Are you dreaming about spending time out on the water with your new boat? Visiting fishing sites, exploring coastlines, and island hopping is a great way to get out into nature and enjoy its aquatic spectacle.
Before you drop the motor in the water and head off to your destination, you’ll have to get the boat in the water first. Launching a boat isn’t challenging when you have a crew around to help you, but it’s downright difficult when you have to launch it by yourself.
Solo launching is possible if you have the right procedure and equipment. This post unpacks everything you need to know about how to launch your boat yourself.
- Prepping the Boat Before You Launch
- Create a Prelaunch Checklist
- Tips for Assessing the Launch Ramp
- How to Back Down the Launch Ramp
- Removing the Boat from the Trailer and Launching
- How to Launch a Boat by Yourself
- Final Tips for Launching Your Boat Alone
- What are the Mistakes Boaters Make Launching a Boat Alone?
- The Steps to a Successful Self-Launch – Key Takeaways
- Retrieving Your Boat from the Water By Yourself
Prepping the Boat Before You Launch
If you’re totally new to launching your boat, trying to do it yourself isn’t a good idea. Take a few friends with you for the first few launches until you’re comfortable handling the launch and retrieval procedure yourself.
Avoid using the launch ramp during busy periods like weekends and public holidays. As a beginner, you’ll hold up the line and cause frustration with other boat owners that want to get out on the water.
Instead, practice launching during the week when there are fewer people around. This strategy gives you time to take a slow and systematic approach to run through the launch procedure.
There are several different types of ramp launches, from public and private sites to marina launches and boatyards. Download an app to help you locate the best launch ramp options closest to your home. Some marinas and private launches may charge a small fee for providing you with the service.
Preparing for a successful solo launch starts at home before you hook up the trailer to your vehicle and head to the ramp. Start with creating a spreadsheet of all the gear you need for the day and account for everything before leaving for the launch.
Create a Prelaunch Checklist
When you arrive at the launch site, don’t move directly into line at the ramp, especially if there are other people waiting.
Finishing your boat preparations while waiting in line will upset most of the boaters waiting behind you. It’s inconsiderate behavior, and someone is bound to call you out on it, ruining your start to the day.
Instead, look for the staging area next to the launch. Pull your vehicle and trailer into the lot to finish your pre-launch inspection and checklist.
Use the following procedure for prepping your boat for launch.
- Remove the tie downs and any lines securing the boat to the trailer.
- Lift the motor into the fully raised and tilted position.
- Start the engine to see if it works.
- Cut the motor and leave the key in the ignition.
- Check the fuel level and the fuel gauge.
- Turn on your navigation lights if it’s dark.
- Pack all your food, water, safety gear, lifejackets, and anchor onto the boat.
- Install the boat plug to prevent the craft from taking on water at launch.
- Fix the radio antennae to the upright position.
- Turn on your battery and make sure the connections are secure.
- Mount the boat fenders.
Tips for Assessing the Launch Ramp
After finishing in the staging area, leave the car and trailer there and inspect the boat ramp before driving into the line to use the launch.
Look at the steepness of the ramp and the water depth, and review the dock to see if it has enough space to tie off your boat while you return the car to the parking lot.
Observe the traffic moving through the ramp and how long it takes people to launch their watercraft. Ramp etiquette requires boaters to be as efficient and fast as possible when launching their boat.
If the ramp has a launch fee, visit the admin office and make your payment before moving your boat into line.
How to Back Down the Launch Ramp
After returning to your car from the inspection, back your trailer and vehicle into line on the launch ramp. As you approach the ramp, along the trailer and boat to run straight down the ramp, landing perfectly perpendicular to the water.
It’s challenging to reverse down the ramp, especially when traversing the drop in gradient. Check around to see if anyone can help direct you onto the ramp; most people will be happy to help if you ask.
Back onto the ramp slowly, and keep your spotter in your left mirror at all times. Going slow as you back down the ramp gives you time to react to the spotter if they ask you to change direction.
Keep backing down the ramp until the stern of the boat touches the water and you submerge the tires on the trailer.
Removing the Boat from the Trailer and Launching
Put the vehicle in park and set the parking brake. Get out of your car and head to the trailer. Release the safety chain from the bow eye and release the winch to get slack in the strap. Unclip the winch and move it out of the way.
Make sure you’re wearing footwear that you can use in the water. Some launches and ramps require you to stand in the water when launching from the trailer. If you have a helper, hand them the bowline and push the boat off the trailer into the water.
If the boat doesn’t budge, you’ll have to back it in some more until it releases from the trailer with a simple push. If you don’t have a helper, you’ll have to hold the bowline yourself while pushing the boat off.
After the boat floats, use the dock lines to navigate the boat alongside the dock and tie it off. It’s critical that you have the fenders installed over the boat’s sides to prevent damage to the vessel from hitting the dock.
After tying off your boat to the dock, return to the car and haul the trailer back to the parking area. If you have someone around to help, it saves a lot of time, and you’ll find that the person behind you will be eager to help if it means they get to launch a few minutes earlier.
How to Launch a Boat by Yourself
While launching a boat solo by yourself isn’t ideal, there are bound to be those times when you have no other choice but to launch the boat alone.
Launching the boat by yourself without the help of others is very similar to the methodology described above.
There are three ways you can launch a boat by yourself. The primary differences come from removing the boat from the trailer and navigating it alongside the dock before tying it off.
We break them down for you here to see which method you think provides you with the best option for your boat and vehicle.
The first process involves attaching a single line to the bow and stern using the cleats. Push the boat off the trailer when holding the line. Use the trailer as a step and hop onto the dock after releasing the vessel into the water.
The single line allows you to move the boat and prevent it from drifting out into the launch area. Tie your boat off to the dock and return the car and trailer to the designated parking lot.
This method is ideal for low docks that are easy to reach, and you’ll need a decent length of rope to manage both the bow and stern simultaneously.
Tie a dock line to the spring cleat before releasing the boat into the water. Secure the other end of the dock line to the piling or cleat, then back down into the water a bit more and release the boat. Hop onto the dock and pull the vessel away from its trailer before securing it to the dock.
Secure a 25-foot dock line to the bow cleat and col it, placing it on the bow. Tie the other end of the dock line to the trailer. Back down the ramp and release the boat into the water or just let it float gently away from the trailer.
Drive up the ramp a bit to get the trailer out of the water, and the additional line length allows you to untie it from the trailer and walk the boat into the dock where you tie it off.
Final Tips for Launching Your Boat Alone
One of our three launching methods will work for you, but it might take some time and practice to refine your launch procedure and make it feel like second nature. Follow these tips to improve your launch skills at the boat ramp.
Practice on Land
We recommend you practice reversing with your trailer and boat. One afternoon on the weekend, find a vacant parking lot and practice your reversing technique.
Use a cone or marking to practice moving the boat and trailer into position. Reversing with the trailer is a skill, and this exercise teaches you to rely on your mirrors and the right speed to maneuver the trailer to prevent jackknifing.
Keep Two Sets of Keys On Hand
Thousands of boat owners end up with their keys landing in the water when they’re trying to launch the boat.
We recommend you keep the keys in the ignition and keep a spare set in the cubby in your car if something bad happens to your keys and they end up in the drink.
Take the Helping Hand
Most people around the launch site are willing to help. Generally, everybody is in a good mood, and they can’t wait to get out onto the water.
If they think that helping you could get them out there faster, they’re likely to lend a helping hand. Be friendly to people, and don’t take offense if people decline your request for help.
What are the Mistakes Boaters Make Launching a Boat Alone?
The major mistake most first-time boaters make is backing the trailer too far into the water. As the boat starts to float away, they have to leap from the car and catch it to prevent it from clashing with the dock, damaging the vessel and the dock.
As a result of the panic, many newbies don’t secure the parking brake on their vehicles correctly. As a result, the car ends up in the water. While it’s hilarious to watch the newbie in their moment of panic, it usually leads to a rescue operation that slows down traffic using the ramp.
The Steps to a Successful Self-Launch – Key Takeaways
- Use the staging area for setting up your boat, not the ramp lane.
- Remember to fit the drain plug and double-check it before leaving the staging area.
- Attach your fenders and dock lines in the staging area.
- Unplug the trailer lights; they’ll pop if they touch the cold water.
- Take your time when backing down the ramp and go slow.
- Keep the spotter in your mirror at all times and follow the directions.
- Keep backing down and align the boat, trailer, and car.
- When you see the stern of the boat start to lift in the water, back down a few more feet, and then put the car in park and set the handbrake.
Follow one of the three methods described above for launching the boat yourself.
Retrieving Your Boat from the Water By Yourself
Pull back into the dock and tie of the boat. Fetch your car and trailer and get in line to use the ramp. After backing the trailer down the ramp to the same position where you launched the boat, set the brake, and return to the dock to untie the boat.
Bring the boat around to face the trailer and gently float the boat onto the trailer until the hull makes contact. Don’t “power-load” the boat to the trailer; you’ll damage the sand around the base of the ramp, causing it to erode. Most marinas will issue you a fine if they catch your power-loading onto your trailer.