When it comes to launching a boat from a trailer—and recovering it—we realize that people’s skills run the gamut from none to plenty. So we’re walking a thin line between providing useful information and insulting your intelligence. Here goes nothing.
Like the first tee on a golf course, the launch ramp is a great place to people-watch. More mishaps occur here than any other spot where boating takes place. Usually, the problems cause no more damage than embarrassment and a bruised ego, but that’s what makes it good clean fun. Come to think of it, all boat ramps should be built with an “observation deck” where you can sip a beer, watch the action, and mock the newbies.
Tip #1: A word of caution. Before you even get to the ramp, load the boat with all your stuff. If you create delays by loading your coolers, water toys, and gear while others are waiting to launch, expect to hear about it.
Tip #2: The drain plug. Probably the number one culprit for boat ramp disaster, and it’s baffling how this little piece can be so easily forgotten. But it happens—over and over again—to veterans and neophytes alike. Here’s the solution, and it’s simple: When you pull your boat out of the water, pull the drain plug. When you get home, reinstall it. That way, the bilge drains on the way home and the plug won’t be on your list of things to do when launching.
Tip #3: Back straight or pull forward. The second most interesting thing is how people back down the ramp, especially the noobs. Often, the technique results in a drunken snake wending its way down the ramp until it hits the water—and the shorter the trailer, the more intoxicated the snake. They’ll back down, make a mistake, over-correct, and repeat this process until the trailer finally hits the water at a near-jack-knifed angle. Ever watch someone try to launch a PWC trailer? It’s more difficult than launching a 30-footer. The solution is to practice in an empty parking lot until you can put the trailer right where you want it.
Of course, you probably won’t, because who wants to be seen trying to back a trailer in an empty parking lot? People will think you’re crazy. And you know what? They’ll be right. You must be at least partially impaired. You thought owning a boat was a good investment.
Tip #4: Regroup if necessary. We all know that getting a trailer to go left means steering to the right. That’s because you’re changing its direction with the back of the truck. If you get crossed up at the ramp, do not try to correct. Just stop. Then pull forward to straighten out the truck and trailer, and begin again. It’s not as much fun to watch, but it is more effective than the drunken-snake routine.
Tip #5: Reloading. When the day is over, have someone back the trailer into the water. Most often, you back the trailer in far enough so you can see the fronts of the fenders or the forward edges of the rear bunks. That allows the boat driver to see what he’s aiming for and it provides just enough resistance for power loading — using the boat’s engine to help push it onto the trailer.
By the way, even though most people still do it, power-loading is illegal in many places because prop wash tends to dig a pit in the bottom right below the end of the concrete ramp. A short ramp plus a deep pit makes it too easy for someone to back their trailer wheels right off the end of the ramp and into the pit. Getting extricated slows down everybody at the ramp. So be aware of local laws on that, and keep your trailer winch in good order.
If a stiff current is making it difficult to load the boat, have the driver back the trailer into the water so that the tail end faces downstream a little. Then the boat driver will have more control when trying to get the boat onto the bunks. After you pull the boat out, pull the plug as previously mentioned.
Usually, just a few helpful hints at the ramp are what separate a comedy of errors from smooth operations. We’ve tried to provide some of our favorites. We just hope we’ve told you at least one thing you didn’t already know—and didn’t insult your intelligence.
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Note: An earlier version of this article was originally published in January 2012.