How to Use a Boat Ramp Properly

Boat ramp

Boat ramps exist to help boat owners launch their boats into the water. But there are some important guidelines to follow if you want to launch successfully – and respect the etiquette of the boat ramp system.

Basic Rules of Etiquette

Before delving into the preparatory steps necessary to have a smooth boat launch, let’s talk about boat ramp etiquette. Violating these rules and procedures may not get you arrested or carry a fine, but your activity may be considered disrespectful – and won’t win you any friends in the docking area.

  • Take advantage of the staging area. The boat ramp is going to have a “staging” area, where you can prepare your boat for launch without holding up the line. Be sure to take advantage of this area so you don’t take up space at the main ramp unnecessarily. 
  • Prep the boat before approaching the ramp. It’s also important to spend time preparing the boat before you approach the ramp. This way, you don’t spend an excessive amount of time on the main ramp area.
  • Respect lines. Lines may form leading up to the ramp, especially on busy days. This should go without saying, but it’s important to respect those lines.
  • Limit your socialisation. The ramp is a gathering spot for people who love boating, so it’s natural to strike up a conversation – especially if you run into friends. It’s fine to catch up with a bit of small talk and be friendly with people, but don’t socialize to the extent that it holds up the line.
  • Work efficiently. You don’t need to set a speed record every time you prepare your boat for launch, but it’s important not to dawdle. People are eager to get their boats in the water, and they don’t want to wait for someone who’s taking their sweet time.
  • Don’t take up more space than you have to. Similarly, try not to take up an excessive amount of space. Using the staging area is a good start, but it’s also important to give other people plenty of space when you approach the ramp itself.
  • Don’t work on others’ boats without asking permission. If someone’s struggling with their boat, or if they’ve left it unattended, you might be tempted to offer your help or step in to prepare the boat on their behalf. While your gesture may be well-intended, it’s considered rude if you step in without asking permission first.

How to Prepare for a Boat Ramp Launch

When you’re ready to start preparing your boat for a ramp launch, there are some important steps you’ll need to follow:

  • Inspect your boat. Give your boat a cursory, top-to-bottom inspection. Make sure everything is in place and working properly; this is your last chance before hitting the water.
  • Use the right equipment. If you’re carrying your boat to the water with a vehicle, make sure you’re using secure, reliable equipment – and that you’re following all instructions and guidelines while doing it.
  • Inspect the ramp and dock. Most of the time, the ramp and the dock will be open, clean, and clear for your boat launch – but this isn’t a guarantee. Give it a once-over before approaching with your boat.
  • Observe the traffic flow. Pay attention to the other boats and owners getting ready to launch. Where are the lines forming? How quickly are things moving? Use this information to prepare your approach.
  • Check for fees. Some marinas and launch points charge fees, while others are free. Make sure you know what the situation is before moving forward.
  • Use lights (if launching at night). If you’re launching the boat at night, make sure to use lights so other people can see you better. Additionally, turn off your car headlights so you’re not irritating other people or interfering with their vision.
  • Choose a day and time that’s not busy. If you want to streamline the boat launch, choose a day and time where the ramp won’t be busy. You might even get it all to yourself.

Inspecting the Boat Before Launch

There are a few important things you’ll want to check on your boat before launching.

  • Safety equipment availability. Make sure your boat is equipped with all the safety devices and features you need to remain secure.
  • Tie-down removal. All tie-downs should be removed from your boat prior to launch.
  • Battery and motor. Inspect the battery and motor to ensure they’re working as intended.
  • Drive unit. Your drive unit needs to be angled correctly for the approach.
  • Drain plug. Is your drain plug fixed firmly in place?

If there are any issues with the above points, now is the time to correct them.

Additional Tips

Here are a few additional tips to use a boat ramp successfully:

  • Watch others first. If you’re not sure what you’re doing, or if you just want to feel more comfortable and familiar with the experience, it’s a good idea to watch others and see how they use the ramp. You’ll get a better sense for etiquette and proper procedures before you try to use it yourself.
  • Bring a friend. Don’t hesitate to bring a friend with you. It can be helpful to have an extra set of hands to increase the efficiency of your launch.
  • Ask for help or advice when you need it. Most people around the ramp are going to be friendly (if you’re being respectful). If you need help, or if you’re confused about something, feel free to ask someone about it.

While boat ramps might seem intimidating if you’re new to the boating world, as you gain more experience, they’ll feel much more accessible.

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