How to Launch a Boat

How to Launch a Boat

February 4, 2020

Before you can enjoy a day out on the water, you need to know how to properly launch a boat. Launching your boat properly will help you avoid damage to it and can mean that you can get out on the water quickly. Learn more about the etiquette and best practices when launching a boat, as well as what’s best to avoid when getting your boat on the water.

Boat Ramp Etiquette

When it comes to using a boat ramp, be courteous. Others need you to get your boat in the water and your trailer out of the way before they can do the same. Try to prepare your boat for launching as much as possible before you get to the ramp. Doing so will reduce the time you spend at the ramp and will reduce the wait times for other boaters.


It’s likely that different locations will have different rules you must follow when launching a boat. For example, the National Forest Service has different prohibitions for boat launches at various locations in Daniel Boone National Forest. One area of the forest does not allow for motorized boats, whereas other places do not allow fishing or swimming near boat ramps. Some ramps require a fee before use. Other national and state forests and parks may have similar rules regarding boat ramp and water use.

Always check the local rules for the body of water before you launch your boat at the ramp. Doing so will help you avoid serious ramifications. Breaking the rules in national parks or forests could mean a hefty fine, imprisonment or both.


You won’t find every ramp use rule written in a guide. Some guidelines are considered etiquette that every boater still needs to know. The difference between these etiquette tips and regulations is safety. While etiquette guidelines focus on respecting other boaters, the formal rules keep everyone safe on the water. Both are critical to ensuring that you and all other boaters enjoy your day.

    • – Don’t use headlights on your truck while backing down a ramp. The lights cause glare for other boaters.


    • – Use a ramp at the far end of a multi-lane boat ramp. Because many places don’t have separators between ramps, you shouldn’t take up enough space for two boat launches by putting your boat in the middle. Move to one end to allow more boaters space.


    • – Turn on your boat’s nav lights if you launch in the dark. These lights help others to see your boat.


    • – Save the talk for the boat. If you want to talk to your guests, wait until after you launch the boat, not while your truck sits at the ramp.


    • – Load food and gear before you get to the ramp. Don’t use your time at the ramp to run off to a store and stock up on snacks and beverages. Take care of that before you back the boat in.


  • – Move your truck to one spot in the parking area. As with the ramp, please don’t take up multiple spots by choosing a place in the middle. Also, don’t park so close to other vehicles that they cannot get out.


Before you get to the ramp, check your boat. You should have disconnected your boat from the trailer lights, attached a safety rope to the bow, stored all your necessary equipment on board, inserted the boat key in its ignition and inserted the drain plug. For safety, though, you should keep both the trailer’s safety chain and winch strap attached until you move the boat to the water.

In addition to preparing your trailer, you need to get yourself ready. If anyone in your party needs to go to the bathroom, have them do so before you get to the ramp. Also, check the ramp area to be sure it allows for launching. Some places will have separate launch and retrieval locations.

Look at the water and the area around the ramp for any obstacles that could delay your launch. For example, if you spot driftwood or algae, move it out of the way as much as possible.

Explain everyone’s assigned tasks in launching the boat if you have guests. Children need to get out of the towing vehicle and stay nearby. Keep them out of the way of both the boat and truck. Others may help to watch the children or assist you in guiding the boat toward the ramp.

Fill out a float plan before you hit the water. Make sure to leave a copy with at least one person onshore. In case something happens, the authorities will have an idea of where you intended to go for the day.

Once you have prepared everything, you can get your boat to the ramp.

How to Safely Launch Your Boat

You can launch a boat by yourself, but you may need some practice at maneuvering the boat and towing vehicle into place. Here are a few launching tips to make the process a little easier. The procedure for how to launch a big boat is similar to launching a small boat. However, make sure your towing vehicle can haul the large vessel and buy towing insurance to cover accidents.


Getting a boat from the trailer to the ramp is always the first step. While you should do this process quickly, don’t work so fast that you make mistakes. Follow these steps for launching your boat from a trailer:

Have everyone leave the towing vehicle if you have guests.

Roll down your window to allow for a better view and to provide an escape if the vehicle ends up in the water and the power windows and doors don’t work.

While you may typically have your hands at the top of the steering wheel when driving, place one hand at the bottom of the wheel to steer your boat toward the ramp. When you move your hand to the right, the vessel will also move to the right, making it easier to align the boat with the ramp.

Once you have your boat aligned with the ramp, very slowly back up until the boat is in the water. If the vessel turns, pull forward and back up again. Don’t try to continue backing up. Doing so will make the problem worse.

Once in the water, you still need to get your boat off the trailer. You must also move it to the end of the dock.


Moving the trailer into position gets your boat to the ramp, but you still need to disconnect it from the truck and maneuver it out into open water. Here are the steps to follow for that part of the process:

– Put your towing vehicle in park. For safety, engage the parking brake and put chocks behind the front wheels to keep the truck from rolling as you disconnect the boat.

– Now you can pull off the winch strap and safety chain from the trailer and push the boat from the trailer further into the water. If you have a two-person boat launch, have the other person guide the boat with dock lines on the stern and bow or sit in the boat during launch and drive it to the dock.

– Move the boat to a courtesy dock to get it out of the way of the ramp and to pick up passengers.

– Return to your towing vehicle to move it out of the way.

– Remove the wheel chocks, disengage the parking brake, and move your towing truck out of the way for the next person to use the ramp. The faster the process goes, the happier you and other boaters will be.


If you have to do a one-person boat launch, you still follow most of the same procedures as when launching with two people. The difference is how you push the boat off the trailer and guide it to the dock.

– Tie a long rope to the front of the boat and a cleat inside your truck. Make sure the cable is long enough to allow the boat to come off the trailer and still stay attached to the line. This line will help you to control the boat once it gets into the water.

– When backing up your boat, stop suddenly. The momentum of the boat should knock it off the trailer and into the water without requiring you to get out and push it off.

– Untie one end of the rope from your truck and tie it to the dock to secure it while you move your vehicle.

How Not to Launch a Boat

When launching your boat, you want to avoid several common mistakes. Some of the most frequent safety and etiquette errors include:

  • – Not preparing your boat until you get to the ramp.
  • – Forgetting to replace the boat drain plug, which can let water into your boat.
  • – Backing up too far, which can cause the boat to pull your truck into the water. Go slowly and use your brakes.
  • – Talking to others by your truck at the ramp instead of getting your boat in the water, which wastes time at the ramp.
  • Not having your boat connected to your truck when moving down the ramp, which can cause the boat to go adrift on the water.
  • Loading your boat on the ramp with fishing gear, food and more. Do your loading before you get to the ramp.
  • Power loading your boat by revving the engine, which creates turbulence and erosion behind the ramp. Lift the engine once you have your boat onto the trailer.

Retrieving Your Boat

While most of the steps to load your boat require the reverse of actions you did while launching your boat, you need to know all the details about loading your boat back onto your trailer safely and quickly.

– To start, slowly steer your boat toward the ramp, and secure it to the dock. If you have another person with you, that person can stay in the boat to keep it in place. If there are three people, the third can get out and act as a spotter from the dock while you move toward the ramp.

– Slowly back your trailer down the ramp into the water. The back two-thirds of the trailer should be submerged. Guide the boat to the trailer with the bowline. If you have someone helping, the person inside the boat can steer the vessel toward the trailer.

– Trailers with guide-ons automatically set the boat into the correct position. If you don’t have these on your trailer, maneuver it into the center of the trailer by hand.

– Connect the winch line to the boat and winch it the rest of the way onto the trailer. Shut off the boat’s engine as soon as you connect the boat to the winch. If you have an outboard motor, lift it out of the water before winching the boat to the trailer.

– Secure the boat in place on the trailer before you pull the truck away from the ramp.

– Once you have tied your boat, slowly drive away from the ramp to a clear area to prepare your boat for the drive.

– Take off the drain plug and drain your boat thoroughly before hitting the road.

– Remove any equipment from inside the boat, including the key. Cover the boat with a tarp if you want to use one.

– Connect the trailer lights and any other ropes you missed earlier.

Just like you want to avoid hogging the ramp during unloading, you want to get your boat out of the water and away from the ramp as quickly as possible. Other boaters likely will wait for you to finish. Proper boat ramp etiquette requires you to use the ramp only for loading and unloading your boat from the trailer. Don’t use this point to take equipment out of your boat or to chat with friends.

Find Out Everything You Ever Wanted to Know at Formula Boats

5 Contact Formula Boats To Learn More

Formula Boats wants you to have a safe and speedy boat launch. We also want to help you enjoy other aspects of boating and life on the water. Explore our site to see the types of customizable boats you can purchase for your day on the water.

You can choose from a wide range of options, including both pulse-pounding performance boats and luxurious yachts at Formula Boats. The best thing about our craft offerings is the ease of customizing your boat from the ground up. If you want a boat that truly fits your personality and lifestyle and has no match at the marina, our FormulaFlex program is for you. With it, you can choose upholstery, electronics placement and exterior colors for your boat. For questions about our boats or to learn how to take the first steps into customizing the boat you want, contact us today.

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