Have you ever driven up to a boat launch only to find another boater’s truck blocking the whole ramp while loading or unloading their gear? Boat launch etiquette is a common complaint among boaters, especially for this reason. There’s a few unspoken rules of the boat launch that boaters are expected to know and practice so this process isn’t super painful, especially when we’re all trying to get out on the water for some fun. But how are you supposed to learn these ‘unspoken rules’ without dozens of launches under your Captain’s hat? Just read until the end and you’ll be an educated boat launch pro!
Choosing the right trailer
Before you go anywhere, you’ll need to determine if you have the right equipment/what equipment you should purchase for the job. Picking any old boat trailer won’t do. Watch the video below to determine if your trailer is right for the job.
Attaching the boat trailer to your vehicle
Provided you have all the right equipment, you’re ready to go! At this stage, you’ll need to attach the boat trailer to your vehicle. In order to do so, follow this quick and easy step-by-step checklist:
- Ensure the trailer is properly balanced and level.
- Position the vehicle so that the hitch ball is directly below the trailer’s coupler and lower the trailer.
- Securely fasten the tongue coupler and lock the trailer latch using a cotter pin or lock.
- Using tie down straps, securely fasten the boat to the trailer.
- Attach the winch cable and/or winch safety chain to the bow eye of the boat (if so equipped).
- Ensure the trailer’s safety chains are securely fastened to the hitch. The chains should be long enough to accommodate tight turns but short enough so that the trailer cannot touch the road it if becomes dislodged from the hitch.
- Fasten the trailer’s lighting harness to your vehicle and check your lights.
Let’s talk next about some of the characters you’re likely to find around the boat launch. Keep your eye out for these boaters and watch their procedures. You’ll quickly learn what to do and what you should definitely not do at the boat launch.
How to Launch a Boat
- Load all your equipment into the boat BEFORE you even think about driving down the boat launch. This is not an area for packing the boat. Get in, get out, go boating.
- Have your buoys/fenders tied on and dock lines ready for bringing the boat to the dock.
- Remove the tie downs that secure the boat to the trailer. Don’t remove the winch line from the bow eye.
- Put in your drain plug.
- Unplug the trailer lights if they’re not sealed and waterproof. You wouldn’t want to damage your equipment in the middle of the boat launch.
- Pump the fuel primer (if you have one). These are usually on outboard motors with fuel lines that connect to a fuel tank.
- Slowly back the boat into the water until the motor becomes submerged. Test the operation of the motor by starting it and allowing it to warm up for a minute. You’ll want to ensure your boat will actually start when it gets in the water, and doesn’t float away.
- Slowly back your boat up into the water until the boat barely starts to float.
Launching a Boat by Yourself
Single launcher: back your boat into the water until the boat barely starts to float. Release the winch line, and use the bow and stern lines to guide the boat off the trailer. Tie your boat to the dock, and proceed to remove your vehicle from the ramp.
Launching a Boat with Two People
If launching with 2+ people, ask one to sit in the boat and the other to be a spotter when you back the trailer down the ramp. That way, the person in the boat can drive it off the trailer once launched (after the winch line is released), and drive to the courtesy dock.
This is a procedure that you’ll master as long as you practice. Boaters can feel the pressure at the boat launch while everyone else is watching, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, this can be unnerving.
The perfect boat launch is only a few practice launches away. The most important points to recap on are:
- Practice driving/reversing with your boat (you can even practice launching on a ramp early in the morning before anyone else is there).
- Prep your gear, boat, ropes & fenders BEFORE you approach the ramp.
- Create a good launch routine that you’re comfortable with and rinse & repeat.
How to Retrieve a Boat
Here are some helpful tips for when it’s time to retrieve your boat. It’s a good idea to have a ‘spotter’ at the boat launch.
Get your towing vehicle and trailer ready and then wait for your turn.
Just like when launching your boat, the proper etiquette is to unload all your extra fuel and equipment away from the launch, so as not to delay other boaters.
When it’s your turn to retrieve your boat, back your trailer two-thirds into the water until the rollers are submerged. Always keep your towing vehicle’s wheels out of the water unless absolutely necessary.
To steady the retrieval process attach a bow line to the boat and cautiously drive your boat close enough to attach the winch line.
Once the winch line is attached, shut the engine off and tilt the engine up.
Crank the winch line to pull the boat up the trailer. Ensure you stay out of the direct path of the winch line in case it breaks.
Once your boat is well secured, tow your trailer out of the water and away from the boat ramp and others.
Remove the drain plug, pump or drain any water out of the bilge, and drain the live-wells or bait-wells if you have them. Good job! You’ve succesfully retrieved your boat!