The Weight Of The Wait

Manners Matter At The Boat Ramp

By Patrick Piper

photo of a family loading their boat at the ramp

Trailering Club members James Foley and his wife were sitting in their truck waiting for a boat at the Hamilton Reservoir in Holland, Massachusetts, to be launched into the water.

They had been waiting for almost five minutes, watching the boater with his tow vehicle and trailer still at the ramp's edge, posing with his family and friends for pictures and completely oblivious to the fact they were delaying others from getting their boats into the water. That's when Mrs. Foley looked at her husband and said, "You know, if we had a swimming pool, we wouldn't be waiting for these people."

While that idea has been discussed from time to time in the Foley household, it usually takes place at the boat ramp. "It's getting so frustrating," says Foley, a truck driver, about the wait at the ramp. "It's a story every day and we sit there and watch someone on a phone, others standing there drinking coffee, little kids being taken to the bathroom by their mother, and all the time, the boat is still on the trailer at the ramp. These folks aren't paying attention. They're educated idiots!"

Yes, there are times when Foley wants to walk over and suggest the possibility they're making people behind them wait, but his wife is quick to say "no," and outlines her concerns these folks might recognize him later on and retaliate. Going to the boat ramp has been a good way for Foley, who drives a 24-foot box truck delivering wine and liquor, to learn patience.

photo of James Foley retrieving his boat at Hamilton ResevoirThe Foleys retrieve their boat at Hamilton Reservoir, working quickly and efficiently so people at the ramp don't wait long.

"People don't realize that launching a boat isn't going to require 20 minutes," he observes. Here are some ideas to make the launch smoother and, should we add, faster and, what the heck, maybe even friendlier:

It's Not About You

Move items from your tow vehicle to the boat before you get to the water's edge on the boat ramp. If friends are meeting you at the boat ramp, make sure they know to park in spaces that aren't designated for boat trailers.

Think Ahead

If a bathroom break or a snack is needed, do it before you get the boat to the bottom of the boat ramp. This way, the boat is launched and moved to the farthest point on the dock so that others have room to launch without your boat blocking them; your crew gets onboard while the driver parks the tow vehicle; and the person waiting behind you can start backing their boat and trailer down the ramp.


If this is your first time on the ramp, look for lanes that might be designated for launching only or retrieving only. Check out the water's edge and get a sense of whether the presence of algae could make the tires spin while loading/unloading. Look for driftwood that could interfere and move it out of the way.


Talk to your boating guests before you back the boat down the ramp. Let them know what they can do to assist: hold a line, pull the boat to dock, where to board the boat, where life jackets are located and, if necessary, how to put one on. Even more important, let them know your plan for the day, where you hope to go, if they should bring their own food and drinks, if you intend to drop anchor and swim, and when you intend to return. And still more important, leave a float plan with someone onshore so they know your intentions for the day. (For a float plan you can fill out, go to

Awake On Wakes

If you're approaching an anchored or moored boat or swimmers, pay attention, pay attention to your wake. Two words: Slow down. On some lakes, this is a rule when within 100 yards of shore.

Channels And Fairways

Narrow channels are where most angry conversations occur because boats are close and there's always someone in a hurry. If you are being passed, slow down and let the vessel get in front of you. If you want to pass, look ahead and be sure you aren't going to create a problem for vessels approaching you. Remember, most channels have a 6-mph wake zone so if that's the speed the boat in front of you is going, take a pass on the passing idea.

Explain, Part Two

If you intend to dock at a waterfront restaurant or at a fuel dock, you're probably going to need one or two of the guests to lend a hand. It is helpful to do a pass, pick a spot where you intend to tie up, and explain how you intend to do it. Point out wind, tide, and current so your crew understands what can happen and how to react. Make note of what side the fenders should go on and how to secure them to the boat. As most experienced boaters will be quick to say, if you screw it up, do another loop and try again.

Explain, Part Three

There's a sailing class in Annapolis that uses the slogan, "No yelling." This works on every body of water. While there are going to be tense moments, no matter how well-prepared you (and your crew) are, keep in mind your guests aren't onboard to be embarrassed — especially with a loud voice from the skipper telling them how they did something wrong while five or six people nearby watch (and listen). Details can be made clear without decibels.


BoatUS Trailering received an e-mail from a member who recounted being anchored near the state park on South Bass Island, Ohio, when another boat approached at high speed, cut the engine, made a hard turn to starboard, and dropped anchor. While the entrance was impressive, the boat was within five feet of the member. "They had the entire bay to drop anchor and now they're slammed up next to us." The lesson is this, not everyone wants to be close to you, no matter how wonderful your company may be. Secondly, anticipate wind and tide changes and how these will affect the swing of your boat so that you won't drift into another anchored boat. The unwritten rule is that the vessel that anchors last is the one to ensure it's not going to disrupt other boats in the anchorage.

Right Of Way

Both the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary and the United States Power Squadrons do a good job of teaching right-of-way rules (and you can take a class from BoatUS online right here: But of all the rules that are designed to maintain safe passage on the water, Rule 2, also called the Prudential Rule, carries the most weight. It says regardless of who has the right of way, both vessels must do everything possible to avoid a collision. So if you are the privileged boat and you know the burdened boat isn't going to give way, it's your responsibility to change course to avoid a collision.

Update: The Foleys haven't bought that swimming pool yet. One reason is they wouldn't be able to fit their boat in it. 

BoatUS Trailering editor Pat Piper is co-author with Queene Hooper of Chapman "Boating Etiquette."

— Published: Spring 2012

The View From Here:

"I've always thought about not charging for use of our boat ramp on Memorial Day and, instead, put up bleachers and charge people who want to watch."

In A Manner of Speaking:

"Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use."

"The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any."




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