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Launch Ramps -- mind your manners

Chuck Giles author photo,

By Chuck Giles
02/15/2016—Contrary to what you may witness at public boat launch ramps, there is a specific set of rules that apply. Regardless of whether or not they are written somewhere, etiquette should take precedence.

The process actually begins at home. Have your current registration stickers properly applied. Make sure your batteries are charged. If possible, start up your boat before you get to the lake or river. There are appliances that supply water to your impeller and avoid overheating without submerging the motor. When in doubt, call a certified boat mechanic for a complete inspection. I realize this may not be inexpensive; however, you must evaluate the risk of your passengers’ lives versus the money.

Ensure all your safety equipment is on board and in good condition. Even a slight tear in a life-jacket compromises its ability to keep one afloat; law requires you replace those as needed. Study the requirements for wearing your life jacket. Some children are mandated to have on an approved device while in the boat.

Depending on the size of your vessel, regulations differ as to fire extinguishers, registration and type of life jackets required. The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary (USCG) provides free inspections of your vessel. These are experts and peace of mind after their inspection is worth a lot.

Let’s get on with the main purpose of this article; actual launching and loading of your boat. At virtually every body of water in California, there is a “preparation” area provided where you can unhitch restraining straps, ensure your plug is in and tight, load ice chests, etc. for that particular trip and after you have prepped your boat, go get in line on the ramp.

Backing up any kind of attachment on your vehicle requires some practice. Let me repeat that; backing up any kind of attachment on your vehicle requires some practice. Find a vacant parking lot, a side street with no traffic or houses and rehearse putting your trailer in a designated spot. The boat ramp is not the venue for learning the ins and outs, lefts and rights and oxymorons of backing a trailer. Learn to use your side mirrors as opposed to straining your neck the entire length of what can be a long distance to the water. One method used frequently is, while looking in your mirrors, place your hand on the bottom of your steering wheel and, as you back, move your hand in the direction you wish your trailer to steer. I guarantee, if you have prepared beforehand, you will save yourself embarrassment, being called dirty names and receiving unpleasant finger signals.

When you are in position to launch your boat, don’t dally. Have someone in the boat to back off and proceed to the nearest unoccupied area to wait while the driver of the vehicle goes and parks. Frequently, boaters go out alone. In this case, be prepared to wait while the person takes the necessary steps to safely unload their boat and then return to remove their vehicle.

When you are ready to bring your boat off the water, remember to keep out of others’ way while your vehicle is being retrieved. As soon as your turn to load comes, slowly navigate your way onto your trailer, secure the boat and get into the tow vehicle. It is illegal to ride in your boat for any distance while being towed. This applies to going up the ramp also.

Occasionally, you must launch or load in darkness. You do not need your headlights when going in reverse. Your parking lights suffice and will not glare into the next boater’s mirrors when you are at the bottom of the ramp. It is a wondrous sight to watch tournament fishermen launch their boats in the dark. These are experienced anglers and have an unbelievable knack for going through the entire process without a hitch. There are no headlights, no hesitation, no delays and most importantly, no accidents. Just watching it happen is a learning experience. Aspire to be one of them on the ramp.

Let’s recap; ensure all your equipment is in working and safe order. Have a life-jacket on board for every passenger. Practice backing with a trailer. Prepare your boat in the designated area. Launch and load as quickly and safely as possible. However, when all else fails, be patient and realize we were all beginners at one time.

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