Tips for launching and retrieving boats
Boat ramps are the launching pads to marine adventure. But launching and retrieving can be daunting, particularly when the ramps are busy. The secret to a pleasurable outing is undoubtedly practice and experience combined with a little etiquette and common sense. However, the problem with common sense is that it isn't all that common!
It goes without saying that your trailer boat should be in a safe and seaworthy condition. If it has been sitting idle for a period of time, ensure that the package is ready for action. This obviously includes ensuring the engine is serviced, batteries are charged, electronics and communications are checked, safety equipment is intact, accessible and in date, and a safe tide and forecast for your intended launching zone is checked.
But there's some less obvious items, listed below, that can cause strife at the boat ramp that are often overlooked. Tie down straps can become rusted and seized, winch cables and straps can deteriorate and snap, and even the winch ratchet tongue can wear or break. Perhaps the most common form of annoyance is when galvanised D-shackles on safety chains seize, and most only find out when the boat is in the water and set for release.
Should I mention how many times I've seen excited boaties in an absolute tizz as they have misplaced their removable winch handle? Or in their excitement to be first to their favourite fishing spot, they’ve left the removable handle on the winch – as they drive the empty trailer back up to the carpark where it rattles off to be lost forever!
Maintenance of trailer lights, brakes and bearings is vital, but how many people inspect galvanised or zinc plated washers and split pins retaining the rollers? Many pristine hulls have suffered a hole and gouge due to rollers popping off at critical moments during launch and retrieve.
Another item that is often overlooked is the bung. Believe it or not, bungs can make or break your boating adventure. Many times I have heard the frustrated cry; “they were there when I left home!” Be sure to carry a spare set, keep them in a well-defined place and ensure you’ve checked your bung seals. Like all rubber and plastic products, they can deteriorate and split and the resulting boat full of water isn't an advisable venture.
That old length of unused Telstra rope really isn't a great piece of security for your precious trailer boat. Invest in a couple of high-quality marine ropes; one for the bow, (called a “painter” in maritime terminology) and one for the stern. Learning a few basic knots may save your boat from drifting off into the current or prevent the frustration from self-locking alternatives. Bowlines and rolling hitches are a couple of good basic knots and learning to securely hitch to a bollard is essential.
Practice Makes Perfect
Our ramps can be busy hives of activity filled with excited boaties keen to get on the water. A frantic boat ramp is no place for the inexperienced, especially those with poor reversing skills. If you're no good at backing a trailer then find an empty car park and practice, practice, practice.
Marine etiquette and safety dictates that retrieving boats have right of way before those launching. This can be difficult to achieve with a queue of boats lining up to launch whilst the early birds are returning, particularly with the limited temporary mooring facilities of most ramps. Patience, courtesy, common sense and communication are far better options than conflict.
The marine environment is a whole new world at night, requiring a different skillset to daylight hours. The most important etiquette on a ramp in the dark is to turn your headlights to ‘park’. This enables you to see your taillights for reversing but doesn't obscure other ramp users’ vision with your headlights beaming in their eyes and rear-view mirrors as they try to reverse down the ramp. Don't turn them off altogether or you are likely to be wearing someone else's outboard motor as a bonnet mascot!
Even experienced boaties can have off days, so if you are having difficulties and are offered assistance then don't let pride get in the way. Our modern technologies offer terrific boat trailers and accessories, mostly with drive on/off operation making launch and retrieve a breeze in all but the worst situations. If you are new to the equipment, and especially the method, then visit a busy boat ramp and learn from others.
Wind, tide and other climatic variables can take an easy launch in deep water to a nightmare retrieval in dangerous conditions in very little time. Always consider the forecasted tide and weather exposure before you launch and you will find, as many others have, that life is certainly far better with a boat.