Boat Launch Information & Observations




One of the cheapest entertainment days you can have is to take your lawn chair and your favorite beverage, spend a sunny summer afternoon just watching the goings on at a busy boat launch.  Some observers will even take large grading signs like used during the Olympics and grade each launching spectacular event.


A fitting cartoon by David Ford, a fisherman & retired WDF biologist


All of the examples of boat launching used here are actual happenings.  Real life is indeed stranger than fiction at times.


If you launch enough times, you WILL screw up.  OK, you have your system down and do your launch prep, like be sure the drain plug is in, your motors are unlocked from the travel position, rear tie downs off, fenders on, antenna up, etc. etc.   But if things change even a tad bit, (even to the point you happen to be the first in line and you get pressured a bit) you MAY forget something, like forgetting to disconnect the trailer/boat winch hook.  For some odd reason the boat will not slide off the trailer no matter how deep you back it.  Rather embarrassing.  Been There - Done That.


Then you will see things at a boat launch that just boggles your mind, like broken trailers and flat tires.  Or trailers that should never have left the junk yard, much less hauled a boat.


The three photos below were all taken on the same week-end in 2008 during a salmon derby on Hood Canal, Washington.  But maybe one explanation was that there was also a full moon.


If the trailer  frame is rusted really badly, no problem, good thing they still make 2X4s
and tie tapes.


I will let you figure this one out, as no one was around to explain except it was a LOW minus tide that morning & much of the gravel at the end of the slabs was missing


No spare tire?  Maybe I can still make it to the launch.

Recently I had my 19 year old grandson visit, who had lived in Montana for 5 years and not close enough to go fishing with grandpa.  I let him take my pickup with the boat loaded on the trailer out into a 2 acre field, set a couple of pitch forks in the ground simulating the edge of a boat ramp, and had him spend 20 minuets learning to back the trailer up.  This was first on the port side so he could visually see these forks and also learn to use the mirrors, then I had him move to the other side so he had to just use the mirrors as if he was backing in to a ramp on the starboard side of a dock.  It did not take him long to get the hang of it.  The next week when we were fishing, I first let him back the trailer in for recovery for 3 days.  The last day, I then let him back the boat in for launching.   And he did very well, except I had to caution him to not leave the pickup running, with only the parking brake on while at the bottom of the ramp.

Procedure ;  You may occasionally see on social media photos of submerged vehicles at launching ramps.  Probably the most frequent cause would be the vehicle driver relying on the PARK position in a automatic transmission.  This parking "DOG", is simply a small metal part that drops into a gear tooth notch.  (1) If you happen to not get it fully engaged, under pressure it can POP out and you have nothing to stop gravity's rearward movement of the boat and vehicle DOWN the ramp.  It is recommended that when you stop part way down to release the winch cable and safety chain from the bow, that you First apply the emergency brake.  (2) Then the automatic transmission Park brake.  (3) The turn the ignition switch OFF.  REDUNDANCY is the key word here. 


For those that do not know, the emergency brakes on a vehicle are designed to function way better if the vehicle is on a hill opposite as a boat ramp.  The braking efficiency is probably less than 50 % in a rearward situation like this.  If you do not believe me, just try it on level ground by applying the emergency brake and then put it in reverse, usually the vehicle will move.  Then place it in forward, where you will notice a considerable difference in the resistance in movement of the vehicle.


Back to the reason for applying the emergency brake FIRST, is that if you apply the PARK shifting first, then the emergency brake, with the rearward load of the ramp steepness AND the weight of the boat and trailer, that the vehicle will slide rearward a tad bit.  When this happens, upon your attempt to then remove the shifting lever from PARK, the lever can be very hard to move.  This small transmission internal "dog" can get broken off in the process.  And possibly next time you are relying on it, it may well have become broken and inoperative.


In addition to all the above, the best procedure is to use a block of wood behind a tire on the vehicle.  In the photo below, you will notice a rope attached to the wooden chock that is looped over the rear view mirror.  In use upon driving up the ramp to the parking lot, here the driver does not need to get out to retrieve the chock as it simply is drug along side the vehicle.

Here a single chock under a front wheel is sufficient on this muddy slimy ramp


Vehicle Down ;  On January 4th 2013, at the Mandy Rd boat launch on the Cowlitz River off I-5.  This older guy was backing his new to him, boat down to start it.   But did not quit get her backed down far enough to slide the boat back off the trailer.   As he backed it in further, he stepped, stopped and out of the rig and the parking lever disengaged out of park.  The whole shebang rolled down into the river.  He tried jumping into the truck to stop it but was too late and down she went.


The boat then drifted off the trailer and he swam out to it.  The guy in the red and silver boat (in the photo below) came from fishing down river and saw this man floating in the water holding onto his boat.  He could not pull himself into it.  It had floated down river a hundred yards from the ramp into the current.  The neighbor across the river called 911.  This was around 2-3 in the afternoon.  A passerby I stopped and talked to the boater and the wardens that evening right at dark and they pulled it out right as he drove up. The guy in the photo below, standing on the hood of the suburban was the tow truck driver, who was able to get a chain on the trailer and pulled it around end first and then pulled both trailer and suburban out with trailer still attached, up the side of the bank on the dirt burm next to the ramp.


The driver/boater was pretty shaken up.  He he said the Suburban was not worth more than a couple thousand but the boat was what was important.  The tow truck took the Suburban, and the bystander offered to pull the trailer to his place nearby, for the night.  The owner then tied the boat up across the river for the night at the neighbors deck on the river.  He came the next day for trailer and got his boat.


All in all, he got lucky that he didn't loose his life trying to jump back in the rig when it was rolling away or when he swam for the boat and held on until the sole person with a boat in that section of the river came back upstream from fishing.  Sometimes angels do look out people in need, arranging for near perfect timing.


Like I had said before, NEVER trust just the parking brake.


Here the tow truck driver is standing on the top of the Suburban


Backing a trailer can be intimidating at times, and with an audience waiting their turn, even more so.  A suggestion is practice beforehand.   Backing a loaded trailer down a ramp may not be that bad, if you go slow and do MINIMAL turning of the steering wheel (overcompensation is probably the most common fault).  One tip is to position the vehicle and trailer so you are backing in a slight arc on the drivers side so you can see better, concentrate on this side and the other should pretty well take care of itself.  Don't be in a hurry.  If you get disoriented get out and take a look at where you are.  If possible have a spotter. 


Another tip is, when sitting in your truck, hand on BOTTOM of steering wheel, as you back, move your hand that is on the wheel the direction you want the trailer to go, and once you have the trailer going were you want it to, you need to follow it with the truck.  Bottom of the wheel left = trailer left.   No big movements,  just small corrections and short wheel-based vehicles with small boats are way worse in this respect than full sized vehicles and large boats.


Backing an empty trailer down for recovery can be a problem if you can not see the trailer, especially if it is smaller and hard to see.   If you are driving a pickup truck and have room between the trailer winch post, drop the tailgate.  The hardest part is you need to be lined up with the ramp BEFORE the empty trailer drops over the hump into the water from the parking lot.  Some fishermen may use removable magnetic indicator posts to help here.


There are about as many ways to load a boat on a trailer as there are boaters.  Once you get your system going, if it works stay with it.  Some boats load beautifully on trailers if the trailer is set up properly.  Some trailers use rollers, mostly for fiberglass boats, while trailers designed for aluminum boats usually have bunks made of 2' X 6" lumber.  They can be covered with a carpet or overlaid with nylon pads for better slipperiness.


Many boaters now seem to like to power load if it is allowed at your ramp.  The reason it may not be allowed, is at a low water situation, power loading can push gravel off the lower end of the ramp, creating a hole and/or a hump of gravel out where the trailer tires should then be setting, making for problems. 

For a busy summer week-end where everyone wants to recover at near the same time, this can get hectic, especially for the solo boater.

Or you can have sub-freezing weather, you may have the ramp pretty well to yourself, but where launching and recovery may become interesting especially with ice on the ramp.  If this could be a possibility, carry a couple of bags of Kitty Litter and you might even be sure your tire chains are with you that day.  Another suggestion would be after the boat is off the trailer, do not pull up the ramp as you would in the summer, but just enough to get the trailer out of the water, stop for a while allowing any water inside the trailer tongue or frame sides, to drain out so you do not leave a trail of water up the ramp that will freeze for the next guy, or you later. 


One thing if you start backing down and you suspect ice on the ramp, be DAMNED sure your vehicle and trailer is going straight, as in launching, and it is icy, just the weight of the vehicle AND boat may not allow you to stop.  If this happens you want everything lined up so when you slide backwards your trailer does not get crossed up and jack-knife part way down.  The good thing is that usually once the boat enters the water enough so that the extra weight is removed, your vehicle MAY stop. 


Power Loading Using Buddy System ;  The easiest would be at the end of the day, to drop off a fishing buddy on the end of the dock so he can retrieve your towing vehicle and trailer while you stage a bit off the dock until he backs down and you can power on, he, or you attaches the winch line hook and pulls up the ramp with you still aboard.  Rather quick and efficient.  Remember the trailer is what is in line for recovery, not the boat tied to the dock.


Power Loading Solo ;  A couple of things I found when power loading solo without the aid of docks, is to use side bunk guides, but not the overly long are needed, 3' will do it.  I want the trailer not as deep as normal, so the rollers/bunks also act as guides, not letting you get off center or crosswise.  In my locations, there is always a wind or tidal/river  movement, I try to not load dead on, but compensate for the wind by motoring up a bit with the bow into the wind, nose the bow into the side bunk guide, give it a little power allowing the wind to help you, and then by using the guide to push the bow over closer to centering.  Once I am centered and partly on the bunks, straighten the motor, give it more power and up onto the bunks or about 80% on the trailer.  Depending on the ramp and if I have the trailer positioned properly, I may be able to power on 95%.  If not, then hand winch the rest of the way.

This is about the only way to load a jet driven boat as you have no real neutral because the impeller is spinning all the time.  Neutral (close to it) is only obtained by the reverse clamshell splitting the output thrust water between reverse and forward, not a easy accomplishment.  Here as above, you are using the trailer bunk guides/wind/current in your favor to swing the bow onto the trailer.  Before I put bunk guides on my first jetsled, and having the trailer too deep in the water, loading in the wind placed me broadside on top of the trailer.

Manual Loading Solo ; If I have the opportunity to use a dock, again wind may be against you.  Here I want the trailer slightly deeper than normal, back down close to the dock, then as I get the trailer tires at the waters edge, crank the trailer so the rear goes angled closer to the dock. This then allows me to by using both a bow AND stern line, pull the boat forward, pushing the bow it out a bit so I can then have tension on it pulling it back.  By guiding the bow with the bow line and pulling on the stern line which may have the stern almost or slightly rubbing the dock, I can usually load it about 85% this way and then winch the rest of the way on.  I can have the boat on the trailer and be up the ramp in usually less than 5 minutes.

Actual Sightings ;

(1) There is also always the guy who can not back a trailer.  He is all over the upper ramp, pulls ahead, tries it again a half a dozen times before he finally gets it going down the ramp somewhat in the right direction, only to finally be located in the middle of a 2 lane ramp. The suggestion would be to do some practicing in a bank parking lot on a Sunday morning.  Oh well, maybe we all have had those days in our early years before we too got it somewhat perfected.

(2)  The thing some people don't understand, and it should be in big capital letters on a huge sign at the top of every boat ramp......
                              YOUR TRAILER IS IN LINE TO PULL OUT, NOT YOUR BOAT.


(3) One afternoon at the Nisqually River boat launch when a boat owner tried to recover his boat and take it out, he could not get his pickup truck's engine to restart.  The tide was coming in, the boat was on the trailer, but the truck's starter would not engage.  Thinking a loose battery wire may have been the culprit, the owner, raised the hood trying to identify the problem,  His whole rig was blocking the single lane launch however.  During this, a new large Zodiac with a new large motor propelling it came in, the person operating this fine piece of equipment was irritated that he could not load his boat and get out of there ASAP.  The Zodiac was then pulled up on the beach, and it's owner headed to the parking lot.

The stranded pickup owner asked if the Zodiac owner would help out and give him a pull up the launch.  Mr. Zodiac owner also was the very proud owner of a brand new SUV.  The answer was no, that is YOUR problem.  OK, when Mr. Zodiac owner proceeded to fume back at his SUV, the stranded pickup owner finally discovered that his starter switch was failing and by jiggling the key while twisting it, the pickup finally started.  

The pickup owner's wife noticed that the Zodiac was becoming disconnected with the beach and since it was not tied to anything, it was starting to drift away by the incoming tide.  As the now running pickup pulled up to the parking lot, he stopped and told the Zodiac owner the launch was now free.  However he mentioned that the Zodiac was now floating upstream.

Mr. Zodiac owner asked, "What are YOU going to do".  Mr. stranded pickup owner said "nothing, as you would not help me".  He did add, "Do you have a watch", the response was "Yes, but what does that have to do with my boat floating off"?   Mr. stranded pickup owner's response was, "Be back here in 6 hours and your boat MAY come back down river, IF THE INDIANS ON THE RESERVATION UPSTREAM DON'T SEE IT FIRST", he drove off with a smile on his face.

(4) You will see guys try to launch their boat without taking the tie-down straps off.  When the wife says "I think it is still tied to the trailer" he mumbles some unkind things to her and burns rubber back up the ramp.  This usually seems to be done during a mid-afternoon, sunny day by some overweight guy wearing shorts, thongs, a skippers cap and a know-it-all (for a short while) look on his face.

(5) Then there is the hippie who is launching his boat at Westport using a hippie Ford van.  For some reason he can not see out the mirrors, so he has his buddy open the van's rear doors.  Now he can see through the van, then he backs down into the water but when then hits his brakes to slide the boat off.   Now all their camping gear, sleeping bags, ice chest, food, clothing etc. also comes sliding out the rear of the van into the water thru the open rear doors.  Then there is a mad scramble to recover all this gear before it floats away.

(6) Or the non-thinker who is helping his friend at the Deep River launch, and with the boat backed down near the water, he holding the winch handle, positions the clicker in the off position.  He apparently was going to walk down with the boat holding onto the handle.  As his friend starts backing down, the boat and trailer moves faster than he anticipated, he looses grip of the handle.  Soon the weight of the boat slides it off the rollers with the winch line still attached AND the winch handle spinning like a airplane prop.  This non-thinker then tries to grab the handle.  WOW - THAT HURTS  he utters after the handle hits his arm above the right wrist about 8".  The way it swelled up so fast, I was sure it had been broken.  However some dedicated fisherman have to take care of fishing first.  

We helped them load the 16' aluminum boat on the trailer for another attempt.   Same result with the boat being launched on the ramp, since no one was holding it and they did not attach the safety chain to the bow.  Reload again, and this time they got it into the water.

When we came back in after a days fishing, they were there also taking out, he said no that he did not think he would even see a doctor.  Possibly a lot of beers have a better medicinal usage than the average person can believe.  The only reason I think he did not break the bones was because his arm was so that the handle hit both bones simultaneously, instead of just one.

(7) Then there was the old man who apparently had just bought a new Bayliner Trophy, and apparently his first launching is at a the Westport launch on the first day of salmon season.  He gets the boat off the trailer and tied to the dock fine.  He then takes his pickup up to the parking lot.  When he gets back to the boat he then takes out the convertible top, puts it on, next is the plexiglas side windows, then his antennas, then his VHF and depthfinder viewing head, then his salmon net, then raises his kicker motor, then gets his rods out and assembles them all while the many other frowning fishermen are trying to launch and negotiate back past his location tied to the end of the dock for over 30 minutes.  He stands there in his new boat and smiles at everyone who has to back out manipulating around him.  He apparently had no clue that what he was doing effected most all the others using the launch that morning.  This guy apparently never heard about prepping his boat in the parking lot before launching.

(8) Or the guy (me) who forgot to lock his boat trailer hitch onto the ball.  Later it was found that when I had parked the boat and trailer in a friends lot the night before, so had only traveled a few miles in this condition.  The boat was large and heavy enough tongue weight that I made it to the launch and unloaded OK.  But upon returning while winching the boat back onto the trailer, the weight of the boat on the trailer's rear section, raises the hitch right up off the ball.  The only thing that saved the day was that the trailer had surge brakes and I had the emergency cable snapped onto the pickup's bumper.  This emergency cable put the trailer brakes on as the trailer and now partly loaded boat started back down the ramp by themselves into deeper water.  I managed to reach arm deep in the water, place a chock behind a trailer tire to keep the trailer from going deeper.  Then I managed to unload the boat off the trailer.  Then I carefully backed down the pickup and re-hooked the hitch onto the ball, locking it this time, and starting the loading procedure all over again.   Luckily the timing was so that the launch was not congested at that time.

(9) Then the guy who had a boat that slid off the trailer easily.  When he stopped partway down the ramp to unhook the winch line, the boat proceeded to launch itself on the concrete ramp.  He then winched the boat back onto the trailer.  Then proceeded to pull up the ramp to inspect the damage.  This time either without snapping the safety hook or without one, the pickup jerked upon starting up and the winch clicker stop broke.  Of course the boat launched itself all over again.  This  whole fiasco must have really chewed up the bottom, as there was fiberglas imbedded into the ramp after he finally drove away.

(10) One morning at the Westport launch in the fall of 1998 at low tide a poor guy backed down and there was a drop off of about 18" off the end of the blacktop (found out later that a large crab boat had tied up to the dock right south of the ramp with its engine and prop turning.  This washed the gravel out and moved it back to form a hump about 15' beyond the blacktop).  This guy backed down far enough that he dropped his rear pickup tires into the hole off the end of the blacktop, his rear tires had water near the top of them.  At the same time his trailer had raised up with it's tires now sitting on this gravel hump.   He was far enough away from the dock that he could not really get to a position on the dock to pull or push the boat off the trailer.  His boat motor starter had died so he could not get the outboard started to back the boat off, and the tide was coming in.   A friendly fisherman who was also launching in the other lane and had a 4 wheel drive Chevy Blazer, after unhooking his trailer in the lot came back to the launch and pulled the then helpless guy out.

Not the way to start the day out.  This photo is not of the article mentioned above, but a very similar situation.

(11) Then there is always the guy who comes into the dock too fast and he rams another boat.  Of course it is always a new boat that gets hit by an old tub, and he is one of those "know-it-alls" who also doesn't have insurance, and no money.

(12) There is then the guy who is assigned to get off the boat when coming into the dock to tie up the boat, he however does not take with him the rope attached to the bow.  He jumps off onto the dock, then turns around only to find the boat drifting away, he grabs the boats rail, the boat is large enough and the wind is blowing the boat away from him.  He can not pull hard enough, so there he is with his feet on the dock his body outstretched with his hands on the boat rail -- for about 2 seconds, and then comes the splash.

(13) Or the other guy who did about the same but did not leave the boat.  This one did some fancy scrambling hanging onto the bow railing with his feet still on the boat, but his hip pockets dipping into the water before he could manage to get back aboard.  Next time he took the bow rope.

(14) Then there was the guy with the brand new Ford diesel pickup and a new boat at Zittle's Marina in Olympia, who launched boat, trailer and pickup all at one time.  Moral of this story is don't rely on the (Park) position of your automatic transmission.

(15) One day in the fall of 2000, at a popular launch, a new 16' aluminum boat with a 28 hp  Evinrude. This guy was getting the boat ready while the boat owner was parking the trailer.  This guy got the motor down, his gear ready, hit the starter, the motor did not start after numerous cranks, he then grabs the combo throttle/shift lever, pumps it forward and back about 3 times.  Tries to start it again, same response from the motor, same response from the guy.  After numerous go-arounds of this, the motor finally sputters.  One more go at it and it does start on one cylinder at first, then finally settles down to running.  Maybe he is not aware what that the fuel line priming bulb is for, or that you push the key in to choke it on that model , or the fast idle lever all are there for a reason.  Am I missing something, but I do not think you can "pump the throttle" on an outboard motor like you can your old 1941 Chev that has a carburetor ?

(16) And there is the fisherman lawyer who forgets or misplaces his drain plug.  But he is like many diehard fishermen want to be on the water at or before daylight.  This guy for some reason lost or misplaced his drain plug.  Of course the boat shops/marinas are not open that early in the morning.  One of his bright thinking fishing buddies suggested they scrounge the Safeway dumpsters for wine bottle corks, hoping that if the police come by, they could convince him of their intentions.  No police that morning, they found a cork and it worked.

(17) The morning of the 2000 Gig harbor salmon derby, a guy launched his fiberglass boat on the ramp.  This one had his kicker motor down, the lower unit on it got busted up badly.  A bystander suggested he get the hull inspected before he tries to put it back in the water.  The guy must have thought that was good advise, drove off with the damaged boat and motor.  Later in the day the same bystander brought his boat back in, only to see the crunched boat being taking out also.  Mr. crunch and partner came away with 2 salmon, while bystander had none.  So maybe the fish-gods do have compassion for idiots and morons.

And then the incident shown below.

Forgot to tie off the safety chain when pulling out?  Kind of puts some ramp rash on the hull.
The name of the boat kind of says it all  "Starting Over"


(18) There is one guy at Zittles marina who got his head in way of a spinning winch handle during launching.  Third hand info is that he got a major concussion, was totally blind for a while, and finally lost the sight of one eye.

(19) This guy had just bought his first boat, motor and trailer from a dealer who had their business on the water near a public launch.  The dealer had given instructions on how to operate the boat.  The first time this new boater took his new toy out for a trial run, he was disappointed in that it would not go faster than a fast troll no matter how much throttle he applied.  The dealer's mechanic that he had bought it from was on a nearby dock doing some maintenace, so he motored over, then tied to their dock.  Went up and invited the mechanic to come down to look it over to find the problem.  The mechanic had him start the motor, everything sounded fine.  Then the mechanic started to look it over for any other problem.  What he found was the new owner still had the tie down straps on the stern and the winch cable to the bow, and under the straps was the trailer, still attached to the boat.

(20) The summer of 2000 at Trident Cove  launch on Hood Canal, any of you who have been there are aware that is does not have lots of room to pull in to back down the ramp.  One of our PSA members was waiting to bring his boat in.  He took it long enough waiting for these ding-a-lings trying to back up to reload their boats.  He (only stands 6' 4" weighs 300+),  got out of his boat, left his father in his boat on the water, walked up the ramp where he physically picked up the rear of the trailers to align them with the ramp each time the (driver) backed it off to the side.  If the driver got it off the second or third try, he would pick it up and/or skid it over to the center again.  He did this to most all of those there that afternoon, one by one.   It was this or wait another hour or more before he could get his own boat out.

When it was his turn, he backed his trailer down, his father ran the boat up on the trailer.  It was locked on and they were out of there in less than 3 minutes. 

(21) Then there was the guy who tried to power load his boat onto the trailer at the launch.  18 footer or so, large motor, heavy throttle hand.  When he gunned it to run it up on the trailer, he got too much throttle, the boat jumped up the trailer, over the bow chock and onto the back of his pickup canopy.  Surprise.

(22) A guy brought down his huge "cigar" boat and put in the water and then screamed out across Puget Sound.  A while later he came back from his outing and proceeded to back down his shiny brand new Dodge Ram pickup and trailer to the water.  He didn't back his trailer into the water, apparently because he had heard to not get the bearings wet, and only put his truck into park without setting the emergency brake. 

Well...he started winching up his huge boat and the truck popped out of gear and slid all the way into the water, up to the top of his cab.   Meanwhile the bow of the boat is sticking down into the water and the stern was way up in the air.  All the while his wife was yelling and screaming at him the whole time.  They had to get a scuba diver to unhitch his boat from the trailer and a tow truck to retrieve the pickup.

I don't know if anyone can explain this one


(23) Then in the greater Seattle area on a nice week-end day, at a 2 lane launch, with the tide mostly out.  There was the guy who removed all his tie-down straps, winch cable snap AND safety chain, before he backed down the ramp.  He did put his wife in the boat.  She was standing near the stern.  As he proceeded to back down to the water, he happened to tap the brakes enough to launch the boat onto the lower end of the concrete ramp.  Wife got launched out of the boat AND onto the concrete near the water's edge, with enough injuries that a ambulance was called.  The boat's out-drive got a bad case of brokenitis.  He of course was oblivious to any of the other prospective boaters waiting in line.

Now on the other lane of this same launch 2 guys were proceeding to launch their sail boat.  Since the tide was out, they had to back farther down than usual, got the trailer tires over the end of the concrete and into soft muck.  The sailboat was large enough that they could not move the trailer any farther either way with the vehicle they were using.  When asked by waiting boaters if they had called a tow truck.  The 2 guys said no, that they thought they would wait until the tide came back in.  Apparently this particular launch flattened out on the lower part where they were parked, and when the bystander mentioned that, plus the high tide marks on the piling, with considering the depth of the keel, that the vehicle may well be under water before the boat will float off.  No, they thought their original intentions were accurate and would wait it out.   Now the whole launch was blocked for quite some time by people who needed their heads examined.

Damn, does this mean we will miss the morning bite?

(24) If you ever see a wide eyed skipper coming back to the launch rather rapidly shortly after he has just launched, give him room quickly.  It is very possible he has forgotten to replace his drain plugs.  This does not necessarily have to be a smaller boat.  As witnessed of a 26' Bayliner at the Westport launch in the late summer of 2001.  The most obvious visual thing on this boat was that BOTH bilge pumps were working at capacity. 

He had gotten just outside the boat basin when he realized the boat was not responding to the throttle and steering as usual.  He looked over the sides and saw both of the automatic bilge pumps doing what they are supposed to do.  Then came the frantic dash back to the launch, waving off a then launching boat and the frantic run to the parking lot to get his trailer back in the water ASAP.  He only lost an hour, but the pumps were not large enough capacity to keep the saltwater out of the I/O engine's starter.  Overhaul time the next week.

(25) Then again at the Westport launch, there is the guy who does not understand that you get in line to launch or take out.  About 3 PM when many fishermen were coming in, his young guy (about 35) launching a new ThunderJet  with a  Mercury Sport-Jet for power comes blasting into the launch from the wrong side, (RH side) does no prepping, pulls ahead of the pickup and trailer who is next in line (LH side) to take out.  He RAPIDLY pulls in, backs down enough so the jet unit is into the water, in the MIDDLE of a 2 lane launch, then pulls the engine cover, primes the motor, gets it started.  He then shuts it off, removes his tie-downs, backs it into the water.  His older partner then holds the boat next to the dock while the young man drives off to park the pickup and trailer.

All the while the boaters at the dock behind the Thunderjet, is still waiting to take out.  The next thing seen is the is the young man comes back on foot, stops at the pay box, gets his launch envelope, fills it out, deposits it in the box, then RUNS back to the parking lot to put the stub in his pickup window.  As he comes running back to the launch, he says to the driver (my son) who WAS the next in line waiting pickup, "I suppose you are waiting for me"  The immediate answer was HELL YES.  He now runs down, jumps into the boat, sits down in the captains seat, but has to immediately jump up, pull the boat keys out of his rear pocket.  Now with the motor running, he has a problem maneuvering away from the dock and around the waiting boats as it is an inboard jet unit and not that good at backing up in tight quarters with a wind blowing.  If he had waited 5 minutes, done is prepping, and let the waiting pickup (mine) get backed down, the waiting boat (mine) would have been gone and he would have not had as much problems.

(26) At the Smith Creek launch on Willapa Bay 2007 a fairly new Mercury car was parked in the south side of the parking lot of the boat preparation lane just after daylight.   Then on the west side of the lot, at the top of the ramp (about 80') and in the area where anyone would need to pull into to be able to back down to launch on the SW corner was a new black Chevy short box pickup and trailer parked.   Since the Mercury was in the prep lane and this Chevy was crowding anyone who needed to launch, things were rather cramped.  To launch you had to pull up along side, then past the pickup, jockey even with him, then over back behind him to even begin to get in position to be aligned to the angled ramp.  This might have not been so bad with a short wheel-based pickup, but with a long bed extended cab it created a exercise not really needed.  Plus this launch is not square with the parking lot/ramp lanes, which really compounds things.

I can see the Mercury if the owner was a passenger to a fishing boat and just met the boater at the launch very possibly not knowing launch procedures, but the pickup was totally out of line, lazy in only pulling ahead to the top of the launch blocking anyone else who came in after they left for a day of fishing.  There was a note placed under his windshield wiper, (by me) which read something to the effect "please be considerate of those who come in to launch after you have parked your vehicle where it is needed to pull into to launch".   Then the next week-end he was back, but did park another 30 feet farther into the lot.

(27) Labor Day Weekend, 2000
As we approached the Everett docks, we could sense the chaos of new boaters.   There was a strong wind and accompanying current cross wind pushing half the people into the docks and half of them away.  At capacity,  we kept it floating while we watched the zoo of boaters trying to get themselves attached like flies in a wine glass crawling up the sides just to fall back in.   There were boats attached with bowlines only, floating perpendicular to the dock while the wives clung on narrowly.
          submitted by Jonathan Freeman 
(28) Another late afternoon at the Everett Docks
Seems two hillbilly guys decided to try their hand at crabbing and drinking.  Mind you we didn't see any crabs so maybe their cooler full of beer wasn't worth of being tainted with something from the sea.  Long story short, we were in line behind them waiting for this 14' fiberglass floating bar to get loaded up.   Every time Hillybilly #1 pulled forward the boat listed badly to one side and wouldn't get on the trailer straight.  Fortunately he didn't take off down the road like that, possibly worried about the cooler sitting there on the side it kept listing to.  They tried at least half a dozen times, changing nothing and getting the same result.  In the end it took some bald spot scratching and brawn to lift the boat from the rear onto the rollers when it could have been easily solved by moving the cooler to the center of the boat!
         submitted by Jonathan Freeman 

(29)  Late beautiful 2010 September afternoon on Mayfield Lake boat launch.  We were coming back to the docks, when a pickup towing a boat and trailer pulled up in to the prep area, waited until we docked, then they proceeded to launch on the opposite side of the dock that we were tied up to.  They had a nicely kept aluminum boat of about 17' with about a newer 75hp Mercury outboard motor attached.  We were finishing winching our boat onto the trailer and this other boat skipper (probably in the age bracket of 50ish) climbed aboard his boat, started the motor up.  A younger man came down onto the dock, climbed aboard onto the forward deck and pushed them off.

I had my back to them, but when the motor started, boy it was loud.  When I turned around to look, he had not lowered the unit into the water yet, prop hub was 6" out of the water.  No one seemed concerned and the boat started to drift sideways a bit, the skipper tried turning the motor as if it was in the water and in reverse.  Nothing happened, then he finally looked around, then lowered it into the water after about 2 minutes as if this was a normal operation for them.  My fishing partner just stood there with an open mouth, then "he just burnt his water pump up".   As we drove up the ramp they were backing out past the end of the dock.  I always wondered if they made it back, as the wind (even though slight) was blowing enough that if they went any distance and had water pump failure with no kicker motor, it could be a long night or a burnt up motor, or both.

Maybe I am all wrong and possibly the Mercury engineers have developed a new style of outboard motor water pump impeller.

(30) Locked out on the Ramp Launch
"Went to launch at Beacon Rock yesterday am at about 6 am, I backed the boat down, into the water, all good so far, I then hopped out, and closed the door, not noticing that my right elbow brushed the lock closed, I then pushed the boat off of the trailer, and tied her up to the dock, I then walk around to the driver door again...oh ####!!! The door was locked, and extra key was ...home.   Trouble, all door's locked, though driver's window was down two inches, hope here.  I looked around, found a 4 ft branch with a crook in it, with other launchers to be at the top of the ramp, watching.   I managed to get the 2'' diameter branch thru the window, and crook it to touch the button that controls the windows, managed to release it, yeah, looking good so far, I then reach across to the passenger side, and hit that button for the passenger window...down she came....yeah!!! open up that side, get driver door open, pull on out....only took three minutes, very happy to not have to bust window, lesson learned, yes.   I normally always have an extra key, it will not happen again...I was lucky.    Any other's have this happen to you???" 

        copied off  iFish message board & submitted by "Steelheader"


             Here is a Pet Peeve of Mine.

 Most all boat launching ramps have a dedicated preparation line and parking areas.  Some are privately owned, while others are publically owned.  The private ones seem to be better organized. 

Some of the smaller ones do not have any signed loading/preparation or parking areas, and that is where I get my gripes.  These unthinking idiots who park anywhere that seems close, or in the shade, not thinking about the next guy who needs room to pull in and hopefully get straightened around BEFORE backing to the ramp or they block those who may follow them is what really gets to me.

Here is a vehicle AND flatbed trailer parked in the preparation lane.  Note the launch ramp at the far RH side of the photo.  There is a WDFW No Parking sign on the tree in front of the pickup.


In the photo above, this vehicle occupants were obviously passengers in a boat that had already launched.  It was later observed that they were with the boater in the white pickup in the photo below.  

This launch is situated on the far corner of the parking lot AND not square with the lot.  It is also low enough and with no upper marking posts, where you can even see the ramp until you get close enough.  It is very hard to pull in close beside the parked passenger vehicles, make a sharp turn and then be further blocked from being able to pull ahead to get the trailer even a bit straight because these vehicles with trailers are parked where you need to nose into to get the trailer somewhat aligned. 

It also seems to usually be a newer vehicle and a large newer boat.  If you mention anything to them, they get irritated as if they own the area.  And they do not even have any idea of what they just did.  Seem to have their heads in the clouds.

Here are two vehicles and trailers who simply pulled up from the ramp, leaving little room for the next launchers.  The ramp is at the LH side of this photo

Think about how you may negatively effect other boaters.  Use the preparation lane for that purpose, pull ahead when the vehicle ahead pulls ahead.  Launch in a speedy manner.  Leave this lane open for others if you are a non-boater even if it is a non rush hour launching for fishermen as they also need this lane to recover their boat in the afternoon. 

And drive ahead when parking after launching, again to give room for others to also pull ahead and park without being evenly partially blocked in.  Just because you got there at 0 Dark 30 and there is no one else at the launch, doesn't mean you you own the whole area.

I asked WDFW repeatedly about signage for this launch area and the final response was if we make signs they would be of aluminum and would probably be stolen and sold for scrap metal prices.  However maybe it is my fault as possibly I needed to go to upper level management instead of secondary level.

 Here are Some Boat Launch Etiquette Suggestions That May Help

(1) The primary concern in boat ramp etiquette is launching and retrieving your boat as quickly and efficiently as possible in the proper order and with due concern for other boaters using the facilities.   Have a check list for launching and retrieving your boat.   Keep kids and dogs in the car and have the driver walk them down last.  Neither should be playing around the trailers or milling around on the dock, requiring the adult's attention, which should be on positioning, holding and tying the boat, dealing with the trailer and getting out of the launch lane.

(2) Have a check list to use before leaving home so you have your equipment and know everything is in working order, (especially the batteries).  At the beginning of the boating season test start your motors at home to make sure they are running properly.   Even if you ran the boat a week ago, it is best to put on flushing muffs at home the night before and run the motor/s to pre-test the engine/battery condition.   You can also speed things up by stashing a couple extra launch fee packets in the glove box!   Have it filled out and $ in ahead of time.

(3) Get in launch line, (which may also be takeout line), get ready in the "preparation area": remove tie-downs, check the drain-plug, pump up the motor primer bulb, raise the antennas, put all gear from the truck into boat, get the dock lines and fenders ready, etc.   Attach the bow and stern lines in the preparation area.....not at the bottom of the ramp.    Load and unload any last minute gear in your boat in the preparation area provided or the parking lot before launching and after retrieving your boat.  Also use the toilet facilities and remind your guests to go also.  DO NOT take off the safety chain or release the trailer winch from the boat until you are at the waters edge. 

Make sure your outdrive /outboard motors are up and tail lights unplugged if they are NOT sealed beam type.  NOTE - those trailers with surge breaks cannot do this or their brakes may lock up while backing. 

If before daylight, turn your headlights off, this is important so you do not blind others trying to use the  ramp.  Not just when in line but even more so when you are at the bottom of the ramp and someone else is trying to back down next to you.   Most of the newer vehicles will not turn their lights off unless you know a special procedure to do so (some turn off if you set the emergency brake "one click").   Do the research to find out what your vehicles "special trick" is before you put in in the dark.  You might have to contact your car dealer if you can not figure it out.

Boats are launched and retrieved in the order that their vehicle/trailer is lined up and are ready to go in the preparation area.

(4)   When your turn, take the next launch spot that is ready, which may not necessarily the side you would prefer.   By this I mean if you only like to back down so you can see the dock on the drivers side, but that lane is still in use, take the one open.  Learn to use either side.  Back down, to where your trailer is at the required location to offload the boat.  Release winch strap at the bottom just before entering the water and make sure an assistant has the bow/stern lines or it is tied to the vehicle or dock so the boat is under control even if there is a wind or current.  On multi lane ramps, stay in your lane.  If you are in line but not quite ready to proceed invite those behind you to go around you until you are ready.

Be considerate of others.  If you are experienced, offer to help if it seems appropriate.  When returning to the ramp it is a good idea to stow and secure as much of your onboard gear as you can before getting to the ramp.  Not everyone has a partner when they are launching/retrieving their boat.  Be patient with or even help the guy who is by themselves if needed.

(5)  At the bottom of the ramp, set the brake, put the vehicle transmission in park, run the drivers window down if you have the newer door locks so if you inadvertently hit the lock button, you are not locked out. Turn the engine off, before leaving the vehicle during the launch process.  Cars/trucks donít float.  The window being down idea can save the day as it will allow you to get back in if you, or someone else inadvertently hit the auto door lock button.  The back down the ramp, launch and vehicle back up the ramp should take not more than 5 minutes. 

(6) Be sure your passenger or helper, is instructed as to the requirements once the boat leaves the trailer and that they know to move the boat out of the way of others whenever possible.  Once launched, if at all possible, move the boat to the far-end of dock before parking trailer, even if you are alone.  This latter could include starting the boat and moving away from the dock until the vehicle driver returns from parking or retrieving the trailer.  Wind or moving water can complicate things.  Having a bow line long enough abd  use a stern line for one person to control the boatís front and rear. 

(7)  Park vehicle/trailer square within parking lanes.  Align the nose of truck with other parked vehicles.  Don't block the parking lot for others. Get back to boat as quickly as possible and the boat way from the dock as soon as possible.

(8) On the haul-out, vehicles with TRAILERS are what is in line, NOT the boat.  At a busy launch, let a buddy out of the boat, so he get the towing vehicle and trailer in line.  Don't jump to the shallow-end of the dock assuming that nobody else is in line for that dock. There may be many boats maintaining position in a staging area off the dock until they see their truck/trailer backing down, so give them room to maneuver into the launch.

 Boats leaving the water should wait for their trailer to arrive before entering the launch/retrieve part of the ramp so they do not block the ramp/dock for others who are ahead of them (by trailer order).

If there is mass confusion with many fishermen taking out in the afternoon the same time other recreational boaters are launching, where there are multiple docks, there may be one dock more appropriate for launching instead of all being take outs.

Boat ramps are not for washing your boat off, I have seen one dude who was parked in the launch lane at take-out, barely in the water washing his boat out.  Was there for 20 minutes... ramps are for LAUNCHING.

Also when finished for the day, please pull to the preparation area (or near it) to tie your boat down and stow your gear.  Pulling up and just outside of the ramp makes it tough for the next guy pulling out.

(9) When backing in multi-lane ramps before daylight, once in position and backing, turn off headlights so that others may see as well.   Parking lights/marker lights are fine while backing and while sitting at waters edge.

(10) If you're new to this, make a check-list.  Learn backing a trailer BEFORE you get to the launch.  Have separate lists for: before leaving home, in ready line, before leaving dock, before arriving at dock, before haul-out, and before drive-off.

(11) If you have a camper loaded on the towing pickup, have a helper guide you down the ramp if need be.

(12) Smile, stay-cool, offer to help, and remember that this is supposed to be fun.  Donít be afraid to ask other boaters if you or they need help.

Then all the accidents don't happen at a launch.






Don't hit the brakes with a boat behind if a deer jumps out in front of you.


Sometimes boaters misjudge the water depth, but don't forget the overhead


If you would care to have your observances or experiences listed here please e-mail  me LeeRoy Wisner at with a detailed listing

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Last Updated 01-03-20120                                                                                
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