How to Launch a Boat in 5 Easy Steps
Spring hits and it’s time to put your boat in the water. As exciting as that sounds, there’s one big challenge standing between you and beautiful sunset cruises. You’ll have to launch the boat.
This is a task dreaded by many, and understandably so. Had you asked me a couple of years ago what my least favorite part about boating is, I would’ve told you dropping the boat in the water.
Just the thought of launching my boat would cause me an absurd amount of stress. That’s why I can imagine that the fear of launching a boat may deter some people from using their boat as often as they would like to.
In order to conquer my fear of dropping the boat in the lake each spring, I made a point of practicing when the launch was empty. That’s a great time to perfect this skill as you don’t want to be that guy holding up all the other boaters waiting to get on the water.
Now, after years of practice and help from professionals, I feel totally comfortable launching my boat even if the launch is packed. After reading this article, I hope that you will also be on your way to feeling much more confident in your boat launching skills.
I organized everything that I have learned into 5 simple steps. By following these 5 steps, launching your boat should be a piece of cake every time.
How to Launch a Boat
Barletta's Ashley Lizzi and Olivia Hudak show how to launch a boat.
Step 1: Find a Buddy to Help
Don’t try to launch a boat by yourself. I’ve tried to do it and I’ve seen others attempt to do it. Launching a boat without anyone to help hardly ever has a good ending.
Personally, when I tried to launch a boat by myself it was a complete disaster. This is not something I would recommend anyone else do especially since it is such a simple task with the help of a friend.
Launching a boat is really a two person job. You will need one person driving the tow vehicle while the other is in the boat as it’s being dropped into the water. The second person can also help direct the driver so that the trailer lines up on the ramp.
The buddy system is the way to go when launching any type of boat. Bonus points if you have a friend that is good at backing up a trailer or knows how to drive a boat. This task will be much easier with a friend, so find your partner in boating and head to the launch.
Step 2: Load the Boat
Before jumping in line at the boat launch, I would stay off to the side for this step so you don’t block anybody who’s ready to launch their boat. This step won’t take long but you won’t want to be rushed either.
I recommend loading the boat with any gear you have. So, if you packed a cooler or maybe some boat snacks, now is the time to put them in the boat. It is much easier to load the boat while it’s next to your vehicle that’s packed full of the things you’ll need for your day on the water.
Remember to stow everything away so that nothing flies out while you drop the boat in the water. This is a great time to make sure you have all the life jackets and safety gear you need on board as well.
Step 3: Line the Trailer up With the Launch
This next step is viewed as one of the hardest parts to launching a boat. That’s because launches can be set up so that the ramp is at an odd angle or have a spot for two boats to launch at once, which doesn’t make it any easier. Sometimes it’s also user error if you’re not great at backing up a trailer.
A good rule to follow is always, always, always make sure your truck and trailer are lined up straight with the ramp before backing in. This will help you stay on course and not get stuck in a weird angle once you reach the water.
Weird angles while backing up a trailer can easily result in jackknifing your tow vehicle and trailer. Doing so could cause all kinds of damage to your vehicle and likely your boat and trailer as well. Definitely, something you want to avoid at a boat launch.
If you line your boat up, when it’s time to back into the launch, all you’ll have to do is back straight in. This technique will help you stay centered on the ramp. Staying centered will keep your tires on the ramp which is what you want..
If you go too far to one side of the ramp, the trailer wheels can fall off the side potentially causing damage to your trailer and boat. This is why it is crucial to line the tow vehicle and trailer up straight before backing into the launch.
Another good thing to remember is that some types of trailers are equipped with back straps. I would recommend unstrapping those at this point. Not every trailer has back straps but you should always have a front strap whether it comes with the trailer or you purchase a heavy-duty ratchet strap for this purpose.
Although you should detach the back straps before backing into the launch, I do not recommend detaching the front strap yet. Some boat launches are very steep. Because of this, I would wait until your boat is in the water to unstrap the front strap. I will further explain this process in a later step.
You should now have all your gear in the boat and back straps unhooked. Now one person should jump up into the boat. From there, start the batteries and make sure the electronics turn on right away. This will ensure that you have a healthy battery and the boat should start on the first try. All that’s left now is to get the boat in the water.
[For more information on trailering a pontoon boat check out: How to Trailer a Pontoon Boat: 9 Easy Steps]
Step 4: Slowly Back the Boat into the Water
Don’t get too ahead of yourself on this step. You don’t want to back the boat too far into the water yet. All you want to do is back it into the water far enough so you can safely lower the motor.
Once you’re there, slowly lower the motor into the water using the trim. This way you can start the boat while it’s still on the trailer without burning up the impeller. This is also a safe play in case the boat doesn’t start for some reason, you won’t be left floating dead in the water.
You’ll want to make sure the motor turns on and the whole boat is functioning correctly. If you back the trailer too far into the water, the boat could start drifting side to side. It should still be strapped in the front but if it’s far enough in the water, you could run into problems with drifting if it’s a windy day.
Once the motor is in the water far enough so that water can pump through it, go ahead and start the engine. Check that everything is running well and there are no alarms or lights going off indicating an issue.
If everything is up and running as expected, unstrap the front of the boat from the trailer. The boat still shouldn’t go anywhere at this point as the trailer should still be out of the water quite a bit. You are now ready for the next step.
Step 5: Get the Boat Floating
Back the trailer up slowly until the boat floats off the trailer. While the driver of the tow vehicle is backing up, the boat driver should have the throttle slightly in reverse. Emphasis on slightly, you don’t want to go flying backwards the second the boat is floating.
By having the boat slightly in reverse, as soon as the boat is floating you will be able to back out of the ramp. This technique gives you more control of the boat and allows you to avoid drifting back into shore or into a dock.
There are exceptions to this method. Some boat launches require a little more maneuvering to get the boat floating. Sometimes you have to power the boat off of the trailer. But, be very careful doing this because it's typically very shallow in these situations.
In shallow water, you risk burning your impeller or catching rocks with your prop. Always use your best judgment in these situations so you don’t end up with damage to your boat, the trailer, or the tow vehicle.
If you’re driving the tow vehicle, your work is almost done. All you need to do is pull forward out of the ramp and park the truck and trailer in a parking spot if you’re staying at the ramp. Always be sure to park in spots that are designated for trucks with trailers. Parking in designated spots will keep you from getting in anyone's way or getting a ticket.
All you have to do now is have your buddy who’s driving the boat come pick you up. Most of the time, there are docks at the boat launch for quick pickups and drop-offs.
Successful Boat Launch
You now have all the information you need to successfully launch your boat no matter where you are. Whether you are on a lake or a river or the intercoastal, you’ve got the steps it takes to launch your boat.
With this easy 5 step checklist, you can take on adventures in new places and have a stress-free start to your day on the water. The last thing I recommend doing is to practice these steps. Especially backing up a trailer, a large empty parking lot is a great place to perfect that skill.
At first, it may feel uncomfortable but after practicing these 5 steps, you’ll be an expert. This is another challenge that goes along with boating. Luckily you now have the information you need to successfully launch a boat stress-free.