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#11562596 - 04/24/16 05:28 PM New boaters can look like a pro at the boat ramp...
Capt Craig Online   content
Extreme Angler

Registered: 08/25/09
Posts: 1599
Loc: Richland-Chambers
Trailer Position When Launching and Loading Your Boat

Boating is an exciting activity, but sometimes launching and loading the boat from a trailer can take away that excitement. Most new boaters learn quickly to launch the boat with little effort, but loading it can sometimes be difficult or nearly impossible, especially if being done alone.

Eventually everyone develops a system for launching and loading, but there is one common error that often goes unnoticed that makes loading particularly more difficult than it has to be. Correcting this can significantly change the boating experience making it more enjoyable for everyone.

Common courtesy dictates that before it's your turn on the ramp, all your gear should already be aboard your boat. Others will not appreciate you taking up valuable time and space on the ramp to load rods, tackle, coolers and such. You should also have the plug(s) in the boat, the battery switch on, the motor up and any transom saver or motor support removed, and the transom tie down straps off the trailer. Must people also remove the safety/tow chain, but you should always leave the winch strap attached until you are ready to back the boat off the trailer.

Once it is your turn, back down the ramp and stop just before the boat gets to the water. Release the winch strap to give you about 1' of slack in the winch strap and then LOCK THE WINCH BACK. Do not completely unhook the winch strap at this time. Also do a quick look around again to make sure you haven't missed anything important.

Now you can back into the water and watch to see the boat float. You know when the boat rises that the trailer is deep enough and that you can launch off the trailer with very little reverse thrust from the engine. Having the slack in the winch strap prevents excessive pressure on the bow ring and fiberglass caused by the stern of the boat trying to float while the bow is tightly winched.

At this depth the waterline on the fenders of the trailer marks the depth for launching or its float depth. After putting your vehicle in park and engaging the emergency brake, turn off the engine and take the keys with you. Carefully climb into the boat, start the engine and unhook the winch strap and then back off the trailer and drive to the courtesy dock and tie up. Depending on the individual preferences, some prefer to unhook the winch strap as they climb into the boat and then start the engine and back off the trailer.

This is when the error is made. When getting ready to remove the trailer from the water and park the vehicle, new boaters forget to observe the waterline on the trailer's fenders. This information is key to loading the boat later. After a great day of boating, the trailer is backed into the water and the frustration soon starts. New boaters attempt to back the trailer to the same depth or deeper into the water to load the boat than when they launched. While it may seem like the right thing to do, it is often the cause of all your frustration. When the trailer is backed deeper than when launched, the boat is unable to drive onto the trailer, instead it drives into the trailer. The boat is floating above the trailer and therefore the bow of the boat runs into the winch post and often the bow of the boat will be under the roller instead of above it where it should be. This is when the struggle occurs. The boater then attempts to winch the floating boat on the trailer and may be forced to attempt to physically lift the bow of the boat above the roller while somehow still winching it into place. During all this the stern of the boat either drifts into the trailer's fenders or in some cases may actually wash onto or over the trailers fender potentially causing damage to both the boat and the trailer. Often because of the depth of the trailer, the boater is left standing in the water battling a floating boat and completely unable to direct the movement of the stern. There is little to no way to direct the stern of the boat due to the depth of the water. Unfortunately this same scenarios plays out all too often at boat ramps across the country. To the trained eye, it is easy to tell if the trailer is too deep when the boat moves with the water instead of being supported by the trailer. Once the boat is muscled into place and winched on, the boater makes a hurried attempt to pull the vehicle forward hoping that the boat will center and sit correctly between the fenders. Often the boat is significantly crooked and tilted forcing the boater to back all the way into the water and float the boat and then try once more to center the boat and exit the water at just the correct position.

The secret to successful quicker and easier loading of the boat requires the trailer to be less deep than when launched. How much less is based on the design, length, and weight of the individual boat. Generally it can be accomplished by having the fender's waterline at launch about 3-4" more out of the water at loading. The only way to determine this point of reference is to know where the waterline was when you launched. An easy method for determining this point is duct tape or a less sticky solution painter's tape. Once you have backed the boat in and achieved the amount of float you want in order to launch, put a piece of tape on the driver's side trailer fender or both fenders if you choose. This will help you to find that spot again when loading.

Assume you launched your boat and then tried load right back on, what happens, the boat is floating too freely, which is why putting the trailers even deeper never works and you get all the stern drift against the fenders and the potential wash over and you never touch the bunks which are designed to guide and lift the bow of the boat and direct the hull while loading. When loading, with the trailer slightly more out of the water (the specific distance has to be discovered through trial and error) than when launching, the boat will want to follow the center bunks and it will raise the bow of the boat and center it as the boat enters the trailer.

After a wonderful day of the lake, it is time to load the boat on the trailer. Now when you back the trailer into the water, the waterline of the tape's edge should be 3" out of the water to start. Once again, you will put your vehicle in park, engage the emergency brake, turn off the engine and take your keys out of your vehicle.

Trim the motor up, but keep the water intake and prop under the surface of the water for safety and to maintain steering control. Having the motor trimmed up will provide a small amount of lift to the bow assisting the wet hull in reducing the friction between the boat and the bunks. Having the motor trimmed up also helps to avoid dragging the skeg or having the prop strike any debris that may be on the ramp, especially if the water level is low. Remember it is common for some marinas dump large rocks at the end of the concrete ramp to prevent trailers from falling off the end of the ramp. As you approach the trailer in your boat, center the boat and drive on it slowly at idle speed. The center bunks should align the hull and lift it. Straighten your engine and apply enough throttle to drive the boat to the winch post. Ideally should not need to maintain engine thrust once you reach the winch post. You should be able to turn the engine off and the boat will rest on the center bunks and not slide back into the water.

With the trailer slightly more out of the water now than at launch the boat's centerline or v-hull should "lock in" or at least sit directly on and between the center bunks instead for floating above them and the boat is directed toward the roller. Since the trailer is more shallow the boat wants to balance on all the bunks and not rock side to side. This also reduces the risk of the stern bumping the fender boards or trying to hop on top of the fender. Your boat is now being supported by the bunks and should sit in a position similar to when your boat rests on the trailer on a flat surface like in your driveway. Once the boat is loaded the bow ring should line up nearly perfectly and you will not have to struggle lifting the bow into position.

Lake level has very little to do with the depth of the trailer when loading the boat. Obviously low water presents potential hazards at the ramp such as debris, but not the trailer/boat position when loading. The angle of the ramp and balance of the boat are key.

Let's assume your boat floats in 12" of water. If you have more than 12" of water near the front of your trailer, the boat will float above it instead of being on it. Therefore we need 12" of water above only part of the trailer, but definitely not all of it. It might be 12" halfway between the front and back of the trailer or it could be only 40% from the rear of the trailer. That location can best be determined by knowing the waterline on the trailer's fender when the trailer is deep enough that the boat can be launched. Therefore, the depth that the boat rests on the bunks of the trailer must be less than the point that it floats.

With all this in mind, now you should be able to load your boat more easily and more quickly with a lot less effort making your day on the water more enjoyable. Always remember to hook the winch to the boat's bow ring and tighten firmly. Never pull out of the water without the winch attached.
Capt. Craig Copeland
Licensed by the US Coast Guard

2013 Nautic Star 2110 Shallow Bay Boat
Nautic Star Boats Pro Staff (
Redneck Fish'n Jigs Pro Staff (

#11565951 - 04/26/16 08:28 AM Re: New boaters can look like a pro at the boat ramp... [Re: Capt Craig]
Tx Tree Grower Offline
Pro Angler

Registered: 09/17/08
Posts: 822
Loc: Palestine, TX
Good tips! One thing I will never understand is why most marinas don't put simple lane stripes on the boat ramp. Most private ramps these day are at least 2 lanes wide. However, somebody is always parked right in the middle of the ramp effectively making it a one lane ramp. Take Oak Cove at Richland Chambers for example, A simple yellow line down the middle of that ramp would make things so much more efficient on those busy spring and summer mornings. I understand that when the lake is really low this wouldn't work, but right now it would be a great thing.

#11566350 - 04/26/16 11:02 AM Re: New boaters can look like a pro at the boat ramp... [Re: Capt Craig]
PaPa@fork Offline
Pro Angler

Registered: 04/25/16
Posts: 608
Loc: Lake Fork
A yellow strip would give them something to lineup on, LOL, I can hear it now, I thought we were to lineup on it, GOOD post but you can't fix stupid.
If your looking for something to do, get a bag of popcorn and a Coke go to the ramp and watch the show.
You said new boat owners, we can understand that but what gets me upset is when you see someone that has been doing this for a long time and still don't have it down.

I hope some of them will take note on your post, but I'm not going to hold my breath..

Again thanks for the post.
If it was easy, everyone would do it

#11566456 - 04/26/16 11:36 AM Re: New boaters can look like a pro at the boat ramp... [Re: Capt Craig]
Cast Online   content
TFF Celebrity

Registered: 07/31/12
Posts: 8320
Loc: North Texas - God's Country
I would drop Mama at the ramp and back out into the channel. Mama would back the trailer down the ramp and into the water. I'd wave her back to the right depth and tell her to hold the brakes and drive the bass boat right up to the roller. I'd reach under and hook up the chain and wave her forward with me still in the boat. She pulls up out of the way while I am stowing equipment in the boat. She places transom saver, I lower the motor. I hop out and finish strapping down and we are off to the greasy spoon.

It happens pretty fast, reverse it for launching. Gotta have a good partner to look really professional. we were much younger then...

#11566732 - 04/26/16 01:26 PM Re: New boaters can look like a pro at the boat ramp... [Re: Capt Craig]
TxRanger1 Offline

Registered: 12/31/15
Posts: 328
Loc: Humble,Tx
Im not a new boater but as I have gotten older, I cant man handle the boat or get in and out of it like I used to so I looked around and found the Bost2Trailer rig and bought it. This thing works great, just drive on and it locks the boat in. Don't have to mess with the winch until I get puled out and parked. Same when launching, unhook the winch, get in the boat and ride it into the water, pull on the rope and the boat is released. You guys should look into one of those.....even the youguns would like this set up. Works pretty good when I am by myself too.

#11568668 - 04/27/16 09:36 AM Re: New boaters can look like a pro at the boat ramp... [Re: Capt Craig]
lenahorse Offline
TFF Team Angler

Registered: 10/11/12
Posts: 4030
Loc: Cash, Texas
Last week I saw the same thing at Tawakoni SP. stop before launching while on ramp and load boat it happens all the time, the parking lot was almost empty.
Fishing on Texoma


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