The following is an edited version of an article in The Island Trail, MITA’s biannual newsletter. To read more, click here.
Launching and hauling boats can be a stressful exercise, particularly at a busy public boat ramp where there is constant activity and limited room to maneuver. Even on quiet days, a few missteps or poor choices at the ramp can lead to frustration and less-than-neighborly relations with fellow boaters. Fortunately, tense situations often can be averted by practicing good boat launch etiquette.
From the start, it is important to remember that launch ramps are a shared public resource utilized by all kinds of boaters. This includes paddlers, powerboaters and sailors, those taking to the water for pleasure and those heading out for work. But regardless of your type of vessel or reason for hitting the water, there are several things you can do to avoid succumbing to, or triggering, ramp rage.
Below are some tips to keep in mind when launching and hauling your boat to ensure a smooth beginning and end to your day on the water, and a better boating experience for all.
When you arrive
- State of the ramp – When you arrive at the boat launch, take stock of the scene around you. If the ramp is busy, be prepared to have a hop in your step. Stay out of the way as much as possible until it is your turn to launch. If you tend to move slowly, you may want to wait until there is a lull in activity, or choose a quieter ramp altogether.
- Maneuvering your trailer – If you are new to backing trailers, practice elsewhere until you get the hang of it before attempting to launch at a ramp.
- Prep your boat beforehand – Always prepare your boat for launching before you pull onto the ramp itself. This includes packing your gear, inserting the drain plug, checking the battery and fuel, removing straps and raising the engine. You can do most of your prep work at home, in the parking lot at the boat launch or in the designated “make ready” areas. Remember to keep the safety chain and winch strap attached until the boat reaches the water to avoid a premature launch. Completing your prep work ahead of time will allow you to launch your boat more efficiently and competently.
- Ramps vs. hand carry launches – Paddlers should seek out designated hand carry access areas at boat ramps where they are available, or consider using alternate boat launches that are suitable only for hand carry boats. Powerboats and sailboats need ramps that can accommodate trailers, but paddlers have greater flexibility.
- Avoid the rage – If others are exhibiting poor judgment at the ramp, try to give them the benefit of the doubt. They may be new to boating or simply unaware of appropriate etiquette. Lead by example. If someone is struggling with his or her boat or trailer, lend a hand, offer helpful advice, and above all, be patient.
When you launch
- Ready, set, go – When launching, your goal should be to spend the least amount of time on the ramp as possible. Reverse down to the water, unhook or unload your boat, and secure it to the dock or shore.
- Make room – If you are tying up to a dock, position your boat so that it will not prevent others from launching or hauling. Once your boat is secure, park your vehicle straightaway, and always park in the appropriate trailer or car spaces.
- Launches are for travel – Remember that the ramp and the approach lanes are for travel and temporary pauses only, not prolonged stops. Do your socializing on the sidelines. The docks and floats are there to facilitate launching and hauling, they are not good places for extended conversations, picnicking, swimming, or fishing.
- Avoid cutting the line – If you are ready to launch your boat and there is someone ahead of you still prepping, it is fine to ask if you can go ahead, but be considerate and avoid just cutting in line. Some ramps are wide enough to accommodate multiple boats launching at the same time. In these cases, launch your boat to one side to allow others to come and go. Paddlers launching at a trailer ramp should always launch to the side to allow others to use the ramp as well.
When you return
- Be patient – At the end of the day, watch your wake when returning to the ramp, as waves can make it challenging or dangerous for others trying to launch or haul. If there are several boats vying for dock or ramp space, be patient. Get in line and wait your turn.
- Haul swiftly – After securing your boat to the dock or to the shore, fetch your vehicle and haul the boat swiftly.
- Refrain from “power loading” your boat – using the engine to position it snugly onto the trailer. The propeller downwash from power loading scours out the sea bottom, leaving holes that can damage trailer tires and axles.
- Use the tie down area – Once you’ve hauled the boat out of the water, move your vehicle and boat to the designated tie down area or some other out-of-the-way spot. This is where you should unload your gear, pull the drain plug, reattach the straps and prepare the boat for transport.
If you follow these tips, you will have done your part to begin and end your day on a positive note, and ensure the same for others. Ultimately, avoiding ramp rage comes down to basic common courtesy and common sense. If you are ever in doubt, just remember this: you can camp out on the islands, but you should never camp out on the ramp.