So you've prepared your boat and trailer, the ramp is available and it's time to get your boat in the water. What do you do next?
First, you need to back your trailer down the boat ramp. You need to do this slowly and carefully. Keep an eye on your mirrors to make sure you're on the ramp securely. Remember that at this point your boat is no longer secured to the trailer -- a sudden jolt could cause your boat to roll off and hit the ground. Your boat will begin to float free as the trailer enters the water. If the water is shallow, you may have to back the trailer farther into the water and give the boat a push to free it.
If you're driving the vehicle and you're working with another person, that person should stand to the side of the trailer and hold the bow line. Your partner should communicate with you using hand signs -- yelling out instructions can cause confusion if there are multiple ramps at the facility. Make sure to tell your partner to keep the bow line slack -- if the boat enters the water quickly your partner could get pulled in after it. Your partner's job is to hold the bow line and keep control of the boat once it's in the water. That will prevent the boat from floating off without you.
Once the boat is in the water, you can pull your vehicle forward and clear the way for the next boater. Do this slowly, and remember to check your mirrors to make sure you haven't forgotten to detach any straps or lines -- otherwise your boat is going to follow you back to the parking lot. Your partner can get into the boat and pilot it to a nearby dock. After you park your vehicle and trailer and secure your belongings, you can join your partner at the dock and head out on the water.
If you're launching a boat by your lonesome, you'll need to take a little more time. First, you should back up your trailer very slowly and stop as your boat begins to lift off the trailer. Park your vehicle and activate the parking brake before exiting the tow vehicle. Walk back to your boat and give it a gentle push to move it all the way into the water. Secure your boat to a dock quickly using two lines and return to your vehicle. Move your vehicle and trailer out of the way and park it before returning to your boat.
Ideally, the launching process should take only a few minutes. Experienced boaters may even want to try a technique called jerking. Jerking requires two people -- one in the boat while it's on the trailer and the other person driving the tow vehicle. The driver backs down the ramp at a good clip, then hits the brakes just as the back of the boat begins to float. The boat's momentum will cause it to continue to move backward until it's in the water. The person in the boat can fire up the boat's engine and pilot it out of the way. It only takes a moment and it's pretty impressive when it works properly.
But it's a tricky maneuver, and a little mistake can cause a big accident. Hit the brakes too early and the boat will come crashing down on the ramp. Hit the brakes too quickly and the tow vehicle might get stuck in the water. For most boaters, it's better to use caution when launching a boat.
Now you're ready to head out on the water and have fun. But what happens at the end of the day when it's time to go back home? Keep reading to find out how to return a boat to its trailer.