Have you ever been waiting to launch your boat at the local launch ramp, but had to wait until the person in front of you pulled their boat up and down the ramp for what seemed like a dozen times until they got their boat off the trailer? We all have, and yes it is frustrating. Here are a few thoughts to help speed up the process of loading and unloading your (or someone else's) boat the next time you are at your local ramp.
Practice is the key if you are new to owning a boat or have little or no experience backing a boat and trailer. Don't try to learn at the launch ramp on a Saturday morning when there are 40 other boats trying to launch. Take your boat and trailer and go to an empty parking lot to practice backing up in a straight line. It sounds kind of silly to do this away from water, but 30 minutes to an hour of practice in an empty lot, away from everyone watching will make you feel more confident when you get to the ramp. Pay close attention to how you turn the steering wheel and what that does to the direction of the trailer while backing up. Adjust your mirrors so you can see both sides of the boat and trailer.
Smaller boats on a steep ramp are hard to see while backing up. And while looking over your shoulder out the back of your tow vehicle is okay to do, using your mirrors will allow you to see the position of the boat and trailer while backing down the ramp when you can't see them from the rear window. Practice parking the tow vehilce and trailer in the same empty parking lot untill becoming comfortable parking. Be aware that it will take more room to turn than just driving your truck or suv without the trailer attached.
If you fish tournaments and are asked to back someone else's boat in for them and your unfamiliar with that person's truck and trailer, ask for the owner's help. There is no shame in saying "I will back you in if you get it started down the ramp". Since everyone has their mirrors and driver seat in a different position, don't change them. Let the owner start the truck and boat down the ramp until the back of the boat is at the waters edge. Have the owner get in the boat and when that person tells you to continue backing
his or her boat in, slowly back up until the owner tells you to stop. After the owner tells you to go ahead and pull out, go ahead and park the truck and trailer.
Turn off the tow vehicle's headlights if it's dark out. Use just the parking lamps
until you have driven back up the ramp and are away from it, then turn the headlights back on. It is hard to see in the dark while backing up and someone in the other launch ramp beside you has his/her lights on shining right into your mirrors. Remember to watch for other anglers and boaters walking around in the early morning darkness while parking the truck and trailer. Launch ramps are very busy in the mornings, especially on the weekends.
As for loading a boat, the same rules apply. If the ramp your at is wide enough to launch and load 3 boats, don't take up two lanes to load the boat. Remember to be courteous to the other boaters trying to load/unload for the day. Once the boat is on the trailer, hook the bow strap to the bow eye and tighten the winch down to hold the boat in place. Slowly pull up the ramp watching both sides of the trailer until the boat is sitting on the trailer properly between the fenders. If the boat does not sit properly, stop pulling out of the water, back down into the water slowly until the boat floats free of the trailer. Now,pull up again slowly watching the boat until it sits down on the trailer correctly. Once you see that the boat is resting on the trailer properly, slowly pull up the ramp and continue until you get to a parking space to finish tying down the boat to the trailer and storing your gear. Don't do this right on the ramp as others are waiting to load/unload their boats.
If your new to launching and loading a boat, practice makes perfect. Most everyone that makes it lookeasy was a novice at one time. And if you have been doing this a long time, be courteous to those using the ramp while your there. A good day on the water starts with good etiquette at the ramp.
Ralph Russell, aka PABasscat, is a forum moderator and can be reached at email@example.com