Before you set out to launch a boat, there are a few things you should do to prepare. First, if you're not experienced at towing a trailer, you'll want time to practice in a large, open space like an unused parking lot. You'll need to practice making turns, accelerating, braking and backing up. Since launching a boat requires you to drive in reverse down a ramp into the water, you'll need to be comfortable with backing up a trailer -- read How Backing Up Towed Vehicles Works for more information.
Once you're familiar with the way the tow vehicle handles while pulling a trailer, it's time to do some research. Before you head off to a launching point, make sure you know what the conditions are like. What is the ramp made of? Is it concrete or covered in gravel? Is it a natural launch site, meaning you'll need to back down a hill or natural slope? How steep are the ramps? Will your vehicle be able to back down the ramp and move back up safely? How busy is the facility? How many ramps are available? It's better to know the answer to all these questions before you head out to go boating. You don't want to get to the facility and find out there's a mile-long line for one ramp, or that your vehicle can't make it up and down the ramp at all.
Before you hit the road, you should make sure that your boat trailer is in working condition. Test the lights on the trailer. Check the inflation on the trailer's tires and look for wear and tear. Examine the straps securing your boat to your trailer and make sure they're in good condition. Maintaining your equipment will help head off potential accidents on the road and at the boat ramp.
Many boat launching areas have a large space set aside for pre-launch preparations. As a courtesy to others, make sure to use this space rather than the boat ramp for your pre-launch activities. Those should include:
- Loading the boat with the equipment you'll be taking with you -- this could include anything from fishing gear, ice chests and water ski equipment to your standard safety equipment (lifejackets and safety lines, for example)
- Disconnecting the wiring from your vehicle to the trailer -- otherwise you could risk shorting out your vehicle's wiring later when you back into the water
- Using plugs to close any open drains and make sure they are secure
- Putting the boat's key into the console
- Removing the safety straps securing the boat to the trailer
- Detaching the winch line from the bow of the boat
- Connecting a bow line to the bow and coil it out of the way so that it doesn't snag on the trailer
- Making sure you have enough fuel in your boat
- Going over the launch procedure with your partner, if you have one -- and working out hand signals between the two of you to use during the launch
Taking these steps before reaching the boat ramp will save you a lot of time during the actual launch. Not only will it make the experience less stressful, it will also help you avoid the cold stares of a dozen fishermen as you try to get your boat into the water. Little annoys other boaters as much as someone preparing a boat for launch while on the ramp itself.
Now let's take a look at what you'll need to do during the actual launch.