Mind Your Manners: Boat Launch Etiquette for All Boaters

02/07/2017

In a few weeks, springtime temperatures will return at last and we’ll all head for the open water. And while it’s easy to let our enthusiasm get the better of us, it’s always important to show respect for our fellow boaters — especially at the boat launch. Ever found yourself fighting off “ramp rage” while you wait for that guy to finish loading his gear?

Don’t be that guy.

While we wait for the season to start, let’s all take a few minutes to brush up on our launch etiquette.

Do Some Recon First

The ideal time to familiarize yourself with a new facility is before you show up with your boat ready to launch. Check it out ahead of time and note the location of staging areas, courtesy docks, and other facilities, and make note of how the lanes are arranged. For example, some facilities have designated “in” and “out” lanes, and knowing this ahead of time can save you — and your fellow boaters — some serious aggravation when you’re ready to launch.

Learn to Love Your Staging Area

Believe it or not, the staging area is not just a place where you assess the day’s beer supply. It’s where we do all our prep except for the few tasks that need to be done on the ramp.

While you’re in the staging or tie-down area, make sure to

  • Load all your gear
  • Check safety equipment and documentation
  • Check the trailer coupler
  • Unplug the trailer lights
  • Check the battery, the motor, and the angle of the drive unit
  • Make sure the drain plug is firmly in place
  • Remove transom straps

Practice Backing Up

Backing your boat trailer into the water is a complex operation — one you don’t want to attempt for the first time at the ramp, with dirty looks from fellow boaters coming at you from all angles.

If you’re new to boating, get plenty of practice backing up before attempting your first launch. Pick a low-traffic location that gives you plenty of space (shopping mall parking lots on early Sunday mornings are ideal) and set up cones or empty soda bottles to simulate a ramp lane. Practice using your side mirrors to back the trailer into your “lane” safely.

You’ll also find lots of videos on YouTube with excellent advice on how to practice backing up, like this one:

Use the Courtesy Dock … But Don’t Hog It

Some public launches offer a courtesy dock, a floating structure near the ramp that’s designed for short-term moorage. It’s an ideal spot to pick up your partner after he parks the truck and drop him off when you return … when you use it. Too many boaters don’t, clogging up launch decks while their fellow boaters look on in aggravation.

Note the distinction “short-term moorage.” Courtesy docks are not a place to finish doing all the stuff you should have done back in the staging area. “Get in and get out” is the name of the game.

Know How to Bring It Home

When the sun goes down, boaters head for the ramp, often causing a jam at the launch dock. Plan ahead and coordinate with your partner to ensure a smooth process for retrieval and departure:

  1. Tie up at the courtesy dock and drop off your vehicle driver. (Remember, it’s the tow vehicle’s place in line that determines the order in which boats are retrieved.)
  2. As your partner backs the trailer down the ramp, slowly motor towards it.
  3. Drive the boat onto the trailer, or your partner can winch it in.
  4. Raise the lower unit of the motor so that it won’t scrape the ramp.
  5. When the boat is secure on the trailer, move to an open space in the parking lot to unload your gear and prepare for the trip home.

Okay, captain, now you the scoop to help you avoid making enemies at the boat launch … and even make a few friends. Let’s play nice out there!