How Launching a Boat Works

Loading a Boat into a Trailer

Boat trailer winch
A close up shot of a boat trailer's winch
Hubart Inabinet/iStockphoto

All good things must come to an end, and that includes a day of boating. When you're ready to head back to land, you should follow these steps:

  1. Pilot your boat toward the ramp, keeping in mind the water becomes shallower as you get closer to the ramp.
  2. If you are working with a partner, you can get out of the boat at the dock and bring your vehicle down to the boat ramp. If you're working alone, you'll have to secure your boat first before heading to the parking lot.
  3. Back the trailer down the ramp into the water. Use the bow line to guide your boat onto the trailer. If your trailer has guide-ons, the boat should settle into the proper spot on the trailer. If not, you'll have to guide the boat into position by hand.
  4. Attach the winch line to the bow of the boat. Use the winch to pull the boat the rest of the way up onto the ramp and in position. You can use either a manual hand-crank winch or an electric winch to do this.
  5. Secure the boat to the trailer. You don't have to attach every single strap and cable to the boat, but it's important to make sure the boat won't roll off as soon as you drive up the ramp.
  6. Once your boat is secure on the trailer, slowly guide your vehicle back up the ramp.
  7. Drive your vehicle to the post-launch area.
  8. Once at the post launch area, unload your equipment from your boat, remove the key, secure the boat to the trailer using straps and cables and reattach the wiring from your trailer to your vehicle.
  9. If you have a tarp, now's the time to secure the tarp over the boat.
Loading a boat
A man loads a boat onto a trailer in anticipation of an approaching storm.
Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty Images

Just as you should prepare your boat before approaching the ramp, you should move your boat out of the ramp area before you start unloading it. Other people may need to use the ramp. It's proper launch etiquette to clear the ramp as soon as it is safe to do so.


That's all there is to it. If you follow these steps for launching and loading your boat, you should minimize the chances for accidents, headaches and embarrassment. And you'll also know what to do if you see someone else having trouble launching a boat. With a little preparation and a healthy dose of patience, you'll be destined for smooth sailing.

What really goes on when you launch a boat? In the next section, we'll take a closer look at the physics behind it all.