Boat Launching Info/Trials & Tribulations



First and foremost, owning a boat that is sitting on dry land may not be very productive as to even getting the bottom wet or a fishbox smelly.  Therefore putting your boat in the water would be a prime objective.  This can be very intimidating to the newbie, that of backing the vehicle / boat and trailer down a launching ramp.  Especially so, where there will be other boaters who may have a lot more experience than you who may waiting their turn, some of whom may become impatient.  But remember that they all had to start, and learn one time, as this is not an inherited thing.


One thing to remember is that the length of both your towing vehicle AND size/length of the boat directly effect the ease of backing a trailer.  When using a short wheelbase 1/2 ton pickup truck, your turning radius is shorter than with a 3/4 ton extended cab pickup, therefore you need to concentrate in not making large corrections as when using the 1/2 ton where the trailer will respond a LOT faster.  Also here the same applies when backing a 12/14' boat as compared to a 18/20' one, and the two shorter units compound each other.


Learn backing/parking between lines on the parking lot, if none are there, place some cones or 5 gallon buckets as targets.  I have even used pitch forks stuck in a cut off hay field.  Once you have the straight ones figured out, then try to back around a corner.  Practice enough so that you can become confident enough in yourself before you actually head for the water.  Then even pick a seldom used launch and odd hours for your first or second attempt.


A cheap entertaining afternoon is to take your folding chairs, a camera, your favorite beverage and visit a busy boat launch on a summer week-end


Tips on Learning to Back a Trailer;    A good place to practice in a non-congested location, is like a empty high school or church parking lot.

1. Learn to USE YOUR MIRRORS.  They give you the best idea as to what is really going on with your trailer.  Adjust them if need be to be able to see the trailer tires, this will tell you more than seeing the sides of the boat. 


Don't turn and look behind you out the rear window. Trust me on this, find someone who is an expert at backing a trailer of any kind, and I guarantee you he doesn't have his/her head swiveled around looking out the rear windowAnd what if you have a canopy or something in the bed of your pickup?  

2. Slow is smooth.  Don't try to rush it here.  Baby your foot off the brake and make VERY SMALL adjustments with the steering wheel once you get pretty well lined up.

3. Don't be afraid to stop and straighten out if you start getting sideways.  If you lose sight of the trailer wheel or tire.  Stop, think, adjust and resume backing up, or pull ahead slightly and start over.  TO STRAIGHTEN THE TRAILER, JUST GENTLY STEER INTO THE MIRROR THAT SHOWS THE MOST FENDER/WHEEL.  The mirrors give you the best idea as to what is really going on with your trailer as most trailers are wider than the average boat.  Most people learn well after the first 2 or 3 tries.

4. Learn to do corners also, not just straight lines.  Along with learning to back a trailer also teach yourself when driving forward to park your rig in tight quarters, maybe use traffic cones to simulate tight parking spots of a crowded trailer parking lot.  Remember the trailer may not follow your vehicle exactly, AND on corners IT WILL cut these corners, possibly doing damage to other vehicles, or the trailer itself.


5.  An empty trailer will handle differently than a loaded trailer and it is a lot harder to see.  Here may be an exception of looking out the rear window if using a small trailer, lower the tail gate of a pickup IF it has clearance, and you do not have a across the bed right behind the cab, (which does cut down your out the rear window view).  You might even make provisions to add a temporary removable divers flag to the outer edges of the trailer so you can see it better.


Here, you can see backup flags in position


6.  Patience, Patience, Patience...

7.  Once you think you've got it dialed, try actual launching later in the day, just near or even after dark, that's when you'll find the crowds all gone.  Even learn to back down in the dark, especially without an assistant to help guide you down, which can be a little more intimidating to the novice boater.  As an added irritant, park a truck right next to where your backing with his head lights on, which will mess with your night vision and show you why you need to back down without your headlights off (parking lights are OK) at a crowded ramp.

8.  Remember a parking brake is a device that WILL FAIL at some point.  A nice wheel chock with a 3' long piece rope that can be attached to the vehicle with  a loop or snap can be a great devise.  A photo is shown below of this.


9.  Might be common sense, BUT unbuckle your seat belt when backing down, AND roll the drivers window down, for your own safety.


10. Now that your concentrating so hard getting the boat in the water do not forget the to remember the embarrassing rule.  Make sure your plug is in!!

11.  Another thing that may seem obvious.  NEVER ever unhook the winch strap from the boat until you are completely backed down to the water.   My stopping spot is where there is just enough room to walk behind the vehicle and the waters edge to loosen/remove the winch strap/safety chain.


12.   Also, if the dock is on the driver's side, don't try to get too close. Its embarrassing when you open the vehicle driver's door to out of your rig and find that you literally have to "climb" out because the door won't open far enough to get out.


13.  Before all the way down, get your bow rope and give it to a helper on the dock, or if you are alone, make a loop in the long end to throw over your trailer winch post to secure it from drifting off after it is in the water.  Slowly back down until the boat starts to float, then a bit more, hitting the brakes.  This should be enough to float the boat off the trailer.  It should float off IF your tie down straps are off.  Shift into low and slowly pull away from the boat.   If it is cold and freezing, stop with the trailer just out of the water allowing all the water inside the frame to drain out.


13.  Have your helper get your rear dock lines and by using the bow line to pull the boat rearward AND the rear line to keep it from drifting off, have him/her move it  to the rear of the dock, or to the side of the launch if not dock is there.  If you are alone, with the long bow rope attached to the trailer post, when the floating boat gets to the length of this rope, give the vehicle a gentle forward movement so the boat starts moving shoreward.  Pull up the ramp until the trailer is out of the water, stop and get out of the vehicle and QUICKLY stop the boat from crashing the ramp PR your trailer, then take care of the boat yourself.

14.  Once you launch and have the boat taken care of, go ahead and pull your vehicle up the ramp to the parking lot   Don't be the guy that blocks the dock/ramp while/after you park the truck and then brag about how the bite was yesterday with every person you encounter as you slowly saunter back to an infuriated, congested ramp that was forced to a stand-still by you.

Here, when launching, someone apparently unhooked the bow line before getting close to the water, & on a trailer with rollers no less

Develop a Routine, And Never Ever Vary From It. 

Here's one example.

1. Remove safety straps (preparation lane)
2. Insert drain plug. (preparation lane)
3. Raise motor(s) (if applicable - preparation lane)
4. Back the trailer down (already covered above).
5. Set the PARKING BRAKE. (If an automatic transmission, do this BEFORE putting the transmission  in park)
6. ROLL DOWN YOUR WINDOW. This WILL save you from someday inadvertently locking your keys in the vehicle.
7. Unhook winch strap/safety chain
8. Pull boat to far end of dock to make room for next guy. (tie it off)
9. Put vehicle in LOW gear before releasing parking brake.
10. Drive off and park. To expand on that, insure that you AND your trailer are in your parking space!  On more then 1 occasion when parking I've found some dork who parked his rig and left his trailer well into the space next to his, which decreased total parking, preventing anyone from parking there.

The steps in your routine don't have to be the same but the important thing is to have a routine and stick to it every time. This will help keep you from forgetting things like straps or plugs etc. When friends are being "helpful" by jumping out to unhook things or plug things in etc, you should still go behind them and do YOUR routine.


Launch & Recovery at a Ramp ;   One thing can be obvious, but many times overlooked when backing down a ramp with a pickup truck for recovery is that as the trailer starts down the ramp, if it is narrow enough and the ramp is steep enough, is that you the vehicle driver looses sight of the trailer when you are still on the top of the ramp and the trailer passes over the upper edge, then momentarily going out of sight as it goes down the ramp.  This can be disastrous to the trailer tongue (and embarrassing) if you are not straight to start with and the trailer jack-knifes.  A simple solution is to lower the tailgate (if there is clearance) as seen in the photos below. 


OK, for you guys who can afford payments on a newer 3/4 ton 4 wheel-drive pickup, with an automatic transmission, you can skip this section.   Some of the older even classic pickups, (like my previous 1969 Ford F250 4 speed, 2 wheel drive) using the emergency brake that is foot activated and released by pulling a Tee handle under the dash that you can not feather it out, as it releases all at once can be a challenge.   It is impossible to play the throttle, slip the clutch and feather the emergency brake for a smooth ride up the ramp towing a boat of any size.   There is usually no problem with the unloaded trailer because of the lighter weight.  The recovery being the hardest, as you need to stop on the ramp, load the boat and then drive up a possibly wet/slippery ramp.  Even with a limited slip rear differential, depending on the weight of the boat, you might need 200 - 300# of concrete weight in the back of the bed to add to the traction.


This may also apply to those who are towing with a 4 cylinder compact vehicle with a standard transmission.


So, my solution was to take a couple of sections of a 6" X 6" pressure treated wooden post about 12" long, sawed it diagonally lengthwise with a chain saw and made them into a set of triangle chocks.  Then screw a large screw eye in one end, then attach about 3' of 3/8" nylon rope to the eye.  The front of the rope has a snap for attaching to an eye or hole under the rear bumper of the truck.  When I get backed down to the low recovery point on the ramp, stop, put the emergency brake on, shut the engine off, and put the chocks behind the rear wheels, attaching the snap to the attachment point under the bumper.  Now when the boat is loaded, I can start the engine, let the truck rock back and rest against the chocks, take the emergency brake off and drive up the ramp in low gear.  The chocks follow me up the ramp like a well trained puppy.  In the photo on the left below, it being high tide when the photo was taken, the chock was really not needed, but I did not want to wait another 6 hours to get a better photo.


Here you can see an example of the chocks placed behind the rear tires ready to load the boat.  You can notice the pickup tailgate lowered  in order to visually see the trailer during back down.  Here they followed the pickup up the ramp to the parking lot


You could also just use one chock if the boat is not overly large, and place it behind the drivers side left front tire.  On this usage, the rope needs to be longer than used if placed on the rear bumper, but not long enough to tangle in/under the rear tire when going up the ramp.  The rope's end has a loop large enough to go over the drivers mirror.  Place this loop over the mirror when you stop to reload the boat then when you drive up the ramp it will be drug up the ramp outside the vehicle's body and away from the rear tire.


Here a single chock under a front wheel is sufficient on this muddy slimy ramp


I have seen what I assume were probably fairly new boat owners, (or very unknowing) back down the ramp, just put the towing vehicle transmission into park and leave it running as they get out to unsnap the winch strap.  Boy they trust that very small parking brake dog of the vehicle's transmission way more than I do, as seen in the photo below.


With a automatic transmission, when you back down and stop, BE SURE TO ENGAGE THE EMERGENCY BRAKE BEFORE YOU PUT THE GEAR SELECTOR INTO PARK.  Otherwise the weight of the vehicle on the inclined ramp may slightly move downhill enough so that you may later have problems getting the selector out of the park position.  In essence the park position is merely a small dog like lever that locks into a gear inside the transmission.  And when on this downhill slope with the weight of the vehicle and boat putting pressure on this small metal dog, you may break the dog internally in the transmission when trying to get it out of that position, IF under a lot of strain.  It only locks the transmission and does not lock the wheels.  AND most emergency brakes apply the bulk of their effectiveness in forward motion, with very little effectiveness when the vehicle is going reverse or down hill, so do not get lulled into complacency thinking the emergency brake is a cure all on a steep sloped ramp.


AND it is a good idea when you start to pull up the ramp with a loaded boat IF you do not use a wheel chock, is to DO NOT try to put your automatic transmission into DRIVE, but LOW.  I have seen this happen with a somewhat newbie behind the wheel (IN MY VEHICLE) when reloading my boat, and preparing to going up the ramp, but instead of getting it into drive, he apparently missed drive and had it in NEUTRAL.  As soon as he popped the emergency brake and let off on the brake pedal, the whole shebang went downhill FAST before the weight of the now floating boat and when he could get the brakes applied slowed things down.  When he did get it stopped, the pickup's rear wheels were deep in the water, with the trailer then way deeper than normal, however with the winch and safety chain attached to the boat's bow, had secured it somewhat.   The wind/tide had blown the rear of the boat off the trailer enough so that when he finally pulled it back partly up the ramp, one side of the boat was setting on a fender.  He pulled it up partly on the ramp and exited the vehicle, letting me handle it from there.  I then tied the bow line to the stern line, making it longer and I then backed the trailer back down deep enough that a volunteer bystander could pull the rear of the boat back in line enough with the trailer and hold it there as I then drove up the ramp.  Everything turned out fine as the winch line and safety chain was still attached to the bow eye, except for some embarrassment on the newbie driver, but it could very easily have turned out like the photo below.


Then two years later, my lights were not behaving right, and I found the wiring connections in the trailer female connector badly rusted because of this above bay type saltwater encounter.  Then a year later a wire in the RV receptacle at rear of the vehicle died.


Pretty self-explanatory if you ask me


One other thing to remember is that before you pull up the ramp, it is a good idea to raise the main motor or outdrive up a bit, just in case your boat/trailer/ramp combo is so that your skeg may drag on the ramp as it breaks over the top.


Towing, Launching with a Camper on Pickup ;   OK, This can be done, but you may consider a few things.  Depending on the size of the pickup AND the size of the camper, you may consider a few things.  Or even towing with a motor-home could also be an issue.  (1) Weight of the camper and the boat/trailer not exceeding the vehicle manufacturers suggested weight restrictions.  (2) Backing down a ramp where you may not be able to see a lot can be an issue.  (3) Backing down a MUDDY / SLIPPERY ramp where you can not stop until the boat floats can get hairy if you are not truly aligned with the launch.  (4) Trying to recover your boat on launch #3.  (5) It could be about impossible to launch/recover if the launch is gravel instead of concrete.  (6) Some launch areas may have overhanging trees that the camper may not clear. (7) Depending on slope of ramp, if you have more than a bed length camper, you may have to bury some of it in the water unless you use a hitch extension. (8) This would be about impossible if launching solo.  (9) It may be crowded on the trip if you are taking your buddies in the Camper unless it is a crew-cab, which then that makes for a long train and maneuverability can be restricted.   (10)  You had better be above average in using mirrors.  (11) If you are going to have problems it will always be at a peak usage time and other boaters may not be very friendly toward you afterwards.


The more combinations of these, will ultimately effect your decision for usage and before long, you may well abandon the idea.  I have seen so many bad things happen on a launch under normal launches that I get knots in my stomach just thinking of how more compounding things you may be exposed to with a lot of extra weight and blindedness along with slippery ramps.


Or, here may be some suggestions.   (1) Unload camper in RV campground before you launch.  (2) Use Pop-Up camper that are lighter, but probably would require raising/lowering upper part and raising jacks if staying in RV campgrounds before early morning launchings. (3) Mount trailer hitch on front of vehicle for launching/recovery.  (4) Have a buddy bring the camper, while you tow the boat.  (5) Tent camp.


Launching & Recovering When You Are Alone ;   OK, some times you can not find a fishing buddy and or the wife is not really interested or physically able to participate in your fishing activities.  When you have a partner, they can hold the boat while you take or move the vehicle/trailer.  Launching alone is a different story.


Have your bow line long enough so that when you back down to launch, and before you unsnap the winch cable hook, that you can attach the bow line SECURELY to the trailer winch stand.  It can be a very gut wrenching feeling if your knot comes untied (been there-done that) and you have to decide to swim for your boat with the tide is going out, also be sure the bow rope is tied securely to the boat and the trailer.


When launching from a area with no docks is different than if there are docks, here we will be covering both with a dock, and without.

When you launch the boat with the bow line attached to the trailer, and then pull ahead up the ramp so that your vehicle wheels are out to the water, (if you have the proper length of rope) the bow rope will pull your boat back in enough so you can get the line untied and then tie your boat to a dock, (if one is available).  What if there is no dock?  OK, use a small mushroom anchor and secure it to the side of the launch pads similarly to as shown in the photo below where this boat is about to be recovered.


I have launched numerous times at this launch shown below when alone, and from the time I pulled away from the prep area, to when I was back into the boat AND motoring away, have done it in less than 10 minutes.  That includes driving the vehicle up to the far end of the parking lot (250') and walking back to the tied up boat.


Mushroom anchor on the bow line as a secured location when leaving the boat when launching or recovering alone at a launch with no dock.


When launching or recovering with a ramp with docks, and alone, be sure to have the wind in your favor IF POSSIBLE (for launching it's better if pushing the boat into the dock), a suggestion is to again you can have the bow rope secured to the trailer tongue or vehicle, or tie it off to the dock giving enough distance so the boat will clear the trailer.  In addition have your rear mooring line long enough so that before you actually launch, throw the long loose end of these lines onto the dock at 90 degrees to the dock.  Or lay it loose on the boat's rear deck, and have ready access to your boat hook.   Launch the boat.  Hurriedly exit the vehicle and grab the stern line, between it and the bow line you should be able to control the boat, secure it to the dock, return to your vehicle, drive it up the ramp in less than 5 minutes and park it.


Leaving the Dock ;   Here is where a newbie may not realize what is happening.  When you are leaving the dock after launching, it is best to manually pull your boat to the outer end of the dock and then powerup, and BACK the boat away, make your turn out away from everyone and be on your way.   I have seen numerous boaters, from the center of the dock or even the outer end, push the bow out and then make their turn to exit the dock area.  Think about it, boats steer from the stern and it does take more room to make a turn, especially if in a tighter/restricted area.  If it is restricted and other boats may be moored nearby, AND there is a wind/tide, you may not have the control you need to do a complete turn and get out without making an emergency stop/back up and retry, OR crash another boat.  So again, push the boat to the end of the dock if possible, back away into open water before you turn to go away.


Double Check Your Bow Line Being Secured to the Boat ;   ONCE when launching alone, ONE TIME, I suffered from a brain fart.  After launching, while holding onto the bow line, as the boat drifted off the trailer, I pulled on the bow line.  OH GOLLY GEE, it was not secured to the boat's bow cleat and it pulled clear off the deck and into the water.  The tide was still slightly going out and the boat was starting to drift away.  I threw this then loose bow rope as far onto the bow deck as possible and VERY VERY CAREFULLY put minimal tension on the rope.  Just the weight of the rope laying on the front deck was enough resistance for me to gently pull the boat into shallow enough water to keep me from making a swim that morning.  Rather nail biting for a while, but it worked.

Power-Loading Your Boat Onto the Trailer ;   OK, many of us keep old hip boots in our towing vehicle just to help in recovering our boats.   However if the wind or tide is moving enough that you have problems getting the boat aligned to the trailer, or you did not get close enough to the dock so that is a help, then power-loading (if allowed) is a viable option.


And then those of you who run a jet unit well know the problems of loading in a current or crosswind, if the trailer does not have side bunk guides.  Sometimes even these guides are not sufficient at times.


When power loading, you will have to have the trailer backed down deep enough to somewhat float the boat on, BUT also yet not deep enough that the bunks/rollers still retain the ability to align the hull with the trailer.  Trial and error will be the name of the game here.  For most ramps, with my boat/trailer I need to leave about 3" of the trailer fenders above water.


Also you need to take into consideration the direction of the wind or current and then with the boat in the water away from the trailer a distance so you have TOTAL control of the boat's movement as you motor onto the trailer.  Move up slowly, but not going dead straight on, but with the bow slightly into the wind/current, when you are near the rear of the trailer, you can kick the motor into neutral if needed, even let the wind/current move you slightly, then back into power enough to slowly nose the bow toward the trailer.  When it is pretty close, give it a bit more of power, the bow may not be where you want it so turn the steering wheel straightening the boat and give it a power nudge, which will move the bow one way or the other, when it is near centered, look at the motor, be sure it is centered, give it enough power to push the boat up and onto the trailer. 


If you have bunk guides, this really helps a lot in that you can nose the bow into the guide on the windward/current side, give it a little power, which will then push your bow toward being centered.  Straighten the motor so the boat is close to being centered on the trailer, give it power and the bunks should guide you onto the trailer, giver her enough power to power on, even possibly up to into the bow chock if it centered close enough.   You may get the hang of this after a few loadings be able to do this so that you have very little winching involved.


However, I have a friend who has a 26' aluminum Duckworth Offshore boat that the only way he can load his onto the trailer is have his son stand on the trailer tongue near the winch and gives hand signals over the bow to guide loading as the skipper can not even see the trailer's winch stand once he is near it because of the high bow. All he has to guide him is the rear window of the pickup canopy.   And with that boat being that large, it only has a inch on each side between the bunk side guides, so winching on, (even with a power winch)  is hard to get it aligned(very hard to push the sides of the bow anywhere enough at this stage to even move it any at all, so it is not unusual to have to back off and reload a couple of times to get it centered and not rubbing the bunk Shark-Hide covering off on the bunk guides.


Recovering From a Launch That Has Docks ;    Boat recovery for a solo fisherman at a launch where the wind blows and there are 2 docks having a confined area between them, where power loading is prohibited or the operator is apprehensive.  If there is any wind or current, stay on the downwind side, NOT on the side that the wind blows you against, and since boats steer from the stern, you CAN NOT maneuver AWAY from the dock that you are being blown against. 


 Back the trailer down deeper than normal (for mine and most ramps, I need the rear tires of the pickup right at the water's edge on the ramp). 


(Option A) Back down with the trailer in the middle of the ramp if you are recovering where the wind favors you.


Now using (Option A) using both stern AND bow lines, let the wind/current pull the boat away from your dock, you control the boat's position and pull the boat fast enough (using the stern line for propulsion while guiding the bow with the bow line) to overcome any wind and at the same time possibly pushing the bow out manually (with your foot if need be) to align with the trailer, or let the wind pull it into alignment, all the time pulling it forward with both lines, guiding it onto the trailer fast enough (by pulling the stern line) to slide it onto the bunks as far as possible.

Holding onto the bow line, go forward on the dock, to the rear of the pickup, jump down onto the ramp, then if your boots are only calf high, climb up over the rear wheel onto and into the bed.  Drop the tailgate, slide off the tailgate and onto the tongue.  Pull the boat as far as possible onto the trailer using the bow line.  From here, you should have the bow close enough to attach the winch cable hook to the boat's bow eye.  Winch it on, even while sitting on the tailgate, fasten the safety chain, jump onto the ramp and drive up the ramp.


Here the bow & stern lines control the boat, letting the wind push the boat away from your dock allowing you to line up with the trailer Aligned & almost on, just pull a bit more using both lines, then jump down & winch it on the last couple of feet


(Option B)   If you have to recover so you are pushed against the dock, what I have found is when you back the trailer down, stay nearer the dock that your boat is tied up to.   As you approach the final 20' or so on the back down, angle the trailer into the that dock, but be sure to allow for the width of the boat so it will not rub the sides of the dock when pulled onto the trailer.    Pull the boat by hand or power load, and as the bow touches the trailer, the boat should self align better and you can pull it on more or power load without being glued to the dock by the wind.  Here the trailer will not be square with the ramp, but angled slightly into the dock you are against.

On top of the ramp, pull into the recovery area and do what is needed to make your boat/trailer road ready.


Launching at a Shallow Ramp ;   For those of you who do not have roller bunks and find that the launch is not deep enough at a low tide to get your trailer deep enough to even come close to floating the boat off, (and where pushing it off is impossible) here is an idea.    Mount a  3" Nylon sheave pulley with a 1/2" bronze bushing in a couple of angle iron brackets on the center of the axle (shown in the RH photo below) low enough as to not interfere with loading and unloading of the boat.  You may not be able to find these sheaves on a marine dealers shelves, as I made mine using a metal lathe, a sheet of flat 1/2" Nylon, and a 1/2" X 3/4" bronze bushing with a 1/2" stainless steel bolt as a center shaft.


If you look close you can see a 1/4" bolt  going crosswise above and below the pulley sheave.  These keep the cable from jumping off the and out of the sheave groove.


Put a hook in the end of a  3/16" vinyl coated galvanized cable, run this cable from the trailer winch area, back over any trailer cross-member, then thru this pulley and then back to the winch area.  Put an eye in the other end that will go under the trailer frame up Y area and on to a bungee cord attached to the winch bracket.  This bungee cord will keep the slack out of the cable (if the cable is length is adjusted right). 


On my trailer I found that I needed to install a Nylon bushing thru the front trailer cross-member with the bottom cable to the winch running thru it so it would not scrape the hull when being winched rearward.  This also aids in holding the lower cable up out of the way when traveling.  I made this bushing out of a piece of 1 1/4" Nylon round stock that I lathe turned down to 3/4" body leaving the large dia. head on one end, then drilled a 3/8" hole thru the body and threaded the other end to match a 3/4" course stainless steel nut.  Then I drilled a 3/4" hole thru the cross-member and installed this bushing in the hole, held in place by the nut.


Find a convenient place to secure both ends near the winch so that they do not become unattached during transit.    For the top cable I mounted an eye-bolt on the tongue brace shown by the red arrow in the LH photo below.  The lower cable with the eye in it was run under the tongue brace and up thru the spare tire wheel and attached it to the winch base with a short bungee cord pulling it tight.


Bottom cable ends at winch area secured by bungee cord Pulley unit mounted on the axle


In use if and when you get in a situation like this where the ramp is so shallow (usually at a LOW MINUS tide) that you can not float the boat, much less push it off, attach the top cable's hook in the boat's bow eye and the other end of the cable into your trailer winch hook.  Now all you have to do is to winch your boat back far enough that it will slide, or can be pushed off the trailer.  You won't have to move all of the boat's weight as it should be partly floating by the time you need this.


Have Another Routine to Recover / Reload & Drive up the Ramp ;   Launching can be easy compared to recovering if at a busy afternoon when every fisherman is wanting to come out at the same time of the day/tide AND the Ski-Do crowd is wanting in all at the same time.  I have seen some recover lines with the vehicle and trailers over a mile long waiting to pull their boat out on a Sunday afternoon.  And if some person living on an unknown planet takes 1/2 hour to back down to retrieve his boat, tempers can get a little on edge at times.


When recovering, it is not the boat that is in line at the dock, it is the towing VEHICLE and TRAILER that is in line leading to the launch area.  Most launches will have a preparation lane, (some marked and others not), this is also usually the lane you need to be in for recovery.   It is usually located where it is convenient to pull in to the upper part of the launch AND have enough room to turn so you can back down the launch in a straight line.


Some large well organized/used launches have stripes painted on the blacktop above the launch, as a guide line for backing down.


The simplest recovery method is to have a fishing partner who can drive/back the trailer down for your recovery.  Here you simply nose up to the end of the dock and let them step off onto the dock with the vehicle keys.  You back away if the area is congested and join the other boats either tied to a adjacent dock or doing a rotating dance out in the boat basin.  When your vehicle backs down the ramp, you move into position, power load, the partner snaps the winch strap and sucks the bow against the stop and he than drives the boat, and you up the ramp.  This can take less than 5 minutes.


If you are a fishing solo, things can get considerably more hectic at times like this.


Recovery may vary considerably depending on the location and configuration of the dock/ramp.  And you may need a couple different methods thought out/proven.  Some boaters will only launch/recover on one specific side of the dock.  Yes, I also prefer where I can use the drivers side of the dock(when backing down), BUT if you adhere to that practice, you may well be holding up the recovery line, so learn to use either side.  That is what your mirrors are for.


Here's Example A.   This is if you are recovering at a marina/dock and have a partner to drive the vehicle.

1.  Move into the boat basin at a slow enough speed that you throw no wake.
2.  Observe what is happening ahead of you.  Are there boats tied to the dock, or are some staging out a ways waiting their turn?

3.  Move up to the end of the dock and let your partner off to go and retrieve your vehicle and trailer.

4.  If there is little congestion, tie up to the end of the dock and observe who is in line.  Or back away and stage beyond the dock, yet not to congest, or prohibit anyone else from coming in.

5.  Keep an eye on the ramp and when your vehicle and trailer starts to back down.  The driver will need to know how deep to back the trailer in the water.  If he does not, then give him hand signals.

6.  Slide up along that dock, being ready to powerload, as your trailer is in the proper position.

7.  Run the boat onto the trailer, have your partner attach the winch strap and do the final winching the boat up into the bow stop.

8.  Slightly raise your motor to ensure it will clear the ramp when it breaks over the top.

9.  Partner returns to the vehicle and drives up the ramp;  If your boat is large or heavy and /or the ramp is wet, muddy, or icy, place your vehicles' automatic transmission in four wheel drive.

10. Park in the specified out of the way recovery area where you both do your tie down, stow bumpers etc., turn off power to your electronics.

11.  Move the vehicle out of the way so others can have the same access you had.  Now you can visit the restrooms.



A comment on #5.   When recovering/pulling out, I back trailer to point where the front fenders are about 4 inches out of water.   However each boat/trailer is different as could be the angle of the ramps.   This is enough to help guide the boat back on if I power load on and only need to give a little boat throttle to go the couple of feet or so.  If I am in a situation where I will be hand winching the boat on, I need it a little deeper in the water to ease the hand winching.


A comment on #6.  This could be compounded if there is a wind blowing or a tide/river water flow is hampering your maneuvering.  If this is the case, it may be best to then get the boat close and hand maneuver (pull) it onto the trailer, then do the final winching it on.  Otherwise if the wind is blowing you INTO the dock, you can not get a way from it because boats steer from the rear.


Here's Example B.  This is if you are recovering at a marina/dock AND you are alone.

Pretty much the same as example "A" except  at #3 where you will have to tie off to the dock and go for your vehicle yourself.


The problem with this is if there is a lot of activity, by the time you get back with your trailer, you may be holding up others who are waiting for longer than they deem necessary.



Here's Example C.  This is if you are recovering at launch where there is no dock.

Here is pretty well the same as either "A" pr "B" except, however you will have to pull to the side of the ramp, to allow others to launch or for you to recover.  This however can be slightly less stressful as usually the boats can be spread out a bit more depending on the conditions.


Launching During Freezing Weather ;   Here are some tips that may help. 
(1)  Carry cat litter and tire chains.  These ramps can become solid ice and it is rather embarrassing if you can't drive back up the ramp, even worse if you are slipping backward.


(2)  When you pull the trailer out of the water, stop at the waters edge and let it drain out so the ramp does not become an ice skating rink.   Dripping water for 50 feet up the ramp will not make you lots of friends.

(3)   If there is ice on the water (You can break thru some) back down SLOW so you don't tear the tail lights off.

(4)  Pay attention to the tides.   If it's near high tide, there is a real good chance that there is ice under water where it meets the ramp.  If you get out to unhook the winch you may be standing on ice that is under water.  Sore tail bones, soaking wet and cold are not a great way to start the day.


(5)  Sometimes even with it not during freezing weather, but the ramp is covered with slimy silt, tire chains can save the day.



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Originated 06-02-2015, Last updated 12-22-2017
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