New boat owners have a lot to learn about handling their vessel out on the water. Learning how to navigate and maneuver the boat on the water is critical, and understanding the correct safety procedures is crucial to having a safe and enjoyable experience.
Learning about safety on boats and how to behave around marinas and slips is important. However, you also need to understand how to act out of the water before launching your boat. The launch ramp is usually a crowded area, and you’ll come in contact with other boaters looking to get their vessel out on the water for a day of fun.
So, you need to understand the etiquette involved with handling your boat, vehicle, and your crew while you’re on or around the boat ramp. We put together this guide to give you everything you need to understand the nuances of how to act around the boat ramp.
- Prepping the Boat for Launch
- Make Use of the Staging Area
- Pre-Departure Procedures
- Launching the Boat and Parking your Vehicle
- Mount the Navigation Lighting Before Your Approach
- Respect the Traffic Rules and Lines
- Bring Friends with You to Help
- Turn Off Your Vehicle headlights
- Avoid Prepping the Boat When You’re on the Ramp Lane
- Don’t Stand Around Chatting
- Don’t Be a Launch Ramp Hog
- Don’t Cause an Obstruction
- Ask People Before You Tie-off to Their Boat
- Avoid Power-Loading the Boat at the Ramp
- Tips for Retrieving the Boat
- Remember to CCD (Clean, Drain, Dry)
- Boat Ramp Etiquette 101 – Key Takeaways
Prepping the Boat for Launch
Prepping for the boat ramp and the launch starts at home before you hook up the trailer and head to the site. If you’re a new boat owner visiting the boat ramp and launch site for the first time, park out of the way when you reach the site and exit your vehicle to make a brief inspection of the ramp and the dock.
Check on the water depth and which side of the dock you’ll face after launching the boat. Check out the flow of traffic to the launch and how many boats are ahead of you. After completing the inspection, return to your vehicle and start the pre-launch check.
Make Use of the Staging Area
There’s nothing worse than being stuck behind someone on the boat ramp that’s completing the final preparations on their watercraft.
Don’t be a ramp hog, and take care of your inspection and preparations before moving into the ramp queue. When you arrive at the ramp line, you want to launch the boat as quickly and efficiently as possible to clear the way for the next vessel.
Most larger ramps will have a staging area next to the launch to make your final preparations for the ramp. When you’re in the staging area, complete the following inspection.
- Ensure you have the correct safety gear and load it onto the vessel.
- Remove all tie-downs from the boat and trailer and pack them away.
- Check the battery and the motor, and start the engine to ensure it’s running.
- Leave the key in the ignition to prevent misplacing it.
- Check the fuel level and the fuel gauge to ensure it’s working.
- Angle the engine to the max tilt to prevent prop scrape during launch.
- Fit the drain plug securely.
- Load your food and gear like coolers, fishing tackle, wakeboards, and skis.
- Attach the fenders to the docking side of your boat.
- Remove all transom tie-downs and the outboard motor brace.
- Attach docking lines to the stern and bow cleats.
- Unplug your trailer from the electrical system. Entering the cold water with hot lights will pop the bulbs.
- Visit the launch site pay station and pay the launching fee if applicable.
After you complete the preparations in the staging area, you’re ready to launch your boat. Follow these guidelines for a successful launch.
Launching the Boat and Parking your Vehicle
Ramps are crowded venues during the peak summer months. Everyone wants to get out on the water when the weather is fine. It’s not uncommon to see tempers flare on the ramp when people start holding up the queue.
If you decide to hog the boat ramp and do your inspection and preps in front of other people waiting behind you, you can expect someone to give you a hard time about your selfish behavior. Use the staging area, and keep the boat ramp moving.
After you finish the launch, pull the trailer from the water and return to the parking lot. Make sure you remove all valuables from your car before heading to the boat to start your journey.
If you’re an early riser, you probably get up with the sun every day. It’s common for boating enthusiasts to get out on the water as early as possible to get as much done on the water before the sun becomes unbearably hot.
If you’re launching in low-light conditions before sunrise, make sure you turn on the navigation lights around the boat before moving into the ramp lane.
Respect the Traffic Rules and Lines
The ramp fills up fast in peak season during the height of summer. Make sure you approach the ramp slowly and with caution.
Join the queue and make sure you keep your distance between other vehicles and boats. Respect the traffic flow on and around the ramp and keep to the rules.
Bring Friends with You to Help
Launching a boat by yourself is challenging. In most cases, you’re likely going to have a friend or two with you to share the day on the water.
Have a friend back the trailer into the water while you sit on the boat and control its transition into the water.
Having a few friends to help with the launch speeds up the process and frees up the ramp for other boaters.
Turn Off Your Vehicle headlights
When you’re backing the trailer into the water in low light conditions, you don’t need your headlights. If you keep the headlights on during the launch, the ramp’s angle will shine the headlights on the people behind you, making it challenging for them to see.
Turn the headlights off and leave the parking lights on while you back the boat into the water. The launch will have plenty of lighting around the area, and you’ll find it easy to navigate off the ramp and back to the parking lot using your parking lights only.
Avoid Prepping the Boat When You’re on the Ramp Lane
We already mentioned the irritation involved with others ahead of you in the map queue finishing their preparations. We can’t impress this enough – use the staging area.
The last thing you want is another boater to start an argument or fight with you over your selfish behavior. It’s a guarantee that these types of interactions will spoil your day.
Don’t Stand Around Chatting
You’ll probably run into friends or other fellow boaters you know at the launch site. Don’t stand around catching up on the news; it’s going to cause a backup, and people’s tempers will start to flare.
People don’t want to see you standing around talking while waiting for the ramp. Talk to people in the staging area or after you finish launching the boat.
Don’t Be a Launch Ramp Hog
Every launch ramp is unique. Some sites have marked lanes and dividers or curbs directing traffic flow, and some launch sites have no markings whatsoever.
If you’re at a launch, follow the behavior of the other boaters and fall into the launch line. If you’re not sure how the launch works, park in the staging area and ask another boater about the etiquette for that specific ramp.
Don’t Cause an Obstruction
Most boat ramps have a dock alongside them, allowing the captain to collect their passengers after launch.
Loading the passengers during the launch is a mistake. The boat’s change in motion and direction as it enters the water might cause someone to fall overboard, creating a severe accident that closes the ramp.
Leave the passengers on the land and use the dock to pile everyone into the boat after it’s in the water. Don’t tie up the boat on this dock; collect your passengers and leave as soon as possible.
Ask People Before You Tie-off to Their Boat
After completing the launch and moving to the dock to collect your passengers, you might find that there is nowhere to tie the boat off.
Whatever you do, don’t assume you can just tie your boat off to another person’s, even if you think you’re only going to be a few minutes. It’s a surefire way to irritate people, and you’ll probably end up with someone shouting at you for your transgression.
Ask them beforehand if you need to tie off to someone’s boat. If you can’t see them or find them, don’t assume you can tie off to the boat, and they won’t mind. Sure, some people won’t care, but many will protest your actions.
Avoid Power-Loading the Boat at the Ramp
When it’s time to return to the launch and load the boat, drop everyone off at the dock and have a friend fetch the vehicle and trailer from the parking area while you move into line to use the launch.
It’s tempting for boaters to use the “power-loading” technique when retrieving the boat to the trailer. With this technique, the captain revs the throttle as the boat moves onto the trailer, pushing it into a snug position that doesn’t require a winch to haul it the final stretch from the water.
However, this technique is not allowed on many launches. The propellers cause a surge in the wash at the launch base. This wash moves the sand and sediment away from the bottom of the launch. As a result, the loss of sand causes weakness in the launch, and it starts to erode into the water.
Some launch sites may fine you if you use the power-loading method for pushing your boat onto the trailer.
Tips for Retrieving the Boat
Loading the boat back onto the trailer is just the reverse of launching the vessel. After dropping off the passengers at the dock, tie off to the dock while you wait. If you don’t have a dock to tie off to, position the boat away from the launch ramp and wait for the trailer to arrive.
In busy seasons, you might have to wait for a while before you get the opportunity to retrieve the boat from the water.
Keep your eyes on the immediate area and keep a safe distance from other boats and the ramp. We recommend using your cellphone or a marine radio to communicate with your friends bringing the trailer to the ramp.
This strategy lets you keep in touch, and you’ll know when to expect the trailer at the launch ramp. When you see the trailer arrive at the ramp, follow this procedure for retrieving the boat from the water.
Back the trailer down the ramp and let the boat softly drift into it. After the hull makes contact with the trailer, attach the cable winch from the trailer to the boat. Haul the boat onto the trailer using an electric or manual winch, depending on the size of the vessel.
Pull the trailer from the water and move the car and boat back to the staging area to pack everything up before heading home.
Remember to CCD (Clean, Drain, Dry)
After packing everything away, you’re ready to head home after a fun day out on the water.
Before you leave the staging area and parking lot, it’s time to “CDD.” It’s important to note that many states require you to remove organic matter from the hull and drain the bilge, bait, and live wells.
This practice has the moniker “Clean, Drain, Dry.”
Completing this action at the end of the trip ensures that no invasive species like zebra mussels and milfoil end up transferring from the boat to the local environment.
Check for signs around the staging area notifying you of this procedure. Failing to comply with the request may result in state authorities issuing you a fine for breach of regulations.
Boat Ramp Etiquette 101 – Key Takeaways
- Complete your prep work in the staging area, don’t hog the launch ramp.
- Use friends to help you launch the boat as fast as possible to free up the ramp.
- Use the dock to load passengers, and don’t tie off to anyone’s boat.
- Don’t cause obstructions and respect the rules of the launch.
- After retrieving the boat, complete your CDD and dress-down in the staging area.