How to Launch a Boat

Novice boat owners may admit that launching a watercraft can be the most intimidating and nerve-wracking moments of an otherwise enjoyable day on the water. With skiers, anglers or pleasure cruisers waiting, the pressure to get your boat in the water and then out of the way in a timely manner can lead even the most laid-back person to rush. Before you begin, makes sure your boat is protected from unpredictable accidents and consider these tips to help the exercise go smoothly:


Opening day is no time to wing it. This isn’t college; you can’t cram for this final exam. Practicing before you head to the boat ramp will pay big dividends and help you to get a passing grade.

Practice backing your tow vehicle up with the trailered boat attached. You can start out in an empty parking lot so there’s more room to maneuver and get the feel of steering backwards. When you’ve got a general feel for it, try putting out some cones and backing between them from various angles – not all ramps are set up with a similar approach.

When you can do that, practice backing into your driveway. Park your trailered boat perfectly straight along the driveway’s edge, unhitch the trailer and pull out. Then, practice backing down and trailering up again. Eventually, you’ll have to take the boat out of the water, and exiting in a timely fashion is just as important as launching. If you can back down to the hitch, backing straight down to the front of the boat’s bow shouldn’t be too difficult. Repeat the exercise until you can proficiently back your trailer into position when approaching from both the left and right sides.

In these controlled scenarios, you get a feel for your vehicle, the trailer, various approach angles, turning radiuses and corrective turns without the pressure of impatient people waiting. The worst-case scenario is that your neighbors all come out and point and laugh — nothing a block party can’t fix.

Go Prepared

Before you get in line to launch, make sure your ducks are in a row and you’re ready to roll. Load all life jackets, bumpers, safety equipment, coolers, fishing tackle, skis, tubes, wakeboards, etc. – they should be placed where they’re not in the way during the launching process or when trying to enter/exit the boat from the dock. Next, raise the trim or stern drive, ensure the plug is in, disconnect the trailer’s taillights, remove tie-down straps, the safety chain and winch strap and attach a bowline.

Knowing that everything is on board and the craft is set to come off the trailer before you get in a launch line will help eliminate anxiety and allow you to focus on your approach, steering and depth.

Launching Your Boat

Get your vehicle and trailer in position; ideally, you’ll be straight and parallel to the dock. Slowly back down the ramp. As your trailer enters the water, pay attention to your speed and depth; lightly brake to maintain control, but don’t do so suddenly – with straps removed, the boat can come free of the trailer prematurely.

As the trailer enters deeper water, the boat will begin to float off of it. When it does, have your partner pull the boat back by the bowline and secure it. If it’s a shallow ramp, braking suddenly can help de-trailer the boat by using the backing momentum to your advantage. If you’re launching alone, you’ll have to exit the vehicle at this point and either push the boat the rest of the way off the trailer, or climb into the boat and then start it and drive it off the trailer.

When the boat is secured to the dock, out of the way of the ramp if possible, pull your vehicle and trailer forward and park it safely in the lot. You can now walk back down to the dock with your head held high as if you’ve been launching boats for years.

Photo courtesy of Forest Service – Northern Region

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Brian Lynn
As an editor and writer for such publications as and Outdoor Life, Brian has extensive experience in the outdoors realm. However, his knowledge comes with at the price of experience. You can learn a lot from him because he’s done most of it wrong the first time and can tell you all about what you should do instead.