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:
1) BALANCE Ensure the trailer is properly balanced and level.
2) POSITION THE VEHICLE Position the vehicle so that the hitch ball is directly below the trailer’s coupler and lower the trailer.
3) FASTEN THE TRAILER Securely fasten the tongue coupler and lock the trailer latch using a cotter pin or lock.
4) FASTEN THE BOAT Using tie down straps, securely fasten the boat to the trailer.
5) ATTACH THE SAFETY CHAIN Attach the winch cable and/or winch safety chain to the bow eye of the boat (if so equipped).
6) CHECK THE CHAIN 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.
7) CHECK YOUR LIGHTS 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, watch their procedures, and you’ll quickly learn what to do and what you should definitely not do at the boat launch.
People at the Boat Launch
Last Minute Larry Unfortunately, Larry never made a checklist. He never prepared his boat, practiced driving with his boat behind the truck – nothing. So after driving back and forth up the boat launch, he throws it in Park and proceeds to load the boat with all the gear from his truck, fill the cooler with ice, and mess around with the tie-downs for what seems like forever. Painful, right? Don’t be Larry.
Family Man Mike This is a boater who likes to have fun! Mike knows how awesome watersports can be and he prides himself in getting all the cool toys for his family. However, Mike didn’t pack his boat before heading to the boat launch so he stood there with 3 kids, 2 dogs, and 27 different inflatables trying to fit them all into the boat. If you see this you might as well take a nap, because this could take a while…
Checklist Charlie On the road to being a pro, Charlie brought a checklist to the boat launch like a responsible boater! Too bad for the other boaters, it’s going to take Charlie 45 minutes to go through the whole list. After doing this for so many years, Charlie should have a streamlined procedure – not a prolonged boat-surgery.
Good Guy Greg Our favourite boater, Greg, is a seasoned captain who makes us all proud at the boat launch. Greg packs the boat before heading to the boat launch (he always remembers his boating license), he uses a family member as a spotter, keeps the kids and dogs in the car, and has the most efficient loading list known to mankind. Greg is a smart boater. Be like Greg. Now that you know whom to look for, you’ll need to perfect your boat launch procedure. What you may not know is that this starts before you even leave your house, not the parking lot at the ramp.
How to Launch a Boat
PRE-LAUNCH 1 – PRACTICE DRIVING
Practice driving (especially reversing) your vehicle with the trailer and boat attached in an open area. Do NOT do this at the boat launch. You could end up with a vehicle at the bottom of the lake, or with damage to your own or someone else’s gear.
2 – LOAD ALL YOUR EQUIPMENT
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.
3 – TIE ON BUOYS & FENDERS
Have your buoys/fenders tied on and dock lines ready for bringing the boat to the dock.
LAUNCH PROCEDURE 4 – REMOVE TIE DOWNS
Remove the tie downs that secure the boat to the trailer. Don’t remove the winch line from the bow eye.
5 – PUT IN THE DRAIN PLUG
Put in your drain plug.
6 – UNPLUG TRAILER LIGHTS
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.
7 – PUMP THE FUEL PRIMER
Pump the fuel primer (if you have one). These are usually on outboard motors with fuel lines that connect to a fuel tank.
8 – WARM UP THE MOTOR
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.
9 – BACK THE BOAT INTO THE WATER
Slowly back your boat up into the water until the boat barely starts to float.
10 – LAUNCHING THE BOAT BY YOURSELF (1 PERSON)
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 the boat with two or more 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:
1 – PRACTICE
Practice driving/reversing with your boat (you can even practice launching on a ramp early in the morning before anyone else is there).
2 – PREP
Prep your gear, boat, ropes & fenders BEFORE you approach the ramp.
3 – PERFECT
Create a good launch routine that you’re comfortable with and rinse & repeat. If you have any questions about this process or other boating knowledge, check out the BOATsmart! Knowledge Base.