Last week I spent almost every day out on the water training clients. On one particular trip, I met my client at a public boat ramp. This particular ramp is in a very busy location and with tarpon fishing in full swing the line was wrapped around the entrance. I arrived about 30 minutes early and watched as a plethora of boaters attempted to launch their boats.
As I walked around the parking lot, I observed the usual knucklehead behaviors. Several had taken up a space and a half (as if parking is not bad enough), while others parked in unauthorized spaces and were actively being ticketed (which I’m certain makes for a perfect ending after a day on the water).
After only 30 minutes of hearing language that even made an old sailor blush, observing a few face-to-face screaming matches and watching the boat ramp traffic directors (the guys who exit their vehicle while in line and tell everyone else how to launch their boat), I had all the material I needed for the subject of this week’s column.
Preparation for launching your boat at the boat ramp starts prior to departing your home or storage area. Ensuring your trailer is roadworthy is crucial. You might find it helpful to come up with a checklist to help reduce issues while traveling and launching your boat. It should include items such as checking your tire pressure as well as the condition of your tires and trailer.
How long has it been since the wheel bearings have been repacked or replaced? How about the electrical connection; is it properly connected and free of corrosion? Do the brake lights, brakes (if installed) signal lights and marker lights all work? Is the ball greased? Is the locking lever shut and locked (not with a screwdriver) and are the safety chains properly installed (crossed), is the receiver hitch secured? And finally, is the trailer registration up to date?
Keep in mind, I’m assuming you’re attaching the appropriate vehicle to your boat trailer. No, your luxury car probably will not tow and launch your 30-foot boat. Onward to the boat ramp.
When you arrive at the ramp, step one is to pull off to the side (out of the way of the active boat launching area) and prepare your vessel to be launched. Load the fishing rods, coolers, snacks, extend the Bimini top, put the plug in, raise the engine (if required) turn on the batteries, connect the appropriate lines to the appropriate cleats on the boat, have the key in the ignition, unstrap the boat, remove the winch strap (if your trailer has carpet bunks) and complete whatever other tasks that may be required to launch your boat.
Warning: To prevent an altercation, the above items should not be attempted while backed down the ramp with a line of boaters waiting to launch. (One exception — if it’s a new trailer with rollers, I’d wait to remove the winch strap until the boat is backed down the ramp and in the water.)
Speaking of backing down the ramp, please do yourself and others at the boat ramp a huge favor. Go to a parking lot, set up a few cones and practice backing up. Once you feel confident, find a boat ramp that has light traffic and practice launching and recovering your boat.
While you are launching, take note of your trailer’s exact location in the water when your boat floats on and off the trailer without using your engine, and mark the location with a piece of reflective yellow tape on both sides for future reference.
Doing this will prevent you from needing your engine to load on or off your trailer, a practice known as power-loading. Power-loading has pretty much destroyed all of the boat ramps in our state. This year Florida will spend just under $1 million to repair 50 of the 175 to 200 ramps that need work right now.
And while I’m on the subject, a reminder to all those veteran boat launchers out there: We were all beginners once. Please be considerate and use your patience. Screaming obscenities at a person that is already nervous will not improve any part of their launching experience.
One last item: Have a plan once the boat is in the water. Get it out of the way and tie it up, or if someone else is parking the tow vehicle you can wait in the water nearby. Blocking the ramp while the next boater waits for you to park the trailer will certainly earn you a few choice words, and maybe even some sign language.
To pull your boat out of the water, reverse the above process. Get the boat out of the water, pull over to the side and then prepare your vessel for transport back home (and don’t forget the strap; it’s the law). With a little planning and practice, the boat ramp can be far less intimidating and more enjoyable for all boaters to use.