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Boating Basics: At the Ramp

How to easily launch and load your boat.

Boating Basics: At the Ramp

If you are new to boating, the “Boating Basics” series of videos from Mercury Marine provides an engaging, educational guide to our favorite pastime that will help you gain confidence on the water. Even if you are an experienced boater, you might pick up a few tips!

Boat ramps are busy places, especially on weekends. Your goal when you get there is to be careful and thorough, but relatively quick, so you won’t hold up other people waiting to launch their own boats.

The first step toward achieving this is to load your boat with everything you need for the day on the water when you are still at home. Then, when you get to the staging area at the boat ramp, bring a checklist to go through so you won’t miss a step. Here are the essential tasks.

Get Your Boat Ready to Launch

First, don’t forget to insert the drain plug at the transom of the boat. Not doing so is a common mistake that can lead to wet feet or worse when you are out on the water! Detach the transom straps from the boat and trailer. If your boat’s engine has a trailering support bracket, remove it.

Next, board your boat and turn on the battery switch. If your boat is equipped with a sterndrive or inboard engine, run the bilge blower for four minutes to ensure there are no fumes in the engine compartment.

Finish by attaching docklines to the bow and stern cleats on the side of the boat you intend to put up against the courtesy dock when you launch. Leave the winch strap and safety chain at the bow of the boat securely attached. Then, if your tow vehicle has four-wheel drive, engage it. 

Before towing your boat over to the ramp, run down your pre-launch checklist one more time:

  1. Drain plug inserted
  2. Transom straps removed
  3. Support bracket/trailering clips removed
  4. Boat batteries turned on
  5. Docklines ready
  6. Winch strap and safety chain still attached
  7. 4WD engaged in tow vehicle (if equipped)

How to Launch the Boat with a Partner

Ideally, you will have an experienced boater along as part of your crew. If so, ask him or her to get into the boat and be ready at the helm.

As you back down the ramp, stay close to the courtesy dock and check your rearview mirrors often. When the stern of the boat starts to float but the bow is still supported by the trailer, shift into park, engage the emergency brake and walk back to your boat. Unhook the winch strap and safety chain from the bow.

The person in the boat can now tilt the engine until the water intake is fully submerged then start the engine. To launch the boat, all the person at the helm needs to do is bump it into reverse, then give it a little throttle. The boat should slide right off the trailer. If not, back your tow vehicle a bit farther down the ramp.

If your companion is not experienced enough to drive the boat, there are other methods you can use to launch it. Ask your partner to go to the courtesy dock and take hold of the boat’s docklines. Once you undo the winch strap and safety chain from the bow, he or she can walk along the dock, using the lines to pull the boat free of the trailer, then steer it over to the dock and tie it up. Meanwhile, you can drive your rig to the parking lot (making sure to release the emergency brake), then rejoin your companion on the boat and start it up.

How to Launch Your Boat Solo

If you are launching the boat by yourself, follow a similar procedure. You can use the docklines to pull the boat off the trailer. Or, on many boats, you can climb over the bow into the boat or board from the courtesy dock – then drive it off the trailer. If you’re unsure of how to do this process alone, you can ask your Mercury Authorized Dealer for some advice.

Loading the Boat

At the end of your day on the water, you can load your boat onto your trailer by pretty much reversing the same process. Either tie off the boat at the dock while you retrieve the trailer or have your companion drop you off at the dock and remain in the boat in an area clear of the ramp.

When the trailer is in the water, set the parking brake. Then the person in the boat should center the bow of the boat behind the trailer and drive straight it up. If you don’t line the boat correctly with the trailer the first time, don’t worry. Just bump the boat into reverse, get back into position behind the trailer and try again. Once you have the boat centered on the trailer, you may need to give the engine some throttle to get your boat all the way up to the bow stop.

Once the boat is on the trailer, turn off the engine and tilt it up so it will clear the ramp. Go to the trailer tongue, hook the winch strap to the bow eye and winch your boat until it is snug against the bow stop. Next, hook the safety chain to the bow eye. Get back into your tow vehicle, disengage the emergency brake and drive your boat back up the ramp to the staging area.

Occasionally, you’ll encounter a situation with a strong crosswind or current sweeping across the ramp. For some advice on this situation, watch the video below.

Get Your Boat Ready to Tow Home

In the staging area, pull the drain plug and empty any livewells in the boat, if you haven’t already done so. This will eliminate extra weight and reduce the chance of your accidentally introducing aquatic invasive species to another body of water. Remove any seagrass from your boat and trailer and be sure to hose both down as well.

Secure your transom straps and trailering support bracket, if you have one. Turn off the boat’s  power and make a final walk around the boat to make sure it is secured to the trailer, the tires are properly inflated, and the lights are plugged in and working.

The ramp is your gateway to adventure. Once you have mastered the art of launching and retrieving your boat, there’s no end to the fun you and your companions can have out on the water.



Boating Basics: At the Ramp (Saltwater)


Boating Basics: At the Ramp (Freshwater)
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