.
How to Avoid It: For starters, never launch your boat by yourself. Bring friends and/or family who are also boaters, or who are at least capable of handling basic tasks like unfastening tie-downs and guiding the boat into the water. Having a team of helpers with assigned tasks like the aforementioned spotter makes launching a boat much faster. Just make sure each team member knows what their responsibilities are, how to execute them and how to communicate. If you don’t have anybody available to help, ask others at the ramp for assistance. Most will be happy to help if it means you’ll be moving along faster so they can launch next.
Boat Launch Preparation Tips
As mentioned earlier, avoiding boat launch mistakes really comes down to preparation. Here are some quick tips to prepare for a boat launch.
- Have all of your gear prepared ahead of time, before a launch, not during one. Load all equipment and gear into the boat before you get on the ramp.
- Make sure the engine is fueled and all batteries are charged.
- Practice launching on weekdays or off-hours when it’s not busy.
- Inspect the tow vehicle to make sure it’s up to the task of towing the boat.
- Assign your launch team their tasks ahead of time, not at the boat ramp.
- Visit the boat ramp before the actual launch day to assess the environment.
- Create a pre-launch and launch checklist and actually use it.
- Don’t unhook the boat until it’s ready to go. Leave the safety chain attached until the boat is safely in the water, and make sure the engine is running before detaching.
- Bring tow ropes in case the vehicle pulling the boat does end up underwater.
- Make sure your boat's drain plug is in place before launching.
These are just a handful of boat ramp success tips to prevent embarrassing mistakes. And while we tend to laugh at others about their boat ramp fails, remember that it can happen to you, so be safe and prepared.