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Boat Launch Etiquette

By Mark Romanack with Captain Terry Kunnen

Even a big rig like this can be launched and loaded quickly with
a little practice.
The art of launching and loading a fishing boat may seem simple, but based on the number of disasters I witness every year, a good number of us could benefit by boning up on our boat launch etiquette! When everyone who visits a boat launch follows these simple “rules of the road” the process of getting in and out of the water becomes far less stressful. After all, fishing is supposed to be fun and no one wants to start or end their day on a sour note.

When you pull up to a boat launching facility have your launch fee ready to go. If you have the exact change the process goes much faster and allows the attendant to serve more anglers in less time.

One of the biggest problems at boat launches is anglers show up on the ramp without having their gear or boat ready for launch. Most launches have designated prep areas that are designed to provide an opportunity for removing the travel cover, loading coolers and fishing gear into the boat, removing the trailer straps, installing navigation lights, etc. Having these steps taken care of before the boat hits the ramp will make the process of launching much faster and free up the launch for other anglers as fast as possible.

On the ramps that don’t have these pre-launch prep sites, drive around to the trailer parking area and get the gear and boat ready for the water. When the boat is water ready, drive around and loop and launch the boat. This simple step speeds up the launching process and prevents other anglers from getting frustrated.

A boat launch can be an intimidating place for those who don’t have a
lot of experience backing up boats and boat trailers. A little patience goes
 a long ways and also doing the little things to make sure the launch
sequence goes smoothly is important towards keeping the peace!
Depending on your trailer type the ratchet strap that attaches the bow of the boat to the trailer will need to be on or it can be removed before backing down into the launch ramp. For roller style trailers keep the strap attached to the bow eye until the boat is in the water. For bunk style trailers it’s okay to unhook the ratchet strap when prepping the boat. 

The one exception to this rule is when fishing in freezing conditions. The bunks of a fishing boat trailer can easily glaze over with ice and allow the boat to slip off the bunks if the ratchet strap isn’t firmly in place. In freezing conditions it’s always a good idea to leave the ratchet strap in place until the boat is floating.

After most anglers launch their boat they tie their boat to the dock and wait for their partners to park the vehicle and walk back to the ramp. This process often takes several minutes and prevents other fishermen from launching. Toss in a bathroom break and pretty quick you have folks pulling out their hair on the launch pad!

After launching, pull your boat away from the dock a short distance and simply idle in the channel while waiting for your partners to return from the parking lot. This frees up the launch for other anglers to put their boats in the water and greatly speeds up the flow of traffic.

When your partners show up at the dock, simply idle in, pick them up and head out for a great day on the water.

The author has seen it all when it comes to boat launches and the things
 happen. From boats falling off trailers to fist fights, if you hang around a
boat launch long enough there is no telling what might happen!
At the end of the day when it’s time to load the boat, idle up to the dock and drop off someone to go and get the vehicle and trailer. In the meantime, pull back away from the dock so other anglers can do the same process.

Tying up the dock while waiting for a partner to fetch the vehicle is a waste of time and an inconvenience to other fishermen or boaters who want to use the ramp. Some ramps have designated launching and loading lanes, but the majority of public access sites require boaters to both launch and load from the same dock.

Power loading or the process of completely powering your boat up onto the trailer is illegal at most public access sites. While power loading is frowned upon, that doesn’t mean you can’t use the outboard to get the boat started onto the trailer. Simply idle the boat onto the trailer until the hull contacts the bunks. If the trailer is backed into the water far enough that the bunks are mostly submerged, the boat should easily slide onto the bunks and only need to be ratcheted up a foot or so.

Walking the boat up to the submerged trailer takes far more time and ties up the launch needlessly. This process requires the ratchet strap to be pulled out most of the way and it takes considerable time to hook up to the boat eye and reel in all the ratchet strap. 

For those who are experienced at backing up a boat and using public access sites, don’t hesitate to offer a friendly helping hand to those who simply don’t have those acquired skill sets or experience. Kindness and the willingness to help others goes a long ways towards keeping boat launches both friendly and productive places. 

These simple boat launching and loading rules of etiquette will go a long ways towards making fishing fun and taking stress out of the equation.