How To Launch A Boat

For a first-time boat owner, few things are as intimidating as launching your boat. You’ve got to back up to the launch and unload while more experienced boaters are watching — and waiting.

But launching your boat doesn’t have to be a painful experience. With practice, preparation, and good technique, it’s actually quite easy. Here’s how to launch your boat.

Practice Makes Perfect

Under ideal circumstances, launching your boat should go as smoothly as any other traffic maneuver. But if you’re like a lot of people, you’ve never backed up a trailer. Even without an audience, this can be understandably nerve-wracking.

To make your boat launch smoothly, practice reversing your trailer first. An empty parking lot is a good place for this, especially if you can get your hands on some traffic cones.

Once you’re confident in your reversing skills, you won’t have to worry about jackknifing or understeering. Now, you’re ready for the real thing.

Prepare Your Boat And Trailer

Launching a boat is as much about finesse as it is about the actual mechanics of the launch. Depending on your area, the season, and the time of day, a boat launch can be a pretty busy place. When it’s your turn to launch, it’s polite to get on and off the ramp as quickly as possible.

In order to do so, you need to have your boat ready to go. Before you line up for the launch, pull over and make sure that everything is ready to go.

First, transfer your supplies from your truck to your boat. This may include rods and tackle, coolers, flotation devices, and any other gear you will need for your day on the water. Take your time, and stow your equipment correctly. You don’t need everything sliding around while you’re back into the water.

You should check the battery to make sure it’s connected and double-check your fuel tank. You should also be able to start the motor as soon as it’s in the water.

Insert the key in the ignition, and turn it to the “start” position. This is to make sure the lights come on and to check that the battery isn’t dead before you’re actually off the trailer. But you shouldn’t start the engine at this point. Boat engines are designed to run in the water and can overheat when run dry.

Attach any fenders and dock lines you may need. At the very least, attach a bow and stern line. At the same time, remove all tie-downs and other securing straps, except for the bow winch and safety chain.

Finally, make sure the drain plug is inserted. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself taking on water just as your boat starts to float.

Launch Your Boat

With your boat ready to go, get in line, and wait for your turn. When the time comes, back straight down the ramp until the trailer wheels touch the edge of the water. This will be easier if you have a companion. Otherwise, you’ll have to get out and check for yourself.

At this point, the back of your boat should already be floating. If it’s not, inch backward a little bit at a time, but be careful not to submerge your drive wheels. If you do, your vehicle could end up getting stuck on the launch.

Once the boat begins floating, slowly release the winch until the motor is submerged. Again, this is another step that’s easier with two people.

Start the motor to make sure it turns over, and let it warm up while you finish launching. With that done, release the safety chain and the winch connection. The boat should now be able to float away. If it doesn’t, you may need to tug the bow and stern lines to work it free.

From there, you can have the other person pull the lines and walk the boat to a dock or pier while you park. From there, you’ll be ready to embark on the water.

We mentioned a few times that launching is much easier with help. If you’re by yourself at a busy ramp, ask some fellow boaters to give you a hand. Boaters are a friendly community, and most people will be happy to help. Besides, if they’re behind you in line, it’s in their interest to get you unloaded as efficiently as possible.

Retrieving Your Boat From The Water

Retrieving your boat is more or less the same process but in reverse. First, dock your boat nearby, and secure any gear inside or carry it to your vehicle. Now, get your truck and wait in line.

When it’s your turn, send a helper to get your boat while you back the trailer into the water. Ideally, the trailer should be backed about two-thirds of the way in, so the rollers are submerged. If at all possible, keep your truck’s wheels on dry land.

Walk or drive your boat carefully up to the trailer. Remember, you don’t want to speed up your vehicle, or you may not be able to stop. Attach the winch line, shut off your boat’s engine if it’s still running, and tilt it up.

Use the winch to crank the boat up and out of the water. Make sure no one is standing behind the boat when you’re doing this. If the line breaks, it could drop the boat right onto them.

Once you have pulled the boat all the way forward, drive forward a few feet, park, and attach the safety chain. Now, drive clear and finish securing your boat to the trailer.

Before you leave, pull the drain plug, pump out your bilge, and remove any live bait or other perishables. This is also a good time to double-check that you’ve stowed or removed the rest of your gear.

Congratulations! You’ve successfully launched and retrieved your boat.