Ramp 101

By Pat Piper
Published: Summer 2013

When the topic is boats, there's always advice. When the topic is boat ramps, there's even more.

Photo of trailer and boat at a boat ramp
Photo: Matthew Borkoski Photography


Mark your trailer guides or have a general idea as to where on the trailer the water level must be for a safe launch of your boat. Some boaters have someone stand at the bottom of the ramp to tell them when the trailer has been backed far enough.

Have a few agreed-upon hand signals (stop, steer left/right, keep going) in the event of revving engines or loud radios playing. Other boaters say, if they can see the stern begin to float, they've backed far enough on the ramp. What works for one boat and trailer isn't going to work for every boat and trailer so find what works for yours.

Stay Away
From The Crowds

If you've never launched before or have limited experience, don’t bring your boat to the ramp on a Saturday when everyone else is there.

Pick a weekday when the ramp is less crowded and practice, or go to a shopping mall parking lot or other large unobstructed space with the boat and trailer and practice backing the boat into parking spaces. Some boaters have taken old picnic chairs with them for this purpose and maneuvered the trailer between them.

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Power Load?

Moving your boat off and on the trailer using the boat’s engine may or may not be permissible. For instance, boat ramps operated by the state of Michigan don’t allow power loading so be sure to check if this technique is what you want to do. Power loading may erode the bottom at the end of boat ramps as a result of prop wash.

Launching At Night?

Turn off your tow vehicle headlights if there are others waiting behind you so as not to blind them.



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