Tips for Boat Ramp Launch Success
Backing a trailer down a boat ramp isn’t as easy as it seems. Even boaters who’ve been doing it for years make mistakes, and the boat ramp is a very public place to screw up.
To help you master the art of reversing down a boat ramp and launching your boat seamlessly (and avoiding embarrassment), here are some helpful tips for a successful launch.
Practicing Maneuvering a Trailer
Backing up a trailer and boat take practice, and the best place to do it is in a wide-open empty space, away from other people.
Find an empty lot or similar space and practice backing your trailer into a designated spot. Do it over and over again until you master it. An empty parking lot is an ideal area to practice maneuvering your boat into a makeshift space.
Dressing for Boat Launch Success
Ben Franklin said that “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” and we couldn’t agree more.
First off, wear clothing you’re ready to get wet in. You’ll likely have to wade in and detach the boat from the trailer, or jump in the water if something goes wrong. Wear clothing you’re okay getting wet in, or have a spare set of clothes you can change into if needed. Also, wear footwear that protects your feet from sharp rocks, broken glass or other boat ramp debris.
Keeping it Moving
Boat ramps are often busy places, and you don’t want to be the [insert expletive] that interrupts the flow of anxious people waiting to get their boats into/out of the water!
When you arrive at the boat ramp area, pull up where you’re not blocking other people so you can do a bit of last-minute prep. Don’t wait until your boat is in the water to load up all your gear, which takes time and holds up traffic. It’s also much easier to load your gear with the boat on land, especially heavy objects like full coolers.
Empty your pockets and store valuables such as cellphones, keys and wallet in a waterproof container. Doing so protects these items if you have to go into the water while launching. Also, make sure the drain plug is installed. You’d be surprised how many people forget to put the drain plug in before backing their boat into the water, often with disastrous consequences.
Attach bow and stern lines, and remove all tie-downs and safety straps except the bow strap, safety chain or front cable. Detach the trailer’s electrical connector so there’s no power going to the trailer lights and no chance of them shorting once in the water. Make sure your outboard is tilted up so the propeller won’t strike the bottom as you back in the boat.
Getting a Spotter
Boat ramps are often noisy places with engine sounds making it hard to hear shouted instructions. This is where a spotter comes in handy.
Have a designated spotter ready to help you back your boat down the ramp, and agree on basic hand signals for commands like back, left, right, stop and forward. If you don’t have a spotter, or if you’re not confident backing your boat in by yourself, ask someone around for help. Other boaters waiting to use the ramp are likely to lend a hand, especially if it speeds thing up.
Backing Down the Boat Ramp
Focus on the task at hand and get rid of any distractions like cellphones and music. In other words, shut off unnecessary electronic devices so you can concentrate.
The most important thing to remember when backing your trailer down a boat ramp is to go slowly. Yes, you want to move things along, but it’s not a race! Make sure your mirrors are adjusted so you can see the trailer, and open the driver’s window so you can pop your head out. Use the brake pedal and slowly let gravity pull your trailer backward into the water.
Only make steering adjustments when the vehicle is stationary, then turn the wheel so the trailer goes in the direction you want before releasing the brake pedal. If you move off course or start to jackknife, don’t try to correct the turn. Instead, stop and drive forward to straighten your trailer and vehicle, which enables you to back down again with everything aligned.
Correcting a Jackknife
Stop the vehicle if the trailer jackknifes and turn the steering wheel as far as it can go in the opposite direction to the jackknife. If your trailer is jackknifed to the left of your vehicle, turn the wheel all the way to the right and vice-versa, then gently release the brake and slowly drive forward as far as needed to realign the vehicle and trailer.
Moving it Along in the Water
Continue backing the trailer down the ramp until the stern of the boat just begins to float, then put your vehicle into park and set the parking brake. Back the outboard in until the lower unit is submerged, but no further because the water is still shallow and you don’t want the propeller to strike the bottom. Start the outboard and let it idle in neutral.
Next, detach the bow strap, safety chain or front cable that tethers the boat to the trailer. Have someone onboard maneuver the boat away from the ramp, or someone ashore walk it away. This frees up the ramp for the next person to use. Once the boat is in deeper water, tilt the outboard down. While the boat is moving away from the ramp, get your vehicle off the ramp and park it in a suitable spot before returning to board.
Loading a Boat at the Ramp
When returning your boat to the ramp, back the trailer down until it’s almost completely submerged, then put your vehicle into park and set the parking brake.
Slowly drive the boat forward onto the trailer and attach the bow strap, safety chain or front cable. Once the boat is tethered to the trailer, raise the outboard to prevent prop damage and slowly drive off the boat ramp.
Park, then remove all your gear from the boat. Remove the drain plug so any water can drain on your journey home, and reattach all the tie-downs and trailer safety straps, plus the electrical connector for the trailer lights to work again.