He gets some fresh air and the best slapstick comedy show in town

By Mike Milne

On fine summer days when he has to work, a boating friend of mine often takes his bag lunch to a busy local launch ramp. He gets some fresh air and the best slapstick comedy show in town, watching flustered and incompetent boaters. But frustration at a crowded ramp can quickly turn to anger and boaters may cross the line from comedy to drama.

Although trailer boaters need knowledge and experience to competently launch their boats, they should also practice good etiquette to help avoid ramp rage. Get to know your boat, trailer and tow vehicle well (practising launches on quiet days if necessary). Also get to know the ramp you are using. It’s best to have help, but make sure your crew knows his or her role. Explain calmly and never shout.

Before launching, park and take a close look at the ramp and launch setup. Ask locals or the attendant about any obstructions or other concerns; check wind or currents. If it’s a multi-lane ramp, ask if lanes are designated as launch or retrieval lanes.

Before heading to the ramp, remove the boat cover, replace the drain plug, remove tie-downs, and turn on the main power switch to check battery strength, oil and fuel levels. Load as much gear as possible into the boat even if it means dropping the boarding ladder. Choose a lane so you can rig your lines and fenders accordingly. The idea is to take as little time as possible on the ramp and at the launch dock.

Now it’s time to relax. If you are well-prepared, there’s no reason to rush or get flustered, even if someone behind you is becoming impatient. If boaters behind you are also well-prepared, competent and polite, they will understand you are launching as quickly as possible. If the boater ahead or behind you is a jerk, smile and shrug it off. No reason to ruin your day.

If there’s a prep or waiting zone above the ramp, head there and wait your turn. If you’re ready and headed for the ramp (leaving room for the boater on the ramp to pull out), see if they need help.

Again, relax and stay calm; your turn is coming. When it does, back down and stop at the water’s edge to unhook the boat and hand your crew the bow line. Ideally, you will launch the boat neatly alongside a ramp dock and your crew will move it to the offshore end, making room for another boater to launch.

Depending on current, wind or weather you may want to tie up and load heavy or last-minute gear. Your crew can start the boat’s engine while you park the empty rig, returning as quickly as possible to head out on the water.

Returning at the end of the day, watch for other boaters idling in the ramp area, waiting to haul out. Take your turn. If a boater is lingering at the dock, ask politely if they are headed out. When your lane and dock are clear, tie up at the inshore end of the launch dock, leave your crew and retrieve your parked rig. Take the time you need to back down and load your boat carefully, but don’t dawdle. Finish unloading, cleaning, wiping down, tying down and putting on the cover in the parking lot.

If you’ve had a great day on the water, you will still be relaxed and ready to go boating another day.

This article is featured in the Spring 2013 issue of Boats&Places.