Going through a checklist of steps you need to take for launching and loading a boat might seem too much like work. Yet the little things add up—like remembering to install the drain plug—and all it takes is forgetting one step to ruin an otherwise picture-perfect day on the water.
Even the most experienced boaters follow a pre-launch and load checklist. For them, it’s so routine the list comes to mind as they go. Over time you can do that, too, with some practice and by first using a written checklist.
Here’s a list to get you started.
Launching the boat
Before entering the active ramp, there are actions you can take to make launching more convenient for you and others in line. Most launch facilities have areas where you can pull over and out of the traffic to disconnect transom tie-downs, remove the boat cover and transom saver and install the drain plug.
While at the staging area, pack into the boat any items that need unloading from the tow vehicle. Coolers, watersports gear and everything needed for the day should be loaded up. This includes all safety gear, e.g., personal flotation devices. Now is also the time for everyone to use the restroom facilities before arriving in the active launch lanes.
Before you back down the ramp, have everyone leave the vehicle and lower the window of the tow vehicle. In the event it goes into the water you will be able to escape through the windows. This is the one time when it’s okay to remove your seat belt should you need to take that step.
Drive to the top of the ramp to align the boat trailer and vehicle in a straight line.
Look out for anything blocking the lane between you and the end of the ramp at the lake. Begin backing down the ramp if the view is clear.
Drive back up the ramp if the trailer jackknifes or becomes difficult to straighten. It’s much easier than trying to adjust nearer the water.
When you reach the water, but before the boat is wet, put the vehicle in park, set the parking brake, get out and remove the winch strap and hook from the bow eye. Have someone on your crew hold docklines that are attached to the bow and stern. Make sure the lines are long enough—at least two boat lengths—so the boat can float off the trailer and be pulled to shore or the courtesy dock. If you have someone with you to drive the boat over to the courtesy dock, the line is not necessary.
Move the boat to the end of the courtesy dock and if possible, on the opposite side from the ramp.
With the boat safely off the trailer, you can park your vehicle in a designated area that is reserved for boat trailers. Raise windows, hide valuables and lock doors.
Loading the boat
Have passengers exit the boat at the courtesy dock. Leave all the items you packed from the tow vehicle in the boat. Nobody should be riding the boat up the ramp.
Have someone on your crew stay with the boat while you retrieve the trailer. Slowly back the trailer into the water but do not submerge the trailer bunks.
Slowly approach the trailer with the boat and nudge the bow into the center of the trailer, allowing it to settle before winching or powering up to the bow stop.
With the boat snug against the bow stop, exit the boat and attach the bow strap and hook to the bow eye. Tighten the strap. Clear the ramp and drive to the staging area.
Remove the drain plug and install the transom tie downs and transom saver. Remove everything you loaded prior to launching, and make sure there are no items in the boat that might blow out on the drive.
Inspect the hull and trailer bunks for the presence of any invasive species, such as aquatic plants. Look inside the bilge, livewells and baitwells for invasive fish and animals. These should be removed at the ramp by using the washdown station, if such is available. Remember that transporting and spreading invasive species is illegal should those be present where you are boating.