Ramp 101

By Pat Piper

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 rampPhoto: Matthew Borkoski Photography

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.

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).

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. 

— Published: Summer 2013

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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