Launching your boat will become a simple task with a little practice. However, if you are new to boating you might want to hitch up your boat trailer and head to an empty parking lot to gain some practice. I don’t recommend arriving at the boat ramp and attempting to launch your boat before you know how to reverse a trailer.
So, let’s look at some of the principles of reversing a trailer …
Start with your vehicle and the trailer as straight as possible and about a trailer’s length from the area into which you want to reverse. Watch the trailer out of the driver’s window while reversing slowly, and start turning the steering wheel to the right. Be gentle with the steering – it is easier to add more steering than to correct it too much. Some guides to reversing suggest grasping the steering wheel at the very bottom. This should prevent you from over-turning the wheel and if your steering wheel is in a straight position to start with, you will know throughout the reversing maneuver, without having to look, that at the lowest point your steering wheel is again straight.
As soon as the trailer starts to turn you can begin straightening up while still reversing. Don’t leave straightening up too late or the trailer will jackknife.
Eventually you begin steering in the other direction while still reversing. Bring the vehicle’s nose around to follow the trailer and keep an eye on where the trailer is in case it needs correction.
Continue to reverse in a straight line using the side mirrors. Reverse slowly and carefully. When more of the trailer appears in one mirror, steer towards that mirror to start the trailer going the other way. Remember that a correction only requires a small steering movement.
Pulling forward to straighten the trailer is often an easy option before continuing to reverse.
Once you are able to back up a few hundred feet without jackknifing your trailer or rear-ending anything you are probably ready to launch your boat at a boat ramp. If possible, select a quiet weekday morning for your first launch.
The first rule when launching a boat is being prepared before you pull onto the launching ramp. That means having all your gear safely stowed, the boat key in the ignition, the boat drain plug in, the tie-down straps off, the trailer lights disconnected and a safety line connected to the boat’s bow. It can be very frustrating watching someone loading fishing or picnic gear into their boat or apply sunscreen to their kids while their boat is parked on the launch ramp!
Keep the trailer’s winch strap and safety chain connected until you reach the water’s edge. It will only take a few seconds to disconnect them prior to launching.
Back the boat down the launch ramp and stop before the stern of the boat hangs over the water. Unlock the winch strap and remove pins or other devices used to prevent the outboard motor from tipping down. Now back the boat down until the trailer wheels are submerged.
When the boat is ready to float off the trailer, have your boating buddy hold the bowline or tie the line to your vehicle or winch handle.
Once the boat has floated free of the trailer either beach the boat or tie it off to the dock with the bowline. A confident boater will have someone start the motor and move the boat away from the dock until the driver has parked the vehicle and is ready to board.
Either way, try to launch quickly as a courtesy to your fellow boaters.
The same rules apply when putting your boat back onto the trailer, but there are a few hazards you should be aware of, especially if you’re tired or feeling rushed.
When you tie up at the dock, have your vehicle keys in your pocket, retrieve your vehicle and claim a spot in line.
Before you pull your boat out of the water ensure the engine has been tilted up.
Many launching problems will be avoided by making sure everything on your boat is in working order before you leave home!