Fear and loathing at the boat ramp
Many a newbie boat owner has left his or her boat or watercraft on the side of the house or spent quite a bit of money to keep their boat at a marina because they panicked on their first attempt to launch their vessel at the local boat ramp. In many areas, such as the crowded boat ramps of south Florida, a person who is inexperienced at launching their boat, or unfamiliar with boat ramp etiquette may find themselves in what can often seem as hostile territory. However, it is very important to remember that almost every person launching from the boat ramp was once in your shoes as well, and as long as you don’t completely have a nervous breakdown, you will find most people will realize you are new to this and offer their assistance. Here are some keys to turning a potential nightmare into a stress-free few minutes at your local boat ramp. But remember, a crowded weekend is not recommended for your first time launching from a boat ramp!
Preparation and staging
One of the most nerve-racking parts of the whole boat launching process is lining the boat up properly and making sure you are ready to actually put the boat in the water. I have found through my own trial and error with a good measure of stupidity thrown in, that practice does indeed make perfect. Now a Saturday afternoon is not the best place to practice backing a boat down the boat ramp but a large secluded part of a parking lot is just perfect. Use cones or anything that works for you to line the boat up and practice backing up and maneuvering the boat making adjustments as needed. Got a bit out of control? Pull forward and try again using the bottom of the steering wheel to get a better feel for how the trailer reacts. You are better off making the mistakes now than at a crowded boat ramp.
Float the boat off the trailer
Alright, its crunch time! Okay, maybe not the best choice of words but you get the idea! Once you get the stern floating off the back of the trailer you are almost there, but it can also be a bit tricky as often it will take a few times of launching from a boat ramp to best gauge at what point your boat begins to float. Unfortunately, I have seen far too many people getting a bit too cocky with the speed they try to get this done and can end up calling a tow truck to pull their truck out of the water! If you launch from the same boat ramp frequently you can use a visual marker to better estimate where your boat begins to float. Before you begin backing up you probably will want to have a line from the bow cleat to a friend to expedite the process and secure the boat after it is floating free from the boat trailer. But wait there’s more, the bow is still hooked to the trailer winch. You may want to just slack off a bit on the winch before backing up to make unhooking from the boat easier or you may be more comfortable waiting until the last moment and carefully climb onto the trailer at the front to unhook the boat. Much of this depends upon how steep the ramp is and how athletic you feel or if you don’t mind getting a bit wet. The choice is yours.
Secure to the vessel.
Here is where teamwork really helps. Your boat is now off the trailer and you are pulling the boat trailer out of the water and moving to a designated parking spot for the day. Whoever is with you should be securing the boat to the dock in an area that will allow the next person to use the ramp. Basically, bull the boat to the end of the dock or to a point that will allow the next person access to the boat ramp. Your friend can be preparing for your return from parking the trailer by turning on the batteries if not already done, and checking any systems that you will need. As it is your boat you will want to do much of this yourself but your friend or crewmember can do enough so that you can move away from the dock in a relatively short period of time.
Returning to the boat ramp
For the most part, getting your boat back on the trailer is relatively easy and a somewhat revers of how you got it off, but there are some subtle differences, none that you can’t figure out on your own but we will post another article on that soon.
Best tip for launching your boat
The best tip I could give you for launching your boat at your local boat ramp is to go to that ramp on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and observe. That’s right just sit there and watch everyone else doing it. Notice who has a boat or trailer out of the water size to yours and see how they do it. Obviously if they screw up don’t do it that way, but observe why they had issues. Ask questions of those who seem to have no problems getting their boats in and out of the water. You’d be surprised how nice these people who you thought would yell and scream at you ineptness on the boat ramp can be. When prepared and with some practice, launching you boat at the boat ramp can be very simple and in short time you will be the one giving advice