If you’re anything like me and most boaties I know, you’ve enjoyed being a part of an audience down at your local boat ramp, watching as boats are being launched and retrieved. This is one of those activities which can attract a great deal of interest, from both boat owners and spectators alike. So here I’ve put together some tips to help make your next time using your local ramp easier and stress free, and although I do secretly enjoy the entertainment, to help you to not be the subject of an audience for which you’d rather not be!
Tip 1: Check that your tow vehicle is up for the task
For those who’ve never trailered a boat before, and for the experienced boat tower alike, there are a couple of important things you need to check with regards to the towing capacity of your vehicle, including how much weight your car can tow, and the maximum ball weight it can handle. All vehicles with a towbar should have a capacity sticker on the inside of the driver’s door frame. Failing that, you can find the information in your vehicle owner’s manual. If you don’t already know the weight of the boat and trailer you will be towing, you will find that all modern trailers have a builder’s plate on the chassis. Here you can find the ATM (or total including the boat) weight of the trailer. The ball weight, on the other hand, will need to be checked at a weigh station, or you can purchase a scale specifically for this purpose from your local Repco or car parts store.
Tip 2: Have a plan
A few weeks ago now, we celebrated Australia Day. The weather was great, which meant boaties were queuing at the local ramp from 5am! Cars and boats everywhere. Days like this, in particular, are ones where knowing what you’re doing, and the right way to do it, will go a long way in avoiding the chance of you or a fellow boatie getting hot under the collar.
Start by planning the process, using the steps below as a start.
A) Check your boat and equipment before you leave home, ensuring all controls and radios are working. Check batteries and make sure you have enough fuel. Ensure fenders and ropes are in the boat and in good condition etc.
B) When you arrive at the ramp, pull up behind the last boat in the preparation bay, or if there are places in front, pull up in front so as to leave room for others.
C) In the preparation bay, use a system of starting at the front of the trailer, then work your way around in a clockwise direction. At the front of the trailer, loosen the strap a little, and ensure the shackles are not too tight to undo. Then head towards the back, remove the strap at the stern of the boat, put in the bungs, release the outboard towing latch, then get in the boat. Ensure the batteries are unisolated and if there’s a pontoon to put the boat on while you park the car, tie the fenders in position, get out the ropes and attach them to tie off points on the boat. Get out of the boat, and take another walk around to ensure that nothing has been missed.
DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!! Nothing shortens tempers like someone who drives onto the apron of the ramp and then proceeds to do all those little jobs which should have been done in the prep bay, like undoing the straps.
D) Take note of which direction the wind is blowing and which way the current (tide) is moving. Use the wind and tide to your advantage if you can, by launching on the upwind side of the beach or pontoon, (whatever it is) and you will find the wind and tide will help you. If you haven’t used the ramp before, or if it’s been a while, it’s a good practice to walk down to the ramp first for a look, looking for any features such as a drop off or silt build up at the end of the ramp.
E) Before setting up to reverse down the ramp, turn off the radio and put the windows down, you want to be able to hear if somebody calls out to you.
F) Before jumping out of the car to launch the boat, turn off the engine if you drive a manual, and put it in gear with the park brake on.
G) Roll the boat off the trailer and where you have the luxury of a pontoon, tie it off at the back of the pontoon in order to leave room for others to launch.
H) With the boat off the trailer there are two jobs to do: move the boat off the ramp as quickly as possible; and park the car.
Many people forget 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.
I) Remember to smile! If you’re going to have fun and enjoy your day, you’ve just gotta smile! This simple step will go a long way in helping you and those around you to enjoy the day.
Clear communication with your crew, and ensuring that you have a plan and that everyone knows what to do, and when to do it, will really help to make things go smoothly also.
Plan, Check, Communicate and Practice (PCCP) are keys to successful to ‘stress free’ boating launching and retrieval.
Tip 3: Practice!
The old saying “practice makes perfect” is true for many things we do. Think about it – when you started learning to drive, how long did it take to master a reverse park? Nowadays, after having driven a car for a few years, you can probably almost do it first go every go, and boating is definitely no exception here. Like with driving a car, there are a number of skills involved, which when learned, will make the whole experience a great deal easier. Unfortunately many boaties never take the time to learn, and as a result they have an audience at the boat ramp, and what should be a relaxing, fun day on the water, often turns into a stressful and artery hardening experience.
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. Remember, if you’re fortunate enough to have one, take your regular boating crew with you to assist – be it the kids, your partner and/or your boating buddies, learning together will make the exercise more enjoyable and much easier.
Tip 4: Team Work
Most groups who go boating or fish together soon operate as a team to speed up the launching process, with the car driver often doing little more than pushing the boat off the trailer, and the crew knowing automatically to pull the boat to the side of the ramp. Obviously, having the same crew is an ideal situation, but in cases where you don’t have this luxury, (or even when you do), it is the role of the skipper to give clear instructions to his or her crew. Make sure everyone understands what you need them to do BEFORE you start doing it!
Tip 5: Get out of there!
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 mishaps can happen during this little manoeuvre.
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 per the standing COLREGS (collision regulations). Keep an eye out for fishing lines in the water from the land-based fisho’s, who are often found fishing on the boat ramp jetties, as fishing line wrapped around propellers (braid in particular) will damage the prop shaft seal (an expensive fix!)
Remember to keep the revs down – people blasting away from boat ramp areas cause danger, annoyance and damage to other boats and facilities. Once well clear of the launch area and with a warmed up engine, you can move away at an appropriate speed.
Tip 6: Follow the plan till the end!
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 tired, screaming kids, a little alcohol and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a potential conflict. Avoiding being a part of this is again easy, if you follow a procedure and you take the time to prepare.
For a start, approach the ramp at a slow speed. Congested areas and fast driving can be dangerous, but worse than that, it’s discourteous and disturbing for others. As mentioned earlier, your wash can do damage to other boats, tow vehicles and trailers, causing unnecessary aggravation. So approaching fast is about the worst way to start!
Whilst it may seem simple knowing which boat arrived beforehand, 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 poor observation and a lack of manners. If someone does push in, in front of you, there’s no value in getting angry about it, however there may be ways in which you can convey 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 the process is, just 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 where possible. Even for the most experienced of us, it is not always easy to get the timing exactly right, but you can give yourself a good chance with good communication with your crew, and the other boaties around you.
Once it’s your turn, don’t muck about, reverse down the ramp and put the boat on the trailer. Secure the vessel with the winch strap and safety chain, and drive off the ramp as efficiently as possible, don’t try removing bungs and putting the tow straps on till you’re well out of the way of others who may want to use the ramp.
Check your vehicle – make sure it’s up to the task.
Plan your activity. Communicate with your crew (kids, partner and buddies) and practice the plan when there’s no one around.
Never assume anything about the ramp in a new destination. Always inspect it first.
Don’t waste time on the ramp! Get in and get out, as fast and efficiently as possible.
Always be conscious of SAFETY for yourself and others. Keep your kids out of the way and watch for other people’s kids and crew while manoeuvring. Tread carefully on the ramp, particularly at low tide, always wear something on your feet. Boat ramps can have all sorts of nasty stuff on them, stonefish, as an example, come to mind.
Smiling and being courteous to others will not only help you create a good mindset but it’s infectious, a song by Louis Armstrong comes to mind, “when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you!” So, DO IT!!
Stay happy and Safe Boating.