Boat ramp launch/load - procedures & etiquette

Discussion in 'Boats and Motors' started by SwollenGoat, Jun 2, 2008.

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  1. SwollenGoat

    SwollenGoat Scourge of Hoover

    Understanding proper boat ramp procedures and etiquette can improve safety, reduce launch/load times and avoid confrontations. This set of guidelines is in no way the final word on boat ramp launch/load procedures and etiquette, but should give everyone a solid foundation for doing it right.

    Please don't be the boater who causes delays for everyone else at the ramp, or worse - sinks their boat!


    1. Boat ramp etiquette starts before you reach the ramp.
    Personally, I try to load all my gear into the boat before leaving my driveway. However, I know this isn't always possible in all circumstances. Whatever the case, those last minute items and completing your prep list need to be done BEFORE proceeding to the launch lane.

    TIP: Most ramps have a launch lane and a boat prep lane. The prep lane is for those who have just arrived and need to get their boat "prepared" for launch. If your ramp doesn't have a prep lane, use the parking lot. Better yet, load your gear into the boat prior to leaving your home. Only when your boat is fully prepared to launch, should you proceed into the launch lane, and then to the ramp itself.

    2. Your boat prep. list.
    Every boat will have its own unique boat prep list and functions. In any case prepping your boat for launch should be a routine system done exactly the same way every time. By following a system, you'll reduce the chances of forgetting something. If you're a new boater, using a checklist also isn't a bad idea.

    Here is a sample prep list - your boat may have more or less items to prep.

    1. Install drain plug.
    2. Remove tie-down straps.
    3. Remove motor supports/transom saver.
    4. Trim motor up and quickly check that steering linkage and fuel lines are properly connected.
    (I tend to prime my fuel bulb at this point also.)
    5. Check/turn on main power, and electrical accessories
    6. Attach any necessary dock/handling lines
    7. Un-plug trailer lights

    TIP: Personally I prep. my boat from back to front, others prefer working front-to-back. In either case, the logic of working methodically from one end of the boat to the other helps avoid missing something due to hopping around from one thing to another.

    3. Entering the launch lane.
    Once you have completed your boat prep, its time to enter the launch lane. Other than the rare occasion of having the lake to yourself, there will be other boaters waiting their turn in line. Stay in line and do not cut in front of those ahead of you. Be courteous and use common sense. If someone in front of you appears to have a problem, or is causing delays ASK before proceeding around them. Communication is key to avoid tempers flaring!

    4. Backing down the ramp and unloading the boat.
    OK, you're next in line and the ramp is now open for launch. Pull forward and slowly and carefully back down the ramp. Depending on your situation, there are different variations for launching. If you're alone, you'll need to attach a dock line from your boat to the trailer or your tow vehicle to prevent it from drifting away. If you have help, now is the time to give those dock lines to those who are helping, or you might have someone already in the boat who will power launch your boat for you. In any case, know how you are going to launch your boat and have everything in place before putting your boat in the water. Once your boat is free from the trailer you should promplty move it to a nearby courtesy dock, or the OUTSIDE of the launching dock(s). Having your boat tied up in the launch/load lanes while you park your tow vehicle may cause delays for other boaters who are launching/loading.

    TIP: The ramp isn't the place to practice backing, if you are not comfortable with backing your boat down the ramp, then you really shouldn't. Take your boat somewhere to practice like a supermarket or shopping mall. Go off into one of the barren corners and practice until you feel comfortable with how your tow vehicle and boat trailer react.

    TIP: During low-light times (very early morning or at night) extinguish your headlights and only use running lights when loading/unloading at the ramp. The glare from your headlights can blind others as they back their boats down the ramp.


    At the end of the day, most boat docks are crowded with boaters ready to head home. Again, courtesy and etiquette will avoid a possible confrontation with a hot and exhausted boater. Please follow these guidelines for loading. Many are the same or similar to launching.

    1. Approaching the docks for loading.
    DO NOT approach the launch/load area until it is your trailer is in the water and you are ready to load your boat onto it! If you need to drop off someone who will get your tow vehicle, or need to tie up to get it yourself use a courtesy dock or the outside lane of the launch/load dock. Again, parking your boat in the launch/load area only causes delays for others who are launching/loading.

    TIP: Before heading to the docks stow all your gear and pick up trash. I've seen a lot of people trip over things like skis, coolers and fishing poles while scurrying around the boat during loading time. Take a moment to make your boat "ship-shape" before heading back to land.

    2. Wait your turn in the launch/load lane.
    Just because you're ready to load your boat doesn't give you the right to jump in front of others waiting in line. As with launching, stay in line and do not cut in front of those ahead of you. Be courteous and use common sense. If someone in front of you appears to have a problem, or is causing delays ASK before proceeding around them.

    3. Proceeding onto the ramp.
    As before, pull forward and slowly and carefully back down the ramp. Make sure your trailer is in deep enough to allow the guides/bunks to properly align your boat on the trailer. Too deep and your hull won't touch the guides - too shallow and your boat will get stuck before it gets all the way on the trailer. Set your parking break on your tow vehicle when you have your trailer submerged and are ready to load.

    TIP: Be aware of slick ramp conditions! 2-wheel drive, rear wheel powered vehicles should be cautious about backing too far down into the water. If you have 4-wheel drive and know the ramp is slick go ahead an lock it in. Remember to extinguish those headlights and use parking light during low-light conditions.

    4. Loading your boat onto the trailer.
    Loading your boat onto the trailer shouldn't take more than a few minutes under normal conditions. Depending on your situation, there are different variations for loading. I prefer to "power load" which is using the motor to push the boat onto the trailer. (I have seen those who prefer to guide their boat onto the trailer with dock lines, but in the case of waves or high wind it can be very difficult to properly control the boat.) *Remember to trim your motor up to avoid damage the lower unit. As you pull forward, carefully line up your boat with the trailer. You don't have to be perfect, but close enough for the guides to help align the hull of the boat as it glides onto the trailer. Excessive speed isn't necessary, you just want enough momentum to slide the boat onto the trailer. A little throttle may be necessary to push the boat up the last few feet or inches. Or, if you're not comfortable with using the throttle your trailer winch can pull the boat up the last bit of the trailer. Once your boat is fully on the trailer check both sides to make sure it is aligned and square on the trailer. If you haven't already done so, use the winch to tighten the boat against the bow stop. Once secure, attach the safety chain. At this point you can cut power to the motor and trim the motor up to trailering position. You are now ready to pull up the ramp.

    TIP: After loading your boat a few times, you'll find exactly how far to submerge the trailer and how much power is necessary to load.

    5. Pulling your boat up the ramp
    Make CERTAIN your motor is trimmed up before proceeding up ramp! Slowly pull forward and make certain the boat is settled squarely onto the trailer. Control your tow vehicles throttle so that you quickly clear the ramp without spinning your tires on the way up the ramp. *I've seen many boaters blow a tire on a sharp stone etc. while spinning their wheels up the ramp. Again, this only causes delays for yourself and other boaters.

    6. Clearing the ramp area after loading and packing up for home.
    Be sure to completely leave the ramp area before stopping. As with launch prep, have a system in place to make sure everything is put away and your boat is ready for the drive home. Work from front-to-back, or back-to-front and re-connect your tie-down straps, motor support, trailer wiring and kill main power to the boat.

    Following these guidelines and remembering to act with common sense and courtesy will allow you and others many enjoyable days on the water.

    Be safe, be courteous and happy boating!
    RiparianRanger and jmshar like this.
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