10-Step Pre-Launch Checklist

By Pat Piper

Follow these tips for safely loading, backing down the ramp, and launching your boat.

1. Move coolers, waterski/tubing/wakeboarding equipment from the tow vehicle to the boat. If your passengers need to use the facilities, this is the time to do it — not when the boat is at the bottom of the ramp and others in line are waiting. Don't move the boat down the ramp until all your crew has arrived, and the boat is fully loaded. If it's a short dock, trying to tackle these tasks once the boat is launched can obstruct other boaters trying to launch/retrieve.

2. Disconnect the tie-down across the gunwales and the transom tie-downs. Keep the boat attached to the trailer with both the winch on the bow eye and the safety chain on the bow eye. You'll remove those once at the water — not sooner because the boat could slide off the trailer while descending the boat ramp incline. If you prefer, disconnect the trailer lights from the tow vehicle.

3. Install the drain plug. Remove the transom saver if you use one. This may also be the time to lower the outboard, or sterndrive if it won't bottom out on the way down the ramp.

Photo of boater getting ready to depart the dockPhoto: Matthew Borkoski Photography

4. Roll down the windows in the tow vehicle and have everyone (and pets) get out of the vehicle before you back down the ramp. This is done in the event the tow vehicle goes into the water; you will be able to escape when the power windows become inoperable. This is also the one time when it makes sense to remove your seat belt, should you need to make that quick escape. Have someone keep an eye on the youngsters to ensure they don't run across the ramp while someone else is backing or retrieving a trailer.

5. Position the trailer at the top of the ramp and slowly back down.

6. If the trailer jackknifes or becomes difficult to straighten, go back up the ramp a little way and start again. It's easier.

Illustration of how to steer a trailerWhen backing the boat trailer, put your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel. When your hand moves left or right, the trailer will go in the same direction.

7. Once you've reached the water level where the boat can be launched, put the truck in park, set the parking brake, and chock the front wheels of the truck if you need extra support.

8. Remove the winch strap/cable hook from the bow eye and the safety chain and push the boat into the water while your crew holds docklines attached to both bow and stern.

9. Move the boat to the end of the dock — or, if possible, to the opposite side of the dock away from the boat ramp.

10. Once the boat is safely off the trailer, pick up the wheel chocks, release the parking brake and drive the tow vehicle up the ramp, and park in a designated area for boat trailers. 

— Published: Summer 2013


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