Trailering Magazine Archives - Featured Articles
The Perfect Ramp
For Tom Vaughn, it doesn't exist but that doesn't mean he doesn't try.
Many trailer boaters have taken the survey on the BoatUS Trailering Club web site. One question brought some strong responses. We asked, "What would you change about the launch ramp you most often use?" The varieties of opinions prove this is a question to which boaters with a trailer have given a lot of thought. And it's something professional ramp designers do every day as well.
When Tom Vaughn goes to work, he's thinking about a day off. Not his, but the 14 million Florida boaters who will be taking a day (or two, or three) to go fishing, sailing, water-skiing or just plain do nothing on the water. You see, Tom Vaughn is the coordinator of boating access for the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. That's a fancy title for being the go-to person when talk turns to building a boat ramp. He's responsible for more than 212, at last count, and as you are reading this, chances are good Tom is looking at plans for number 213.
Simply put: This guy knows something about how to build a boat ramp.
"The biggest change in design," Vaughn says, "is we use better materials now. We build our ramps using prefabricated concrete slabs ("Fabriform") and we put in 36-foot lengths that are eight feet wide with a 6:1 slope (for every six feet of length, the ramp drops by one foot). Above the water line, the slope is less steep. That's the desired formula you want to have, although out West, they use an 8:1 slope because of the drought." Vaughn says the end of every boat ramp has a grout-filled "pillow" to protect the water bed from being wiped out by powerloading and launching of boats. And he makes certain the same material is used along each edge of the launch ramp to contain potential erosion caused by prop wash. "It became a problem when boats started using 90hp engines for fishing when they used to use 25hp."
The ramp is too crowded a lot of time. It might take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half before you even get close to the ramp. Survey respondent in Holt, Michigan
"We are seeing a lot of new boaters," Vaughn says, "and while we welcome new members of the boating community, there are a lot who just don't know what they are doing. And that will irritate anyone else who has to wait his or her turn. It is called "ramp rage" and Vaughn has some ideas that are an antidote. "I think a striped make ready staging area for launching and a tie down area for loading your boat after coming out of the water is an addition at new and existing ramps. That's where everyone should get their boat ready rather than doing it at the water's edge. But, of course, it takes education to understand this."
More parking! On summer weekends the ramp is full and locked by 7:30 a.m. And this is the only 24-hour multi-day ramp in the area. Survey respondent in San Gabriel, California
"Most boat ramps are built on local public land," says Vaughn, "and they are working with a centralized place but don't consider the fact people don't want to park far away. So I tell communities if they want a boat ramp, they better plan on at least two to five acres to accommodate adequate parking."
He has advice that goes beyond the issue of parking. Local communities need to plan on building restroom facilities and keep them clean and maintained. In addition, they have to be able to handle social problems with police presence and offer trash pickup.
Paint guidelines on the ramp to help people back straight and to help everyone understand that more than one person can use a ramp at a time. Survey respondent, New Hartford CT.
Vaughn is in total agreement. As an area becomes congested, the guidelines are critical to keeping trailers centered on the ramp. "Everyone is finding out how important the lane markings are," he adds," and where you don't have them, people inevitably back down the middle of an undivided ramp which, of course, ties up the ramp for the next in line."
There has to be more maintenance on launch ramps. Get the algae off. Put water drains or something in the cement that will assist with traction. Survey respondent, East Lansing, Michigan
Boat ramps operated by the Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission use one-inch "V" grooves (pictured) for water drains. They run at a 60-degree angle with the end of the ramp (water end). The main purpose for the "V" groove is to provide traction for tow vehicles. "The water drains with a V groove give each tire a cutting edge. "It will even cut algae," says Vaughn, who says ramp maintenance at any launch site should include periodically scraping the algae off concrete.