Every boating adventure has a beginning. If you are fortunate enough to live on the water and have a boat lift, starting your day can be as easy as pushing a button. If you keep your boat in dry storage, your marina staff will use a forklift to launch your boat for you. If you have a wet slip at a marina, all you may need to do is toss the lines and get underway. For the rest pf us, a day on the water begins at a boat ramp. This How To guide will give you a few boating tips to safely and efficiently be confident launching your boat from a ramp.
Critical Steps in Launching a Boat
If you are new to boat ramp launches, you may be wondering what are the critical steps necessary to successfully launch your boat. The first step is ensuring that your trailer is balanced so you can safely get from your home to the ramp. From there, it is all about meticulously following a checklist of necessary steps and following it every time. Soon it’ll be just another good habit.
Ensure Trailer is Balanced
Every boat manufacturer has slightly different guidelines for how they want their boats trailered based on the weight distribution of the vessel. Some manufacturers want the hull supported by the rollers, while others want the boat supported by the bunks. The proper location of the boat on the trailer will impact the weight distribution. A well-balanced trailer should be easily lifted by one person at the tow coupling. If the trailer is heavy to lift at the coupling this indicates the weight is too far forward. If there is no weight on the coupling this indicates the weight is too far back. It’ll take a little adjustment to axle and chassis bolts, but with some patience, once your trailer is level, you won’t have to level it again.
Create a Checklist and Follow It
Creating your checklist to follow is the key to a safe and successful launch. You should start your trip with an inspection of the condition of the trailer, looking for signs of rust and wear that could result in a flat tire or an axle failure. Ensure the trailer is properly connected to the towing vehicle and a safety chain is attached. Check all lights and brakes on the trailer. Check to make sure the boat is securely attached to the trailer by winch wire and safety chain, stern hold-downs and all equipment in the boat are safely secured and stowed. Finally, make sure the motor is secured titled up and supported by the motor support bracket and not just the tilt lock. It is also a good idea to either remove any equipment like anchors and safety gear from the vessel or padding them so that they don’t cause damage to the fiberglass.
How to Launch a Boat From a Trailer
Once you arrive at the boat ramp, that is when the fun begins. It is best to have a checklist for this part of the process, too and follow each step in a specific order.
1. Remove Tie Downs
Once you have backed into your spot and are ready to put the boat in the water, remove any tie downs. This is easier to do than once the boat is in the water. Leave the winch connected to the boat.
2. Put in Drain Plug
An important step that many forget, but only once, is to put in the drain plug. This prevents water from coming into the boat and can be disastrous if forgotten.
3. Unplug Trailer Lights
Unplug the trailer lights and get the trailer ready to get wet.
4. Pump the Fuel Primer
Before you put the boat into the water, prep the boat. This includes ensuring you have a tow line attached and any docking lines that are needed for the location, as well as any fenders if you are moving the boat to a dock. You also want to prep the motor to run by pumping a primer if your engine is equipped.
5. Check your Surroundings
Before backing into the water, it is important to check for hazards such as current, wind, obstructions like downed trees and once in the water, to have a plan for how you are getting on the boat and picking up your guests. Is there a dock nearby or are you picking up guests at a marina? Is everyone loading onto the boat right from the trailer? If so, have a plan before you put the towing vehicle into reverse.
6. Back the Boat into the Water
To keep traffic moving and to start your day on the water as efficiently as possible, you want to be comfortable backing in your trailer. Try and stay as straight as possible. Back up slowly frequently checking your angle of approach and your surroundings. Stop before the winch is under water. At this point, your situation may affect the next chain of events. If your boat is balanced and you can just lower the winch back until the boat is floating, go for it. If you have someone in the boat ready to take command, have them start the engine as soon as the boat is floating so they are ready to pull away once released. If you need to move your boat by hand to a nearby dock, back up until the boat is floating, disconnect the winch and move the boat with the tow lines to the dock. Once the boat is secure or under the command of someone at the helm, then you can slowly drive the tow vehicle forward and find a parking spot.
How To Launch a Boat by Yourself
If you are going out by yourself, or, as in the case of my grandfather, as he was the only one allowed to drive the boat, he had to be comfortable launching and retrieving his boat completely by himself. How do you launch a boat by yourself?
1. Preparation is Important: Have a Checklist
Preparation is the most important thing in almost any boating situation but being short-handed can be the most stressful and preparation is vital. It helps to not only know your equipment (tow vehicle, trailer and boat) and also know the location you are launching from. Taking a trip to the boat ramp without your boat and watching traffic flow, hazards and local customs can be very helpful. Once you are there you don’t want to make enemies by holding up the line. As stated before, checklists can help you stay calm and be efficient.
2. Back Down the Ramp
When it’s time for you to launch you boat yourself, back down the ramp slowly and carefully. Before you disconnect your vessel, engage your parking brake so you don’t accidentally launch your tow vehicle and trailer with your boat.
3. Reverse Into the Water
When single-handed, launching the boat quickly and getting it onto the dock so you can park you vehicle and free up the ramp for others is important. Take each step deliberately and don’t skip any steps and you’ll be out on the water in no time.