Filed Under (Boat Docks and Boat Ramps) by Debbie on 08-05-2007

I’ve been boating most of my life and I’m nearly a senior cit…oops…seasoned citizen, so I’ve lots of experience with this waterfull pass time. I’ve launched and loaded my share of boats both large and small from inflatable’s to trailer-boats. Now before you start thinking I’m some guy with a prop to grind, let me say I’m not. I’m a woman in my 50’s and I’m appalled by what I see going on at the ramps. I’ll admit up front this is going to be sexist because it’s definitely a man vs. woman thing. Okay, I know what you’re thinking but hang in there a moment.

Boat ramps are a pet peeve of mine.

My husband and I have boated our entire married lives, 20+ years, wow and they said it wouldn’t last…;o). We’ve launched and loaded on ramps all up and down the west side of the US. It doesn’t matter if it’s lake, river or bay; the ramps are the same, the circus is in town! Kids can be found swimming in the shallow water while boats are coming or going, dogs run loose, and the courtesy loading dock becomes home to the greatest juggling show on earth.  I can’t count the times I’ve seen this scenario:

Truck with boat on trailer swings onto the top of the boat ramp and prepares to back down. Driver begins the knuckled clenching decent towards the water. The boat swings left and right with the driver gallantly catching up, which sometimes requires the driver to stop and pull forward to straighten out, this is repeated as needed until at last the boat is almost in the water.

Then the driver (generally a man) jumps out to unhook the bow, the passenger (generally a woman) gets out and heads to the courtesy loading dock. Man runs back to truck, finishes backing into the water and again jumps out of truck and now wades into the water to the boat. Once there he grabs a line that’s attached to the boat’s cleat, pushes the boat off the trailer and floats said boat to the waiting woman at the dock.

All of this of course goes on while two to three other boaters are trying to launch or load and at the same time those already out on the water are streaking past leaving huge wakes rippling across the water. The woman standing on the generally wake battered and bucking courtesy dock, grabs the rope which she doesn’t tie off and then grabs the side of the boat or the tower, in an attempt to hold the wake thrashing boat away from the rocking and rolling dock, a valiant but futile effort. The man return to the truck, pulls out of the water and zooms off to park for the day.

Now let’s talk about some of what I’ve seen once the truck and trailer are off parking. Here we have a 115-135 pound stressed out woman on a heaving dock, holding on to usually an $80,000 boat that weighs 3,000 pounds (give or take on $ and lbs.) that’s also swinging up and down frantically in the churned up water. There are not enough fenders on the planet to protect this boat!

One boat that comes to mind was a very nice wakeboard boat; we were at Lake Shasta in California. The man had backed into the water and waded out to the boat, climbed in, started the engine and backed off the trailer to the dock just off his port side. He tossed a line from the bow to the woman waiting on the dock. I watched her wrap the line from the boat around the dock cleat but she didn’t tie off. >Man pulls side of boat along the dock, climbs out of the boat and drives truck and trailer to the parking lot.

While he’s gone, boat wakes come in and their boat begins the “dock cha-cha”. The woman looks up towards the parking lot but her man isn’t in view yet. Suddenly, disaster strikes…she looses her grip on the boat tower. The boat “cha-cha-cha’s” away, engine running in neutral, more boats are descending the ramp now and panic begins to set in. She tries to reach the boat with her foot, barely touches it and propelled by fear…takes a flying leap into the boat. Once in the boat she races forward to try to pull the boat back to the dock via the line wrapped around the cleat. Why she didn’t do this from the dock is beyond me but truth is stranger than fiction…yes, this is a true story and it gets even better.

As she’s pulling on the line, it’s unwinding from the cleat and the stern of the boat is starting to swing away from the dock and towards the ramp. Suddenly the line comes clear of the cleat. She glances up the ramp again for her man, who’s still parking. Does she go to the drivers seat, put the boat into reverse and back away from the ramp and dock? No…she dives into the water on the starboard side, rope in hand and tries to walk the boat back! Oh my gosh! The water’s over her head, so now she tries to swim it back. Finally, she gives up and swims with the rope back to the dock, pulling the boat, engine still running, back to the dock. Shortly there after her man is back at the boat where he begins yelling at her as he loads the cooler and they finally take off on to the lake.

I’m sitting in our boat laughing hysterically at the circus act. We have many friends who’ve decided after going out with us, that they too would enjoy family boating. We help them not be part of the circus. Maybe I can help you not be the juggling clown.

My husband and I agree that two things are extremely important when loading and launching. One: each person has a job and no one tells the other how to do their job. This eliminates, some stress, all accusations and more importantly…yelling. Two: women, learn to drive the boat, men be quiet and let them. OR Two: women, learn to back up the boat and trailer and park, men be quiet and let them. For my husband and I, he backs up and I launch and load. We are a quiet and efficient team. Oddly enough, when loading at a very busy ramp, we’ve had people applaud! (Which is really embarrassing…)

So, I’d like to address loading and launching.

Launching is really easy. My husband stops at the top of the ramp or maybe near the water depending on traffic at the ramp. I get into the boat and turn on the blower. We have a V drive, which means an inboard engine that requires potential gas vapors to be blown out of the engine compartment. This is very important as your boat could explode if you don’t use this little fan. At this same time my husband disconnects our trailer lights as they are not waterproof or LED’s. Once the boat is in the water, I start the engine (wait until it’s in the water so you don’t damage the impeller or engine). My husband then releases the bow line, backs more into the water to float the boat and I move the throttle into reverse and back straight off the trailer and away from other boats.

Once I’ve backed away enough to maneuver our boat, I put the throttle in neutral, turn the wheel the direction I want to go and move the throttle just into the forward gear for a moment or two just until the boat begins to move forward, then back to neutral. I wait for the boat to float around a bit. I may go in and out of forward and neutral several times until the boat is facing the direction I want to go. (If you find you’re too close to shore turn the wheel to the center position, do reverse and neutral a few times to swing around more). Then I move slowly away from the circus dock area. I float, engine running to wait for my husband and watch the circus that I’ve escaped from.

Our powerboat is an open bow, which is very nice for us. We’ve owned other boats that require a side pick up but this is the same technique we’ve used with each boat, except for our current sailboat, she’s too big and doesn’t come out of the water. I float in the boat and watch for my husband. When I see him walking down the ramp and nearing the dock I slowly work my way towards the end of the courtesy dock. He stands at the very end waiting for me. As boats don’t have brakes I use reverse as my break.

When I’m about 20 feet from the dock, I power to reverse for a few seconds, not lots of gas but enough to slow the boat. Then I glide in neutral for a second, judge my speed and either reverse or forward to slowly creep up on the dock. My goal is to bring the “nose” of the bow to right in front of my husband without touching the dock. As the boat engine is far more powerful in stopping the boat than my husband is I reverse really firmly if needed to keep from touching the dock. As I “nose up” my husband steps down into the boat. Once he’s in and holding on to something, I power up in reverse to back away and then repeat the turn around and head out to the water. We are not part of the circus!

Yes, our friends have had some stress learning this technique. The boat handler (usually the women) say it’s pretty scary the first time. After a few times of doing this however, it becomes second nature…like getting out of the truck.

Loading the boat at the end of the day is similar to picking up my husband. I again, “nose” up to the end of the courtesy dock only this time my husband steps off the boat onto the dock. I back away to float far from the circus. When I see him backing the trailer down the ramp I begin to move slowly towards the ramp.

His job is to back the trailer as straight into the water as he can. It’s important for the driver to look at how deep the trailer is when the back of the boat is able to float but the front is still on the trailer. If the driver doesn’t learn this important depth then it’s really hard for the boat loader to center the boat on the trailer. Our trailer needs to have the water one half way up the fenders that covers the tires. Too deep, I can’t get the front to line up and too shallow, I can’t get the boat on.

I want to line up with the trailer so I can pretty much drive straight onto it. I have spent a little time looking at the navigation light on the bow and exactly where it lines up with the top of our trailer. I use this to help guide me to onto the trailer. You need to look at the type of trailer you have. Some are “e-z loaders” with rollers, which gives you tons of help in loading. Ours is a “bunk” type, meaning flat boards covered with carpeting to drive up on. On my approach I try to line up the navigation light on the bow with the space between the bunks. I again use reverse to slow myself. I try to only reverse when steering straight and then correct angle/approach with forward.

Remember, you want to sneak up on the trailer. No one has a stopwatch, there’s no ribbons or trophies given for speed. Let the boat float, if you slightly miss the rollers or bunks you may find the boat corrects its self. Once you are straight and centered on the trailer, gently power forward. As long as the stern (back of the boat) is not floating all over and the bow (front of boat) is on the trailer, you don’t have to worry you’ll drive off the trailer. Give her a bit of gas and power up the trailer, remember neutral is your friend. Once you’ve brought the bow all the way forward, the truck’s driver can hook the winch up and if needed crank the rest of the way. Be sure to turn off engine before leaving the water. Our current trailer has its own ‘lock’ and my husband only clips the winch strap once I trip the lock.

Stay in the boat as the truck pulls the boat out of the water and away from the circus. Find an empty parking spot and stop. You can plug in your trailer lights, unload coolers, wipe down the boat, walk the dog or even take a moment to laugh at the circus, because we all know…there’s a funny ‘cha-cha’ on the ramp.

So there you have how to launch and load a boat 101.  If you would like to read about maintaining that trailer you can find more information on the subject here.  Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.

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