Like me, I bet we all love to watch boats being launched and retrieved at your local boat ramp! This is still one of those activities that attracts much interest both with boat owners and spectators alike. So here’s my TIPS for making your time at the local boat ramp pleasant and not a chore for you or your entire family!
Boating offers many dimensions to the sense of freedom; you can tow a boat to different bodies of water all over the country (your choices are endless). This is just one of the many reasons boating is so popular. With a trailerable boat you’re free to boat just about anywhere: lakes, rivers, bays or inlets. Trailering is a great way to explore different waterways in your state or region. Using a boat trailer is also the most affordable way to store a boat.
Starts with the Car
If you’ve never trailered a boat, there are several things you need to consider. First is the towing capacity of your car, truck or SUV. You can find this information in your vehicle owner’s manual. Generally, small family sedans are not suitable for towing. However a small, aluminium Tinnie may not present a problem provided you have appropriate towing equipment installed on your car.
A basic guide to vehicle towing capacity:
- Sedans e.g. Commodore or Falcons: up to 1,600kg
- 4×4 (medium size) e.g. X3, Q5, CRV, Murano, Pathfinder: up to 2,400kg
- 4×4 (large size) e.g. X5 (some models), Q7, Landcruiser, Prado, Discovery or Patrol: up to 3,500kg
Warning: Please consult your vehicle owner’s manual for limitations and your local registration authority to find out what’s applicable to your state or territory. Also consult your towbar supplier or fitter, to find the best match for your car and for your budget. Towbars, fittings and braking systems can be expensive.
Regulations YES Regulations
‘Towing regulations are a state- or territory-based law. So if you’re towing outside your state or territory border, then please check before you leave home as to the destination’s towing requirements. The rules aren’t the same for each state or territory and sadly ignorance is no excuse.
No trailer is permitted on Australian roads unless it complies with the Australian Design Rule (ADR) compliance. Trailers must be compliant in the areas of identification plates, capacity ratings, couplings, safety chains, lighting, winches, brakes, and state registration.
Plan, Communicate, Practice
Practice makes perfect, this applies to boating as well.
Last week during Melbourne’s early taste of hot springtime weather right in the peak of the snapper season, boaties were already queuing at ramps and some “getting hot under the collar” having to wait sixty minutes to launch their boat at the local ramp.
On lookers said that they have heard stories of ramp rage incidents with some boat owners frustrations boiling over.
So here’s the drum, go and practice at your local boat ramp when there’s no one around, perhaps of an evening or when it’s quiet. Please take your regular boating crew with you to assist, be it the kids, your partner and/or your boating buddies. More hands on deck make for light work!
Plan your process and be sure to study the ramp for tidal movements, wind direction, traffic flow, water depth and slippery hazard spots that you might avoid during the heat of the day, on that perfect day when you and everyone else who owns a boat seems to want to use that boat ramp at the same time.
Don’t forget, that if the day is perfect for you to go boating, then chances are – it’s also perfect for other boat owners too. When you get an audience at the boat ramp with all eyes seemed glaring at you, then the pressure is on and can be a very testing for even the most seasoned and experienced boat owners.
Communicate with your crew, ensure that you have a plan and everyone knows what to do and when to do it! Have your bow-line ready and be prepared to use it. It will be your friend and make your life life easier.
Practice launching, retrieving and backing the car down the ramp with your boat aboard. Once that’s down pat, then practice again…
Plan, Communicate and Practice is the key to successful to ‘stress free’ boating launching and retrieval.
Are you ready?
The first and most important that you do not go near the ramp until your boat is ready to launch. Nothing shortens tempers like someone who drives onto the apron of the ramp and then proceeds to do all those little jobs like undo straps, and putting bungs in while everyone else waits. For some reason owners I’ve seen sailors that are particularly prone to this habit, however our powerboats brothers and sisters can be just as bad. Whether these people realise it or not they’re often causing relationship meltdowns with other ramp-users.
The correct procedure is to do ALL these preparations in the parking area AWAY from the ramp.
Alternatively you can do a lot of this work while you’re queuing for the ramp on busy days. But you should NEVER be doing these jobs on the operational area of the ramp itself. If you do run into some hitch while you’re in the queue tell the next boat owner behind you to go on ahead of you.
If you’re new to the ramp always check it out before launching. Pull up the car away from the ramp and walk over to check the water depth, the flow of the tide and any slippery hazard areas.
Right place, Right time
We assume you’ve already prepared the boat and everything is ready to go. Now it’s your turn to launch.
First move onto the apron and reverse down the ramp. If the ramp has marked lanes, stay within them, otherwise make sure you leave enough room for other boats if the ramp is wide enough for more than one, or two boats.
Stay to the right, or left hand side so another vessel can launch at the same time. Basically don’t hog space more than is necessary. Also check the car’s handbrake is on and in gear (or park) before you get out.
There are many ways to get a boat off a trailer:
- Most rigs are reversed into the desired spot of water depth. The towing eye and safety chain are disconnected and the boat is pushed, or just slides into the water.
- Some larger craft are ‘shunt’ launched using either reverse gear, or downhill momentum with a stab on the brakes to roll the boat into the water.
In some situations the boat might be positioned in the water and then someone aboard the boat starts the engine and reverses the craft off the trailer. Most small craft are just pushed off the trailer and are controlled by using a bow-line once the boat is in the water (I told you the bow-line will be your friend). For anyone new to boating the key is to ensure there’s enough water to float the boat off the back of the trailer. Learning this depth does comes very quickly with general boating experience.
With the boat off the trailer there are two jobs to do:
- Move the boat off the ramp as quick as possible
- Park the car.
Many people confuse this point and leave their family or fishing group holding the boat in the launching area while they park the car and walk back. Make sure the boat is moved onto the sand, or jetty or whatever, straight after launching.
This is just good manners.
In a few places, the very construction of the ramp may hinder this but mostly it’s possible to take the launched boat away from the main working portion of the ramp. Once the boat is out of the way park the car and trailer. Always park the car out of the way of the turning circle of the apron of the boat ramp.
This rule applies particularly to early morning anglers who may find a deserted ramp in the wee small hours and they park their car close to the ramp only to hinder everyone else who uses the place for the rest of the day.
Most groups who go boating or fish together soon operate as a team to speed the launching process. With the car driver often doing little more then pushing the boat off the trailer and the crew knowing automatically to pull the boat to the side of the ramp. With the boat in the water and the car parked there is little to do but exit the area and enjoy the day. Always look behind your vessel when reversing out, I know it sounds logical but lots of bumps happen during this little maneuver.
The next step is to idle away from the ramp area…
Always do this positively, but slowly. If there is a channel, keep to the right hand side as required by the rules of safe navigation. Make sure there are no fishing lines in the water from the land-based fisho’s often found fishing on the boat ramps jetties as you don’t’ want to entangle those lines around your prop!
Even in areas without a defined channel staying to the right makes good sense. Keep the revs down, people blasting away from boat ramp areas cause clanger, annoyance and wash to other boat owners. Once well clear of the launch area and with a warmed up engine you can move away at an appropriate traveling speed. Remember to also observe speed signs on the shore. In some places 4 knot and 8 knot, and No-Wash zones extend for quite big distances. A good guide is that if you are motoring in your boat faster than a walking pace, then your going too fast, speed creates a wash or wake and this also play havoc to everyone else around you. So play nicely and make friends.
Remember to sing out to your neighbour and ask for assistance if things get tricky, because you will get help if you ask!
The end of a long hot day can be the time when things can really get hectic at the ramp. Add a few tired people, some screaming kids, a little alcohol and you’ve got the recipe for potential conflict. Avoiding being involved in this sort of nonsense is always a good idea, especially if you want to continue to enjoy your trailer boating.
Always approach the ramp at slow speed, it can be a congested area and fast driving can be both dangerous and disturbing for others. Your wash can also bash other boats into the concrete or trailers causing unnecessary aggravation to all. Personal watercraft users should note the above as many seem to work in and out of boat ramps at unnecessarily high speeds. Ramps with a bit of sandy beach allow people to queue in order of arrival, but ramps with concrete all around can make queuing difficult.
While most of us seem to know which boat arrived before us, some people seem to have problems with this. Sometimes this can be an honest mistake but other times it is just a case of their gross ignorance and lack of manners. Unprintable words spring to mind, but they’re not suitable for this magazine. If someone does push in ahead of you there’s little value in getting angry about it, however there is often ways in which we can convey our disapproval. Problems often happen when boats have to stand off the ramp waiting their turn. If you are not sure whether to queue or not, or what’s the process, then simply ask!
With the boat in a queue it’s just as likely the car will need to be in a queue and be ready to come down the ramp when it’s your turn. Be ready for this and have the boat and car in place at the appropriate time. Admittedly it’s not always easy to get this timing exactly right and again you need to educate your regular crew to help with the job. If you are operating alone you can only do so much.
Once it’s your turn don’t muck about, reverse down the ramp and put the boat on the trailer. Secure the vessel correctly and move off the ramp and ramp apron to do all tidy ups and tie downs that need doing there. There is a bit of learning skill in all of these processes but basically, either winch the boat onto the trailer or drive it on in the case of larger vessels.
Watching pedants who know everything or nothing (take your pick) gum up the works by mucking around so their precious trailer doesn’t get any seawater on it can cause tension. Others find countless ways to complicate what is a simple job.
Plan, Plan, Plan
The trick is to develop a routine and stick to it. Put the boat safely and accurately onto the trailer and move out of the way. Once out of everyone’s way you can clean and pack to your hearts content without upsetting the system. There are also times when one boat is trying to launch while another wants to go home. This is resolved in the same way as merging traffic, by going one for one.
If one boat is launched, the boat coming out has the next call on the use of the ramp. Local rules, sometimes formalised by signs may apply to some boat ramps. Always take note of these requirements and if in any doubt ask other users of the ramp for advice. Take care when reversing, trailer boats obstruct vision and it is very easy to back into someone. Adjust the mirrors properly and look before you move. In tight spots it’s often wise to get someone to guide you.
The other vital point when working on boat ramps is that they are almost always slippery so don’t walk down the ramp without careful inspection of its lower portion. All boat owners have to understand that some people take time to learn the ropes. New boat owners can help by learning to back their trailers and handle the boat and gear proficiently. People with non standard vessels like trailer-sailors and personal water craft need to ensure they work along with the established system and don’t create unnecessary problems for themselves and others.
If you can help someone with advice do so in an easy manner. If they reject your help, just back off, these sort of people are really their own worst enemy, not yours.
It’s not that hard…
While most of the day to day happenings at boat ramps are fairly minor a few serious things can and do happen. Leaving the hand brake off and the car out of gear will result in both the car and boat going for a swim. No one sets out to do these things deliberately. However cars can slide into the water when shunt launching. It’s caused by the wheels hitting the slippery green stuff at the bottom of the ramp.
- Plan your activity, Communicate with your crew (kids, partner and buddies) and Practice the plan when there’s no one around.
- If traveling, never assume anything about the ramp in a new destination. Always inspect it first.
- Launching in rough country particularly requires some thought before putting the boat onto what passes for a ramp.
- Always think of SAFETY. Keep your kids out of the way and watch for other people’s kids and crew while manoeuvring.
– Don’t let the kids swim around the ramp either. I guess that sounds obvious, but there are plenty of people who allow their kids to do it.
- A few areas with ski areas close to the ramp can also have problems. Skiers should always stay well away from the launching area and shouldn’t tow past the ramp at close range.
- Most of all, apply a bit of care and courtesy to the day, it will help you and others enjoy their boating.
Launching and retrieving a boat should be fast, safe and easy. Let’s all work on keeping it that way.
Safe Boating Always,
Darren Finkelstein – The Boat Guy
Wyndham Harbour Marina Manager
3AW Presenter – Beach N’ Bay report
For more information and many useful tips and tricks, read my bestselling award winning books: