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Boat Launch Observations

One of the cheapest  entertainment days you can have is to take your lawn chair & your favorite beverage and spend a afternoon just watching the goings on at a busy boat launch.

The thing some people don't understand, and should be in big capital letters on a huge sign at the top of every boat ramp...... Your TRAILER is in line, not your boat. 

(1) One afternoon at the Nisqually River boat launch when a boat owner tried to recover his boat & take it out, he could not get his pickup truck's engine to restart.  The tide was coming in, the boat was on the trailer, but the starter would not engage.  Thinking a loose battery wire may have been the culprit, the owner, raised the hood trying to identify the problem,  His whole rig was blocking the launch however.  Shortly a new large Zodiac with a new large motor propelling it came in, & the person operating this fine piece of equipment was irritated that he could not load his boat & get out of there ASAP.  The Zodiac was then pulled up on the beach & it's owner headed to the parking lot.

The stranded pickup owner asked if the Zodiac owner would help out & give him a pull up the launch.  Mr. Zodiac owner also had a brand new SUV.  The answer was no, that is your problem.  OK, when Mr. Zodiac owner proceeded to fume back at his SUV, the stranded pickup owner finally discovered that his starter switch was failing & by jiggling the key while twisting it, the pickup finally started.  

The pickup owner's wife noticed that the Zodiac was becoming disconnected with the beach & since it was not tied to anything, it was starting to drift  away by the incoming tide.  As the now running pickup pulled up to the parking lot, he stopped & told the Zodiac owner the launch was  now free.  However he mentioned that the Zodiac was floating upstream.

Mr. Zodiac owner asked, "What are YOU going to do".  Mr. stranded pickup owner said "nothing, as you would not help me".  He did add, "Do you have a watch", the response was "Yes, but what does that have to do with my boat floating off"?   Mr. stranded pickup owner's response was, "Be back here in 6 hours & your boat MAY come back down river, IF THE INDIANS ON THE RESERVATION UPSTREAM DON'T SEE IT FIRST", & he drove off.

(2) You will see guys try to launch their boat without taking the tie-down straps off.  When the wife says "I think it is still tied to the trailer" he mumbles some unkind things to her & burns rubber back up the ramp.  This usually seems to be done during a mid-afternoon, sunny day by some overweight guy wearing shorts, thongs, a skippers cap & a know-it-all (for a short while) look on his face.

(3) Then there is the hippie who is launching his boat using a van.  He for some reason he can not see out the mirrors, so he has his buddy open the rear doors.  Now then he backs down into the water & hits his brakes to slide the boat off, all their camping gear, sleeping bags, ice chest, food, clothing etc. also comes sliding out the rear of the van into the water thru the open rear doors, & there is a mad scramble to recover all this before it floats away.

(4) Or the non-thinker who is helping his friend at the Deep River launch, and with the boat backed down near the water, he holding the winch handle, positions the clicker in the off position.  He apparently was going to walk down with the boat holding onto the handle.  As his friend starts backing down, the boat & trailer moves faster than he anticipated, he looses grip of the handle.  Soon the weight of the boat slides it off the rollers with the winch line still attached & the winch handle spinning like a airplane prop.  This non-thinker then tries to grab the handle.  WOW - THAT HURTS  he utters after the handle hits his arm above the right wrist about 8".  The way it swelled up I was sure it had been broken.  However some dedicated fisherman have to take care of fishing first.   When we came back in they were there also taking out, he said no that he did not think he would even see a doctor.  Possibly a few beers have a better medicinal usage than the average person can believe .

(5) Then there was the old man who apparently had just bought a new Bayliner Trophy, & again apparently his first launching is at a the Westport launch on the first day of salmon season.  He gets the boat off the trailer & tied to the dock fine.  He then takes his pickup up to the parking lot.  When he gets back to the boat he then takes out the convertible top & puts it on, next is the plexiglas windows, then his antennas, then his VHF & depthfinder viewing head, then his salmon net, then raises his kicker motor, then gets his rods out & assembles them all while the many other frowning fishermen are trying to launch & negotiate back past his location tied to the end of the dock for 30 minutes.  He stands there in his new boat & smiles at everyone who has to back out manipulating around him.  He apparently had no clue that what he was doing effected most all the others using the launch that morning.  This guy apparently never heard about prepping his boat in the parking lot before launching.

(6) Or the guy who forgot to lock his boat trailer hitch onto the ball.  Later it was found that he had parked the boat & trailer in a friends lot the night before, so had only traveled a few miles in this condition.  The boat was large enough & a heavy enough tongue weight that he made it to the launch & unloaded OK.  But upon returning & winching the boat back onto the trailer, the weight of the boat on the trailer's rear section, raises the hitch right up off the ball.  The only thing that saved the day was that the trailer had surge brakes & he had the emergency cable snapped onto the bumper.  This emergency cable put the trailer brakes on as the trailer & partly loaded boat started back down the ramp by themselves into deeper water.  He managed to reach arm deep in the water & place a block behind a trailer tire to keep the trailer from going deeper.  He then unloaded the boat. Then carefully backed down the pickup & re-hooked the hitch onto the ball, locking it this time, and starting the loading procedure all over again.   Luckily the timing was so that the launch was not congested at that time.

(7) Then the guy who had a boat that slid off the trailer easily.  When he stopped partway down the ramp to unhook the winch line, the boat proceeded to launch itself on the concrete ramp.  He then winched the boat back onto the trailer.  Then proceeded to pull up the ramp to inspect the damage.  This time either without snapping the safety hook or without one, the pickup jerked upon starting up & the winch clicker stop broke.  Of course the boat launched itself all over again.  This  whole fiasco must have really chewed up the bottom, as there was fiberglas imbedded into the ramp after he finally drove away.

(8) One morning at the Westport launch in the fall of 1998 at low tide a poor guy backed down & there was a drop off of about 18" off the end of the blacktop (found out later that a large crab boat had tied up to the dock right south of the ramp with its engine & prop turning.  This washed the gravel out & moved it back to form a hump about 15' beyond the blacktop).  He backed down far enough that he dropped his rear pickup tires into the hole off the end of the blacktop, his rear tires had water near the top of them.  At the same time his trailer raised up with it's tires now sitting on  this hump.   He was far enough away from the dock that he could not really get to a position on  the dock to pull or push the boat off the trailer.  His boat motor starter had died so he could not get the outboard started to back the boat off, and the tide was coming in. A friendly fisherman who was also launching in the other lane and had a 4 wheel drive Blazer, after unhooking his trailer in the lot came back to the launch & pulled him out.

(9) Then there is always the guy who comes into the dock too fast & he rams another boat. Of course it is always a new boat that gets hit by an old tub, and he is one of those "know-it-alls" who also doesn't have insurance, & no money.

(10) There is also always the guy who can not back a trailer.  He is all over the upper ramp, pulls ahead & tries it again a half a dozen times before he finally gets it going down the ramp somewhat in the right direction, only to finally be located in the middle of a 2 lane ramp. The suggestion would be to do some practicing in a bank parking lot on a Sunday morning.  Oh well, maybe we all have had those days in our early years before we too got it perfected.

(11) There is then the guy who is assigned to get off the boat when coming into the dock to tie up the boat, he however does not take with him the rope attached to the bow.  He jumps off onto the dock, then turns around only to find the boat drifting away, he grabs the boats rail, the boat is large enough & the wind is blowing the boat away from him.  He can not pull hard enough, so there he is with his feet on the dock his body outstretched with his hands on the boat rail -- for about 2 seconds, & then comes the splash.

(12) Or the other guy who did about the same but did not leave the boat.  This one did some fancy scrambling hanging onto the bow railing with his feet still on the boat, but his hip pockets dipping into the water before he could manage to get back aboard.  Next time he took the bow rope.

(13) Then there was the guy with the brand new Ford diesel pickup and a new boat at Zittle's in Olympia, who launched boat, trailer & pickup all at one time.  Moral of this story is don't rely on the (Park) position of your automatic transmission.

(14) One day in the fall of 2000, at a popular launch, a new 16' aluminum boat with a 28 hp  Evinrude. This guy was getting the boat ready while his partner was parking the trailer.  He got the motor down, his gear ready & hit the starter, the motor did not start after numerous cranks, he then grabs the throttle / shift lever & pumps it about 3 times.  Tries to start it again, same response from the motor, same response from the guy.  After numerous go-arounds of this, the motor finally sputters.  One more go at it & it does start on one cylinder at first, then finally settles down to running.  Maybe he is not aware what that the fuel line pump bulb is for, or that you push the key in to choke it on that model , or the fast idle lever is there for a reason.  Am I missing something & you can "pump the throttle" on an outboard motor like you can your old 1941 Chev with a carburetor ?

(15) And there is the fisherman lawyer who forgets or misplaces his drain plug.  But he is like many diehard fishermen want to be on the water at or before daylight.  This guy for some reason lost or misplaced his drain plug.  The boat shops/marinas are not open that early in the morning.  One of his bright thinking fishing buddies suggested they scrounge the Safeway dumpsters for wine bottle corks, hoping that if the police come by, they could convince him of their intentions.  No police that morning, they found a cork & it worked.

(16) The morning of the 2000 Gig harbor salmon derby, a guy launched his fiberglas boat on the ramp.  This one had his kicker motor down, the lower unit on it got busted up badly.  A bystander suggested he get the hull inspected before he tries to put it back in the water.  The guy  must have thought that was good advise & drove off.  Later in the day the same bystander brought his boat back in, only to see the crunched boat taking out also.  Mr. crunch & partner came away with 2 salmon, while bystander had none.  So maybe the fish-gods do look out for some people.

(17) There is one guy who got his head in way of a spinning winch handle, 3rd hand info is that he got a major concussion, was totally blind for a while, & finally lost the sight of one eye.

(18) This guy had just bought his first boat, motor & trailer from a dealer who had their business on the water near a public launch.  The dealer had given instructions on how to operate the boat.  The first time this new boater took his new toy out for a trial run, he was disappointed in that it would not go faster than a fast troll no matter how much throttle he applied.  The dealer he had bought it from was on a nearby dock, so he motored over & tied to their dock. Went up & invited the mechanic to come down & look it over to find the problem.  The mechanic had him start the motor, everything sounded fine.  Then the mechanic started to look it over for any other problem.  What he found was the new owner still had the tie down straps on the stern and the winch cable to the bow, and under the straps was the trailer still attached to the boat.

(19) The summer of 2000 at Trident Cove  launch on Hood Canal, any of you who have been there are aware that is does not have lots of room to pull in & back down the ramp.  One of  our PSA members was waiting to bring his boat in.  He took it long enough waiting for these ding-a-lings trying to back up to reload their boats.  He (only stands 6' 4" weighs 300+),  got out of his boat, left his father in his boat on the water, & walked up the ramp where he physically picked up the rear  of the trailers to align them with the ramp each time the (driver) backed it off to the side.  If the driver got it off  the second or third try, he would pick it up & or  skid it over to the center again.  He did this to most all of those there that afternoon, one by one.  
It was this or wait another hour or more before he could get his own boat out.
When it was his turn, he backed his trailer down, his father ran the  boat up on the trailer.  It was locked on & they were out of there in less than 3 minutes. 

(20) Then there was the guy who tried to power load his boat onto the trailer at the launch.  18 footer or so, large motor, heavy throttle hand.  When he gunned it to run it up on the trailer, he got too much  throttle, the boat jumped up the trailer, over the bow chock & onto the back of his pickup canopy.  Surprise.

(21) A guy brought down his huge "cigar" boat and put in the water and then screamed out across the Sound.  A while later he came back from his outing and proceeded to back down his shiny brand new Dodge Ram pickup & trailer to the water.  He didn't back his trailer into the water, apparently because he had heard to not get the bearings wet, and only put his truck into park without setting the emergency brake. 
Well...he started winching up his huge boat and the truck popped out of gear and slid all the way into the water, up to the top of his cab. Meanwhile the bow of the boat is sticking down into the water and the stern was way up in the air.  All the while his wife was yelling and screaming at him the whole time.  They had to get a scuba diver to unhitch his boat from the trailer and a tow truck to retrieve the pickup.

(22) Then in the greater Seattle area on a nice week-end day, at a 2 lane launch, with the tide mostly out.  There was the guy who removed all his tie-down straps, winch cable snap & safety chain, before he backed down the ramp.  He did put his wife in the boat.  She was standing near the stern.  As he proceeded to back down to the water, he happened to tap the brakes enough to launch the boat onto the lower end of the concrete ramp.  Wife got launched out of the boat & onto the concrete near the water's edge, with enough injuries that a ambulance was called.  The boat's out-drive got a bad case of brokenitis.  He of course was not even seeing any of the other prospective boaters waiting in line.

Now on the other lane of this launch 2 guys were proceeding to launch their sail boat.  Since the tide was out, they had to back farther down than usual, & got the trailer tires over the end of the concrete & into soft muck.  The sailboat was large enough that they could not move the trailer any farther either way with the vehicle they were using.  When asked by waiting boaters if they had called a tow truck.  The 2 guys said no, that they thought they would wait until the tide came back in.  Apparently this particular launch flattened out on the lower part where they were parked, & when the bystander mentioned that, plus the high tide marks on the piling, & that considering the depth of the keel, that the vehicle may well be under water before the boat will float off.  No, they thought their original intentions were accurate & would wait it out  Now the whole launch was blocked for quite some time by people who needed their heads examined.

(23) If you see a wide eyed skipper coming back to the launch rather rapidly shortly after he has just launched, give him room quickly.  It is very possible he has forgotten to replace his drain plugs.  This does not necessarily have to be a smaller boat.  As witnessed of a 26' Bayliner at the Westport launch in the late summer of 2001.  The most obvious visual thing on this boat was that BOTH bilge pumps were working at capacity. 
He had gotten just outside the boat basin when he realized the boat was not responding to the throttle & steering as usual.  He looked over the sides and saw both of the automatic bilge pumps doing what they are supposed to do.  Then came the frantic dash back to the launch, waving off of a then launching boat & the frantic run to the parking lot to get his trailer back in the water ASAP.  He only lost an hour, but the pumps were not large enough capacity to keep the saltwater out of the I/O engine's starter.  Overhaul time the next day.

(24) Then again at the Westport launch, there is the guy who does not understand that you get in line to launch or take out.  About 3 PM when many fishermen were coming in, his young guy (about 35) with a new ThunderJet comes blasting into the launch from the wrong side, (RH side) does no prepping, pulls ahead of the pickup & trailer who is next in line (LH side) to take out.  He RAPIDLY pulls in, backs down enough so the jet unit is into the water, in the middle of a 2 lane launch, then pulls the engine cover, primes the motor, gets it started.  He then shuts it off, removes his tie-downs & backs it into the water.  His older partner then holds the boat next to the dock while the young man drives off to park the pickup & trailer.

All the while the boaters at the dock behind the Thunderjet, is still waiting to take out.  The next thing seen is the is the young man comes back on foot & stops at the pay box, gets his launch envelope, fills it out, deposits it in the box, then RUNS back to the parking lot to put the stub in his pickup window.  As he comes running back to the launch, he says to the driver of the next in line waiting pickup, "I suppose you are waiting for me"  The immediate answer was HELL YES.  He now runs down & jumps into the boat, sits down in the captains seat, but has to immediately jump up & pull the boat keys out of his rear pocket.  Now he has a problem maneuvering away from the dock and around the waiting boats as it is a inboard jet unit & not that good at backing up in tight quarters with a wind blowing.  If he had waited 5 minutes, done is prepping, & let the waiting pickup get backed down, the waiting boat would have been gone & he would have not had as much problems.

(25) Labor Day Weekend, 2000
As we approached the Everett docks, we could sense the chaos of new boaters.   There was a strong wind and accompanying current cross wind pushing half the people into the docks and half of them away.  At capacity,  we kept it floating while we watched the zoo of boaters trying to get themselves attached like flies in a wine glass crawling up the sides just to fall back in.   There were boats attached with bowlines only, floating perpendicular to the dock while the wives clung on narrowly.
          submitted by Jonathan Freeman 
(26) One late afternoon at the Everett Docks
Seems two hillbilly guys decided to try their hand at crabbing and drinking.  Mind you we didn't see any crabs so maybe their cooler full of beer wasn't worth of being tainted with something from the sea.  Long story short, we were in line behind them waiting for this 14' fiberglass floating bar to get loaded up.   Every time Hillybilly #1 pulled forward the boat listed badly to one side and wouldn't get on the trailer straight.  Fortunately he didn't take off down the road like that, possibly worried about the cooler sitting there on the side it kept listing to.  They tried at least half a dozen times, changing nothing and getting the same result.  In the end it took some bald spot scratching and brawn to lift the boat from the rear onto the rollers when it could have been easily solved by moving the cooler to the center of the boat!
         submitted by Jonathan Freeman 

Locked out on the Ramp Launch
Went to launch at Beacon Rock yesterday am at about 6 am, I backed the boat down, into the water, all good so far, I then hopped out, and closed the door, not noticing that my right elbow brushed the lock closed, I then pushed the boat off of the trailer, and tied her up to the dock, I then walk around to the driver door again...oh ####!!! The door was locked, and extra key was ...home. Trouble, all door's locked, though driver's window was down two inches, hope here.  I looked around, found a 4 ft branch with a crook in it, other's are at the top of the ramp, watching. I managed to get the 2'' diameter branch thru the window, and crook it to touch the button that controls the windows, managed to release it, yeah, looking good so far, I then reach across to the passenger side, and hit that button for the passenger window...down she came....yeah!!! open up that side, get driver door open, pull on out....only took three minutes, very happy to not have to bust window, lesson learned, yes.   I normally always have an extra key, it will not happen again...I was lucky.    Any other's have this happen to you??? 

        copied off  iFish message board & submitted by "Steelheader"


             Here are some boat launch etiquette suggestions that may help

(1) Be considerate of others.  If you are experienced, offer to help if it seems appropriate.

(2) Even if you ran the boat a week ago, it is best to put on flushing muffs at home the night
before and run the motor/s to pre-test the engine/battery condition.

(3) It helps to speed things up at the launch, to stash a couple extra launch fee packets in the
glove box!   Have it filled out & $ in ahead of time.

(4) Get in launch line, (which may also be takeout line), get ready in the "preparation area":
remove tie-downs, check the drain-plug, pump up the motor primer bulb, raise the antennas,
put all gear from the truck into boat, get the dock lines & fenders ready, etc.   DO NOT take
off the safety chain or release the trailer winch from the boat until you are at the waters edge.

(5) If there is mass confusion with many fishermen taking out in the afternoon the same time
other recreational boaters are launching, & there are multiple docks, there may be one dock
more appropriate for launching instead of all being take outs.

(6) When your turn, take the next launch spot that is ready, not necessarily the side you would

(7) Have both a bow line & stern line ready so that your helper can control the stern of the boat
even if there is a wind or current.

(8) The back down the ramp, launch & vehicle out should take not more than 5 minutes.

(9) If you have a passenger or helper, instruct them as to requirements once the boat is in the
water.  Once launched, move the boat to the far-end of dock before parking trailer.

(10) Park vehicle/trailer square within parking lanes.  Align the nose of truck with other parked
vehicles.  Don't block the parking lot for others.

(11) Get back to boat as quickly as possible & the boat way from the dock as soon as possible.

(12) On the haul-out, TRAILERS are what is in line, NOT the boat.  At a busy launch, let a buddy
out & he get the towing vehicle & trailer in line.  Don't jump to the shallow-end of the dock
assuming that nobody else is in line for that dock. There may be many boats maintaining position
in a staging area until they see their truck/trailer backing down, so give them room to maneuver
into the launch.

(13) When backing in multi-lane ramps before daylight, once in position and backing, turn off
headlights so that others may see as well. Parking lights/marker lights are fine while backing and
while sitting at waters edge.

(14) If you're new to this, make a check-list. Learn backing a trailer BEFORE you get to the
launch.  Have separate lists for: before leaving home, in ready line, before leaving dock, before
arriving at dock, before haul-out, and before drive-off.

(15) If you have a camper loaded on the towing pickup, have a helper guide you down the ramp
if need be.

(16) Smile, stay-cool, offer to help, and remember that this is supposed to be fun.


  One thing that I have done that helps on reloading my boat, is to make up some chocks that I place behind the rear tires of my pickup when loading  my 4200#  boat back on the trailer.  The one thing different is that I placed a 36"  3/8" rope on one side of these chocks with a screw eye into the chock.  The other end has a snap on it, the snap is attached to a hole in the underside of the rear bumper.  With this set-up I can then with my old standard 4 speed transmission, allow the pickup to rock back into the chocks, put it in compound & without the need for the extra foot to control the throttle, drive up the ramp, with the chocks bouncing along following me.  

I have heard of a few boaters that only use one behind the drivers front tire.  They then attach a small rope long enough to bring it into the drivers door.  As they drive up the ramp, all they have to do is pull the chock up & out of the way.

When retrieving the boat with a manual transmission, set the emergency brake and leave it.  Get the boat all loaded on the trailer and ready to pull out.  With the emergency brake still enabled, put it in 1st and S-L-O-W-L-Y start letting out the clutch as you give it gas.  When the engine starts to bog down, immediately pop the emergency brake, and you will pull the boat/trailer right up the ramp without even spinning a wheel! 

Also one thing to consider is that if you are trailering a heavier boat & your towing  vehicle has an automatic transmission, is when you are reloading the boat onto the trailer at the launch, upon initially backing down the ramp, when you stop, place your emergency brake on BEFORE you put it in PARK.  What this does is remove some possibility of damaging the parking brake dog in the transmission.  In reloading the boat, there is a good chance that the weight of the boat will drag the vehicle back slightly, binding this transmission locking dog.  Have you done this & have trouble getting the the shifting lever out of park, and when it does come out, it makes a loud snapping noise?   The emergency brake is designed to hold 80% of the vehicles weight on a 10% incline.  That is why the owners manual recommends that you apply the e-brake anytime you park on an incline.   It keeps the stresses to the transmission dog to a minimum.

If you would care to have your observances or experiences listed here please e-mail  me LeeRoy Wisner at with a detailed listing

Last Updated 07-04-2006                                                                                    
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