Tips For Launching And Loading Your Boat

By Michael Vatalaro
Photos By Jason Arnold

It's as simple as 1, 2, 3, 4. But there's a knack and an order to getting it right.

Photo of a boat floating free of trailer at the rampBow and stern lines give your crew the best control of your boat after it floats free of the trailer.

1. Set The Stage

Before you even think about backing down the ramp, take 10 minutes in the staging area to load all the gear into the boat, attach lines to the bow and stern cleats, check that the plug is in, remove the rear tie-downs, put the key in the ignition, and unplug the trailer lights.

If you have surge brakes, unplugging the trailer lights will also depower the circuit that prevents your trailer brakes from locking up when you reverse. You'll need to use the manual brake lockout to prevent this. Also, if you know the ramp well, you can lower the motor or outdrive now, if you're sure it won't hit bottom.

2. Back It Up

Back down the ramp till the stern of the boat floats. If you can't tell when the stern is floating, have a crewmember positioned on the dock beside the ramp signal you when to stop. Put the vehicle in park and engage the parking brake, but leave it running. If you have trouble backing straight, place your driving hand at the bottom of the steering wheel. That way, whichever direction you move your hand, the trailer will turn in that direction.

Photo of backing down the boat rampYour crew should be watching and letting you know when you've backed in deep enough to float the boat.

3. Unhook The Bow

Depending on how steep the ramp is or how athletic you're feeling, you may be able to scramble along the bumper or step up onto the tongue of the trailer and not get your feet wet. But it's advisable to wear water-friendly shoes or rubber boots so you can wade in to reach the bow eye and winch handle. Many boat ramps are slick with algae during summer months, so don't be surprised if your feet start to slide.

Once you can reach the bow eye and handle, unhook the safety chain, then back the winch off to get enough slack to release the bow strap as well. Pass the line on the bow cleat to a crewmember on the dock, then push the bow of the boat up and off the trailer. If you've backed down far enough, this should be relatively easy, and the boat should float gently off.

Photo of a boat floating free from trailerAfter the boat is free of the trailer, move it as far down the dock as practical to make room for the next boater in line.

4. Nice Going!

Now, Keep It Moving: While you head back to the driver's seat to park the tow vehicle, make sure the crew is walking the boat down to the far end of the dock to free up the ramp for the next boater. 

— Published: Spring 2015


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