Friday, September 2, 2016


This boat found for sale at LAYMAN BOAT WORKS 

When I was a kid our family had a small motor boat that we moved about on occasion on a trailer. I wasn't old enough to drive the car, but as soon as I finished a Coast Guard Auxiliary boating safety course my Dad would use me as shuttle pilot. The boat wasn't large enough to carry my parents and five siblings plus guests adults and rug rats alike from our summer cottage to my Dad's favorite reachable only by boat beach. So after launching the boat I was the designated pilot for multiple short ferry runs. Once everyone was on the beach Dad became the water sking pilot. Once in the water the boat usually remained in the water for weeks. This was good news for boat operational skills development, but with only a few launches week and never operating the towing vehicle I never developed real trailer skills as a kid..

When I was older and working an aids to navigation maintenance route for the Coast Guard, I had a government issued boat on a trailer to reach my assigned aids. Carrying the boat by trailer to remote launch ramps.launching , navigating my assigned rounds and picking up the boat was a daily task. Learning was pretty much self taught and self paced and didn't happen over night. After I left naval, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine Service I avoided boats on trailers. My first personal boat was kept in a slip and wouldn't fit on a conventional boat trailer. Truth be told however, once you get the hang of it "trailing" a boat isn't that difficult. More over a boat and trailer combination is the boating preference of the majority of recreational boat owners. Don't pass on the recreational boating experience because "trailing" seems like a hassle. For that first boat allow yourself a learning curve. While you can't master "trailing " boat launching skills out of a book, there are some tips that can save you time, effort, discomfort, and expense. Here are some points I learned along the way.


1. Backing A Trailer Is A Bit Like Learning To Use A Tiller. It really doesn't go where you think you are steering it. The basic tendency is for the trailer to go in the opposite direction of where you are turning the wheel. If you have no experience with this, "trailer up" and go to a large empty parking lot, set up a couple of traffic cones to represent the ramp and practice backing your trailer and boat onto the ramp. Maybe try this; grip the tow vehicle's wheel by the bottom with one hand. In reverse the trailer should go in the same direction as your hand. It's not magic however, it takes a while to develop "the knack".   Master this skill while no one else is waiting in line at the launch ramp and save your self a lot of embarrassment, your fellow boaters a lot of waiting, definitely avoid some harsh verbal exchanges, and possibly a fist fight or fatal, or injurious episode of "ramp rage".

2. Apply For A U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Courtesy Inspection At Your Home, Before That First Trip To The Ramp Each Season. You can arrange a courtesy inspection at your home with your boat on its trailer through your local Auxiliary flotilla. Auxiliary inspectors do not issue citations for missing or sub-par equipment, they simply assist you in assuring that your boat's equipment meets minimum regulatory and some Auxiliary recommended standards. If you "fail" such an inspection they will return if asked to reinspect after you have made corrections. Once you pass you are issued a courtesy inspection sticker. When the regular Coast Guard inspectors show up at the ramp, and very often state boating safety authorities as well, they usually waive off those boats with a valid and current courtesy inspection sticker. You avoid the hassle and embarrassment of getting launched and underway only to be "caught" a short time later and find your self back at the launch ramp for a mandatory haul out, your boating day over and maybe a citation in hand.

3. Load Your Boat Before Reaching The Ramp of Everything Except The Passengers: You don't want all of the other boaters waiting to use the launch ramp, waiting on you to carry your play things, fishing gear, safety equipment, etc. from car to boat. Launch ramp manners are simple; launch boat, embark passengers, get car and boat out of the way ASAP.

4. Back Down The Ramp Fully Prepared To Launch: Very Important, Is Your Boat's Drain Plug In and Secure? Typically outboard motor boats have a hole near the bottom all the way to the stern with a plug that you pull out after retrieval from the water to let water that has accumulated from over spray in the bottom out. That plug had better be in when you launch or upon launching your boat starts taking on water and could possibly sink. If it sinks you  have basically taken the ramp out of service for the better part of a day. don't expect any empathy from your fellow boaters behind you in the launch ramp line. Remove all the straps that secure the boat to the trailer known as "tie downs", otherwise you will be wading into the water to do this and taking up a bunch of unnecessary time on the ramp. Have a line attached to the boat and someone tending it so that it doesn't float off the trailer and simply float away sending you swimming after it. Have your fenders deployed on the side where you will bring the boat into the launch ramp pier or dock to embark your passengers. Fail to do any of these steps and you are in for some embarrassment at the least, and a lost boat at the worst, and as always at risk of generating serious ill will among your ramp mates and possibly a fatal incident of ramp rage. Do all this stuff in the parking lot before getting in the launch line.

5. Finally Before Getting In The Launch Line Perform A Walk Around Inspection, Use This As A Check List If Necessary. Don't Get In Line If Not Ready To Launch. Remember so far we still have a second amendment, some of your more irritable launch ramp mates may be armed and drinking. 

6. Before Getting In The Launch Line, Visually Inspect The Ramp Itself: Is the water level too high or low to launch? Is a current that would tend to make launching difficult present? Any hazards to your tires visible in the water? On the ramp with the trailer tires submerged is not the time to make the final launch / don't launch decision. Inspect the dock or pier if there is one along side the ramp. Is it safe to walk on, anything there that could damage your boat? 

7. Disconnect your trailer lights and safety chain before approaching the ramp. No sense shorting out your trailer lights, or losing the lock to your safety chain in the water and again, there is the time element in these necessary steps, when the trailer in the water is not the time to do these things

8. Don't Rush: Doing all of the prep items above is a bit time consuming, your trailer wheel bearings will appreciate the cooling off period from the trip to the ramp. Fail to let your bearings cool and they could seize up on you making it very difficult and time consuming to get your trailer out of the water. Avoid Ramp rage, be ready before approaching the water. Maintain the lubrication of your trailer wheel bearings. Simply washing off your wheels after every launch with fresh water and possibly soap is not enough. Depending on manufacturer's advice it is usually a good idea to grease the wheel bearings after every water immersion. Don't let your car or truck's rear tires go in the water. If you must immerse your rear tires frankly such a launch ramp is not suitable for your rig. You will be at risk of damage to both vehicle and boat.

9. Communicate ! If you have guests / passengers let them know about your launch routine. In inspecting the ramp watch others and ask questions if you are unsure about any aspect of the ramp. Having your vehicle and boat and trailer broken down and obstructing the ramp doesn't earn sympathetic friends, it ignites ramp rage. 

10. Once At The Upper Edge Of The Launch Ramp, Back Down Slowly. Remember the tie downs are off, don't let the combination of gravity and a sudden stop hurl your boat on the ramp before reaching the water. 

11. Once The Boat Is Afloat, Give It Time To Float Clear Of The Trailer Before Coming Ahead With Your Vehicle To Clear The Ramp. 

12. To  Really Look Like A  Ramp Pro Try To Train Some "Launch Coxswains", People you can trust to operate your boat to motor out of the launch area and dock to pick up you and your other guests. This is deeply appreciated by your launch mates as they don't have to wait for you to park your vehicle and return to finish the process and clear the water way at the bottom of the ramp. 


Black truck towing a boat
Image from TRAVELERS (Insurance Co. Web Site) 


1 comment:

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