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

Tip iconMark 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.

Tip iconIf you need a do-over, take a do-over. There's no shame in starting again. If you start to jackknife on the ramp, just pull forward and start again. While there are smaller corrections you can do to straighten up the truck and trailer, pulling forward and beginning again is not the end of the world.

Go On A
Recon Mission

If you're not familiar with the ramp, take a quick tour, but park the trailer and tow vehicle in an area away from the working boat lanes. You want to see if there's a designated lane for launching and retrieving, and then look for a sign that shows where the end of the ramp is beneath the water (sometimes it's marked on the dock and sometimes there's a sign posted, and sometimes there's no sign at all). If the ramp isn't busy, clear any driftwood that could obstruct the trailer wheels at the water's edge and look for a buildup of algae that can affect traction.

If you're launching in a river, see if the ramp is angled toward the direction of the river current. While this makes it easier to launch and get the boat back onto the trailer, you still need to factor in how to keep the boat in position once it's floating (having crew members with lines at the bow and stern is useful in this situation).

Tip iconIf you're being met at the ramp by crew members, be sure to tell them to avoid parking in areas set aside for boat trailers. Most trailer parking spaces are at least 40 feet long so it's easy to tell even if there are no signs.

Be careful at ramps in tidal areas. Sometimes, it's difficult, if not impossible, to float the boat at low tide.

The Final Steps
Before Splashdown

While you're waiting in line to launch, or if there's no line, pull off to the side of the boat ramp lane and get ready to run through a checklist before hitting the water. Read our 10-step Pre-launch Checklist.End of story marker


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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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