Its happened at every boat ramp, its happening somewhere right now, you’ve probably witnessed it yourself….the boat ramp fail. Nearly every day someone watches one of our boat ramp fail videos and says, yup that’s happened to me! Living on the coast you’ll often see a crowd gather at the boat ramp, just waiting for that unfortunate moment when a Ford/Dodge/Chevy/Nissan has a mechanical issue, a boater forgets a step, tries launching a boat for the first time, or asks their sleepy buddy to back the truck down the ramp. Today we’ll provide you with some tips to help a beginner (or even some veterans) learn a few tricks to launch a boat properly.

Inspect the ramp

Take a quick look at the ramp for obstacles, submerged objects, or slippery/slimy spots before backing down. If you have a spotter with you they could do this while you position the truck/trailer.

Bring help

Have your friend or family act as a spotter to help you back into the water. Otherwise ask someone at the boat launch to help you. If you are alone, practice beforehand using your mirrors as much as possible. The most skilled boat launchers don’t have to turn around to look where they are. Using mirrors alone can actually make the process faster and more efficient.

Roll the windows down

Communication is critical at the launch ramp. It is almost impossible to communicate either verbally or with hand signals when you have the windows up on the tow vehicle. Also turn down the AC or heat and turn off the radio. The noise can disrupt your communication between the driver and the spotter or helmsman. There’s another reason to have the windows down: Should your vehicle end up in the water you won’t be able to open the door or roll the windows down and you could be trapped. With the window down you can climb out. Electronics short out quickly in the water.

Having the window down saved this guy’s a**…electronics don’t like being submerged…

Set the parking brake

When I was a kid we had a late 80s Chevy Blazer S10, a woefully underpowered machine, but in a cool color scheme with a 5 speed and 4wd. As dad backed down the ramp, mom was in the old Seacraft with us kids, ready to launch. When he felt he was in the right position dad hopped out of the Blazer to launch the boat, but he made a critical mistake. He shut the car off and left it in gear to hold it in place, forgetting that on a steep ramp with a 19ft boat behind it that was not a sufficient way to keep the Blazer from rolling. Luckily my dad was pretty quick on his feet back then and the second that rig started rolling backwards he hopped backed in and smashed the brakes. Then he did what he should have done originally, put it in gear AND set the parking brake. The parking brake won’t save you from algae or slime on the ramp, you need traction for those, but it will save you if your transmission fails and offers you a little extra protection since it will be you, your friend, or loved one standing behind the vehicle launching the boat.

If your parking brake has seen better days or you’re dealing with a large boat consider bringing along wheel chocks. An inexpensive potential game saver.

Keep your kids out of harm’s way

Have the kids stay on the docks, away from the action. There have been several instances of young kids getting hurt or killed when left in a vehicle that rolled into the water. Stories like this can be avoided by just keeping the kids out of harm’s way.

Prep your boat beforehand

This is not only about safety, its common courtesy. Prepare your vessel for launching or for the drive home well away from the ramp. This will make sure when it’s your turn, you’re ready to go without any delay.

  • Load your safety equipment, cooler, lines, and other gear into the boat.
  • Connect your electronics, you don’t want to do this on the water where you could drop them in the drink.
  • Unhook and stow your straps
  • Get your fenders ready
  • Make sure your drain plug, if your boat has one, is in place.

Tilt your outboard or I/O up

Tilt your motor up to ensure your lower unit does not scrape on the ramp on the way into the water. 

Unhook AFTER you’re ready to go

Do not remove the safety chain or front cable until safely in the water. Lower your outboard until your entire lower unit is in the water. Start your engine while the safety chain and nose hook are still attached. Make sure your engine is running properly before detaching the safety chain and nose hook.

Be courteous

As mentioned above, prep beforehand. You also want to get your boat away from the ramp immediately after removing it from the trailer. Don’t block the ramp with your vehicle or boat, get out of the way quickly so others can use the ramp and dock.


I recommend that you launch a boat properly a few times at a quiet ramp, don’t head somewhere like the Haulover Boat Ramp for your first time doing this. A friend suggested grabbing some cones and backing up your trailer in an empty parking lot for practice too. The pressure is ramped up (no pun intended) when you have a line of people waiting for you to figure it out.

With some practice you’ll be able to launch a boat properly even when you’re alone. Share some of your favorite boat launching tips in the comments! If you’d like to contribute leave a comment or email us at

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