Don’t be a ramp hog — boat launch etiquette

Published 6:41 pm Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ever meet the ramp hog? A ramp hog is that person completely unprepared to launch their boat when they splash the trailer. They prepare their boat with the boat on the trailer and tow vehicle in the launch ramp.

Lead by example; prepare your boat either to one side of the drive or in the trailer parking lot.

Ever returned to the dock to retrieve a cooler or bait bucket or gotten that sinking feeling — no drain plug? I created a checklist that became my standard pre-launch routine.

– If the boat has a mooring cover, I found folding it lengthwise first then folding stern to bow made recovering simple.

– The lot and drive should have no overhead power lines but check before raising your antennas then check radio operation. Also prepare outriggers for deployment once on the water.

– If your boat has an IO, run it down and up to guarantee it works before launch. Check the bilge blower and bilge pumps plus all fluid levels one last time.

– Load coolers, fishing tackle, bait, food and drinks along with other gear now so they’re not lost at the ramp or dock.

– Remove the rear tie downs, leaving the front safety chain and winch line attached.

– Either the first or last step on you checklist, install the drain plug. Keeping the plug on the winch handle or boat ignition key guaranteed I always installed the plug before launch.

The time invested in boat prep also lets the trailer’s wheel bearings cool before dunking in cool water. Rapid cooling sucks water into the bearings. For their protection, your trailer wheel hubs have caps that seal out water, Bearing Buddies.

Checklist complete, you’re prepared to launch your boat quickly. No ramp hog here.

At the ramp, secure a line to either the bow or mid cleat with a person holding the loose end. This person controls the boat when it floats free. In high wind, secure a line to each the bow and mid cleats asking another boater to help hold a line. The mid-cleat line helps in pulling the boat forward, backward or sideways into the dock.

Unhook the trailer’s power to prevent shorting the trailer lights (electric brakes). Remove the safety chain or line. Using last month’s article on trailer backing technique, hand on the bottom of the steering wheel, back the trailer into the water.

With the trailer in the water, a driver exiting the tow vehicle should ALWAYS put the vehicle in park AND set the parking brake. Remember me sharing watching trailers and tow vehicles become submarines, disappearing under the water. The cause: No parking brake or drivers leaving the transmission in neutral.

Some prefer unhooking the winch line, letting the boat float free. Others play out the winch line, sliding the boat off the trailer. The choice depends on ramp slope and wind conditions. Again, a person should always control the boat with the loose end of the line secured to the boat.

Before pulling out, secure or reel in the winch line.

Once the boat is completely clear of the trailer, pull out, proceeding directly to the parking area. Secure the trailer to the tow vehicle with a lock or security wire or chain. There’s nothing worse than returning from a day on the water to find no trailer.

Ramp etiquette for retrieving your boat is simply reversing the checklist and routine. Again, no ramp hogs here.

The local Pamlico Sail & Power Squadron is offering two seminars and the America’s Boating Course in May. For more information on those opportunities email We also invite you to go to our website

Biff Matthews represents Pamlico Sail and Power Squadron.