How to launch a boat like a pro

Launching a boat is one of those tasks even seasoned boaties dread. Especially when a bunch of onlookers ramp up the pressure (pun intended), and make even the most seasoned pro question which way the wheel is meant to turn.

That’s why we’re blogging our top tips for doing the job safely.

Tip #1 – ignore your fellow boaties

Okay, you still need to follow etiquette on the ramp, and of course, be respectful to others around you. But, we’re talking more about ignoring those people who are overtly (or covertly) trying to hurry you along.

More often than not, mistakes on the ramp happen because the driver has overlooked a simple task, like releasing the safety chain before backing down. These mistakes can easily happen if we’re rushing, or feeling the pressure of other people around us.

Yep, that’s why we recommend keeping cool, blocking out those ‘looks’ from over excited boaties, and going at your own pace. In the end, you’ll launch quicker if you take your time and do your best to avoid simple errors.

Tip #2 – follow a protocol

Pilots have a protocol, which they follow before every takeoff, no matter what the circumstances. Doctors have one before every operation, and you should have one before launching your boat.

A simple dot point checklist will help you stay focused, even when people around you are wanting you to hurry, or if you’re simply in a forgetful mood.

We’ve created a comprehensive check list for you, which you can download and use, or simplify or expand, based on your needs. (Download it here!)

Your checklist

Before you leave the house

  • Safety gear – is it packed on the boat? (Make sure the winch handle is too.)
  • Are your bungs inside the boat? (Read this if you need reminding why!)
  • Battery – is it charged?
  • Double check – walk around and do a visual to ensure everything looks in order.
  • Loose objects – is there anything on the boat that could blow away?
  • The hitch – is it locked to the tow ball?
  • Safety chains – are they connected to the car?
  • Electrics – are the brake lights and indicators on the trailer working?
  • Manual brake lever – is it released?
  • Ratchet lever – is it rotated towards the back of the trailer?
  • Brake lockout – is it disengaged?
  • Winch – is it locked?
  • Safety chain at the bow – is it secured?
  • Trailer hitch – double check it is properly locked onto the tow bar.

Prior to launch

Before you reverse down the ramp

  • Bungs – double check they’re in there.
  • Ropes – do you have the right ropes to effectively launch and dock?
  • Tie downs – have you released and stowed them?
  • Brake lock – is it engaged?
  • Outboard – is it off its rest?
  • Fuel line – is it primed?
  • Tote tank – if you have one, ensure the vent is open and make sure the fuel line is connected and primed.
  • Battery – is it switched on?
  • Safety chain – loosen it.

When you’re on the ramp

  • Check the ramp – are there any obstructions? Is there enough room for the trailer wheels to back down without dropping over the edge?
  • Reverse the trailer into the water – is there enough room for the boat to safely push off or be driven off?
  • Wear a regulation life jacket – are you alone on the boat? If so, this is regulation in many states.
  • Lower the engine – and put it into forward.
  • Safety chain – disconnect it.
  • The winch – release the winch hook and back the boat off.
  • Dim headlights – if it’s dark or low light, so others retain visibility. (Especially if it’s a multi-boat ramp.)

Retrieving your boat from the water

  • Depth – is the trailer in deep enough water so the boat can easily align with the rollers? Make sure it’s not too deep, as then the boat will have trouble finding the tracks.
  • Handbrake – is the handbrake on and is the car in Park? Double check this.
  • Winch and safety chain – make sure the winch handle, winch and safety chain is ready.
  • The winch post – drive the boat to the winch post, or winch the boat onto it.
  • Secure the winch hook – when the boat is positioned firmly against the post, make sure the winch hook is secured to the bow eye.
  • Bow safety chain – make sure it is secured.

Last but not least!

  • Double check – is the boat secured? Check the tie downs don’t need re-attaching and make sure the engine (or leg) doesn’t need lifting.
  • The bungs – remove them.

Final word

If you haven’t already noticed, a big part of a successful launch is checking, rechecking and then checking again – just to be sure nothing obvious will impede your launch or retrieval.

We made the above checklist into a Boat launch checklist – Trident Marine Insurance, so you can store it to your mobile phone, or print it out and bring it with you.

Then simply work through each step when you’re heading out onto the water, and reduce the risks associated with launching.

For more info on etiquette and safety while launching a boat, please head here.

In the meantime, stay safe on the water, and when you’re launching! If you do need comprehensive cover for your vessel, we are happy to organise an obligation-free quote for you. Just ask.


Boat and Trailer