How not to get your butt kicked at the boat ramp

Don’t dilly dally at the dock – a public service announcement


I’m a real fisherman, and the boat ramp is my domain. I could care less about your pleasure-boating, pontooning or jet skiing. That isn’t really what we do in South Dakota; we fish.

I’m on the water several days a week and know how things work, so it irritates me when you show up on “my” property and don’t know what the heck you are doing.

I’ve seen it all, and I’m here to tell you that weekend warriors can really screw it up for us real fishermen. Fishermen have been way too quiet for far too long. I’m going to help you fix your problems so you will no longer need to stay at home and feel ashamed on holiday weekends.

Start your boat motor at home. Noon on a holiday weekend is not the time to see if she’ll start. For less than 20 bucks you can buy a set of water flushing muffs. Hook that baby up at home, turn on the hose and give her a crank. Tied to the dock with your motor cover off, wiggling wires with a pair of rusty old pliers, is going to ruin your day and delay the fun of everyone behind you.

Be sure the batteries are charged and in good condition. Marine starting batteries take a lot of abuse between sitting idle for months and running low due to boat electronics. If you haven’t been out on the water in a couple of years, prepare yourself by having a certified mechanic look everything over. Also, remember boat motors don’t like old gas just like I don’t like towing your butt back to the dock.

Most boat ramps and parking lots have a flow of traffic. There is usually a line that leads you to your turn at launching your boat. Before you even consider getting in this line, your boat needs to be ready to launch. Take off the tarp, transfer your crap from the truck to the boat, undo the appropriate straps and, if legal in your state, put the plug in before getting in the line. Don’t hold up the real fishermen by doing these things while you are in line, or even worse, already at the approach to the water.

Similarly, when loading your boat back on the trailer, pull the boat out of the water and get the heck out of the way. Time after time, I see pleasure boaters stop right in front of the ramp and pack up everything they own. This is not the place to do that. Other people need to use the ramp to back in their trailers. You’ll see the real fishermen and more experienced boaters in the back of the parking lot packing up their gear. Be like them.

You can do this

Backing a trailer is not that hard. You bought the boat, now learn how to back the trailer before you get to the lake. While you are learning, teach your spouse as well. That way, one of you can back the trailer and park the truck while the other drives the boat away from the dock, freeing up space for others to launch.

Every grown up can back a trailer. First, you pull the truck and trailer straight away from the spot you want to back into and make sure it is straight. Then, using your mirrors to see, put the vehicle in reverse to back toward the water. If you are new, put your hand at the bottom of the steering wheel and move your hand in the direction you want the trailer to go. The key is to not oversteer. Go slowly and make minor corrections. Do not try to look over your shoulder to see because it just won’t work.

Power loading your boat is also a great task to learn before a holiday weekend. Nobody likes to winch their boat onto the trailer. The key to power loading is backing the trailer in the proper depth for your setup. Many newbies back in way too far, causing the boat to load crookedly; that really makes you look like a dork heading down the highway. Typically, a roller trailer should have the last set of rollers just below the water, while a bunk trailer should be backed in so the front tips of the bunks are just below the water.

Everyone headed onto the water is there to have a good time. We’ve all got to share the public boat accesses. Knowing how a boat ramp works and how the traffic flows is not only common courtesy but also a matter of safety if the weather turns ugly. Keeping things moving when the stuff hits the fan is imperative to make sure everyone has a good day. I hope my advice is beneficial to experienced boaters and newcomers alike. Be safe, have fun and let's all get along!


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