On The Slippery Slope

Backing down a crowded boat ramp (with a big audience) can test anyone's nerves. Here are some ways to make it easier on yourself.

Photo of launching boat from trailerPhoto: Scott Summerlatte

Wait, And Wait Again

Once you get in the parking lot close to the ramp (but not on it!), WAIT. Use the time to install the bilge plug, go over the boat, and get things ready. Hot bearings and lights don't do well when dumped into colder water after spending some time on the road. When hot grease contracts from cold water, it can draw water in through the seals and into the bearings. Taking just a bit of time before launching can make for a safer, more enjoyable day on the water and on the road.


Easy-To-Find Checklist

I know it sounds corny, but you're excited to get underway, so make a list, laminate it, and stick to it. I tore a sterndrive off a customer's boat years ago because I forgot to raise the drive before I brought it down the yard's long driveway to hand it off to the customer. The skeg dug into a pothole and ripped it off like a dislocated shoulder; the drive was up for storage but had leaked down over time because of some bad seals. Talk about embarrassing, and expensive! Don't assume you put in the bilge plug, tied the bow line, disconnected the winch strap hook, and so on. Check and recheck. It's cheaper in the long run and mistakes aren't witnessed by a cast of thousands at the launch ramp with cell phone video capability!


Mirror, Mirror

If you don't have those goofy stick-on round mirrors installed on your car's OEM side-view mirrors, you're missing out. It adds a whole other dimension (albeit a slightly distorted one) to the view behind you while you have a 3,000-pound-plus behemoth hitched to your auto that you're attempting to thread through the eye of a needle.


You Can Take It With You

After having the SUV slide four feet down a wet ramp while using the electric winch to pull the boat onto the trailer, I now use a rubber wheel chock tied (using a snap clip) to the hitch with a five-foot piece of line. I place the chock behind the rear wheel to prevent slipping. As I drive away, the chock comes along with me, eliminating the need to stop and retrieve it at the busy ramp. Then I just pull over, away from the ramp, disconnect, and store them for next time.



Photo of pulling a boat up the rampPhoto: Billy Black

A Slick Tip

If unable to pull your boat out due to a ramp slick with exposed algae, place a traction mat or bucket of coarse sand beneath your vehicle tires to help increase traction. If you carry a portable compressor, you could also increase traction by temporarily deflating the rear tires of your tow vehicle to around 15 psi. Don't forget to re-inflate them to the appropriate pressure before driving off. Another option is adding weight over the drive tires (such as by letting crew members sit directly over the rear tires in your truck bed).


Photo of waders

Phone A Friend

If unable to pull your boat out at the ramp, attach a tow strap to the front of your vehicle and ask a Good Samaritan with the skill to do this job to give you a little tow assist. Like spotting someone when weightlifting, it doesn't take much assistance and can make a big difference. Worst case, you may have to unload the boat from the trailer to get up and out. You should have no issue getting up the ramp once the boat is off the trailer.


Tall Boots

Waders are great for tough launching and loading situations, especially when it's cold.


Fatherly Advice

The best advice I ever got regarding backing down a trailer (from my father, no less) was to grasp the bottom of the steering wheel and then move my hand in whatever direction I wanted the back of the trailer to move. I practiced a few times in an empty parking lot and can now pretty much get the boat to go where I need it to be.


Eyes In The Back Of Your Head

I found this neat gadget a while ago, which puts an electronic "eyeball" where you need one. It requires no wiring, nothing to screw in, no power from your vehicle. The iBall's small but adequate adjustable color monitor plugs directly into your tow-vehicle dash 12-volt receptacle, ready for use. The separate miniature camera has a very sturdy and adjustable base with a strong magnet attached. The camera has internal connections for any common 9-volt alkaline two-tab battery all housed in a weather-resistant, tough plastic case.

To set up the system, turn on the camera with a small rubber-sealed push on/off switch with red LED indicator. Place the camera on the rear of your tow vehicle overlooking the approximate position directly over your hitch ball. Insert the iBall monitor's plug into your dash or center-console 12-volt supply. Turn on, adjust the monitor to your liking, and just back up until you see the hitch ball directly under the trailer hitch. The entire unit costs only about $150 and fits easily in your glove box or other small storage area, ready to go for your next hitch-up! 



— Published: Fall 2014


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