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How to Observe Proper Boat Ramp Etiquette

By Chuck Giles
It’s that time of year again to discuss boat ramp etiquette; yes, there is an unwritten set of guidelines for launching and loading your boat. What follows are just suggestions to keep you from incurring the wrath of irate recreational boaters. Keep in mind to follow all boating laws at the same time.

First and foremost, practice backing up with your boat trailer, so when you finally arrive at the lake, have loaded all your stuff in the proper loading area and it is your turn to enter the fray on the ramp, you can at least appear to know what you are doing. Nothing is worse than watching someone who is weaving backwards all over the designated lanes on approach to the water. Save yourself some embarrassment and practice. Trust me; you won’t get much sympathy from those waiting in line to launch their own vessels while you are touring the entire ramp attempting to find the water.

A good rule of thumb for keeping your trailer in a straight line is to, while your are backing, hold your vehicle steering wheel on the very bottom and turn in the direction you wish your trailer to go.

The more practice you allow yourself, the better you become and soon not even have to turn your head because you can use your mirrors for their intended purpose; to see behind your vehicle.

Without appearing prejudiced, if you want to see pure back-up artistry, go watch as a bass tournament is getting underway. Most of these guys can back their boats into an eight foot tunnel if need be. I have seen over 100 boats being launched, in the dark, at a big tournament, using five lanes and not a vehicle crossed over the designated lanes. To them, time is of the essence, not to mention courtesy.

When you arrive at the lake of your choice pulling your boat, head directly to the area designated for prepping your vessel to go into the water. This is where you load your ice chests, this is where you unhook all the necessary tie-downs, this is where you assure your plug is indeed inserted correctly and most importantly, this is where all preparations are made prior to getting on the ramp. Once you enter the “ramp zone”, your only goal should be to get your boat off or on the trailer and then head to the parking lot. Experienced boaters do not like “ramp rats.”

Now let’s discuss launching or loading your boat in the dark, which occurs more frequently than you think. Rule number one, actually it encompasses just about all nighttime rules; you don’t need headlights to back up a trailer. You are going backwards! Your parking lights will more than suffice. Your parking lights will not blind the other patrons attempting to back up their vehicle. Nothing is worse than trying to back up with some beginner’s head lights glaring into your eyes and mirrors from the bottom of the ramp.

Now that you have gotten your boat off the trailer and into the water, get out of the way. Hopefully you have made provisions for one in your group to navigate to a dock area away from the ramp.

If you do happen to be alone, make every effort to expedite your boat’s exit from the busy area and then move your tow vehicle to the parking area. No one should blame a lone boater as long as every effort is being made to clear the ramp.

This is also the time to remind those who arrive early or leave late, when the light of day is insufficient, use your navigation lights on your vessel so others know your whereabouts and direction of travel in the water. This is not just courteous, it is the law.

Now let’s talk about going home time. When you head back into the marina or docking area, drop off someone to go get your tow vehicle and then get away from the pier so others may use it. Solitary boaters have no other choice than to dock their vessel safely and then proceed to get their vehicle.

When your turn finally arrives to get your boat on the trailer, do so quickly and safely. As soon as your boat is securely on the trailer, head up the ramp to the designated area for final road preparation. Please have enough sense not to attempt this on the ramp itself. Remember, it is illegal and dangerous to have a passenger in the boat when it is being towed. This applies all the time, even if you are just heading to the parking lot. No passengers in a boat when it is out of the water and under tow.

If some of these suggestions seem like I am being rude and sarcastic, I am. Believe me, if you don’t observe rules of etiquette, my attitude will seem tame by comparison to the comments and gestures you will hear on the ramp.

Seriously, it will make your and the other boaters’ day much more enjoyable by practicing simple courtesy at the “ole ramp.”

[Editor's Note: Please share with our readers what you know that will enhance the experience of fishing or boating in Northern California or Southern Oregon. What have you learned? Your experience could be invaluable to other anglers or boaters. What not to do is just as important as what to do. Please send your strategies, ideas, tips, techniques and personal experiences to editor@MyOutdoorBuddy.com. Please include your name and hometown.]


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