How to Launch a Boat from a Trailer
So, you’ve just bought a new boat and are eager to get it out on the water. But before you can do that, you must learn how to launch a boat from a trailer.
And then, at the end of the day, you will need to put it back onto the trailer so it can be transported home or to a storage facility.
While it may seem daunting initially, launching and retrieving a boat from a trailer is relatively easy once you know what you’re doing. But don’t worry—we’re here to help!
Here’s a helpful guide to help you get started.
Before you head to the boat ramp, you should go through a pre-departure checklist to ensure all necessary items (such as life jackets, VHF, etc.) are on board and in good working order. This will help prevent you from leaving behind crucial safety gear and equipment.
Hook Up the Boat Trailer
The first step is to hook up the boat trailer to the tow vehicle. This may seem obvious, but making sure the boat and trailer are attached correctly before proceeding is essential. If the boat trailer isn’t properly secured, it could come loose while you’re driving, which could lead to severe damage or injury.
Ensure the hitch is securely connected to the tow bar and the safety chains are in place. Then, attach the wiring harness to your vehicle’s taillights, raise the jockey wheel, and release the trailer handbrake.
Ensure that the tire pressures on the trailer wheels are set correctly, and double-check that you have all the proper permits and licenses to transport and launch the boat.
Check Your Lights
Before hitting the road, check that all your trailer lights are working. This includes your brake lights, turn signals, and running lights. Not only is it illegal to drive without functioning lights, but it’s also dangerous—you don’t want other drivers on the road not to know when you’re stopping or turning.
To test your lights, have someone stand behind your vehicle and check that all lights work as they should. If any of your lights are burned or not working correctly, replace them before proceeding.
Check All is Secured, Then Head Off to the Boat Ramp
Check to ensure the boat is securely tied down to the trailer and that the outboard motor is trimmed up and locked into place. Place a high visibility propeller cover on to protect from damage and alert other drivers.
Check that any antennae, masts, and aerials are lowered to ensure height clearance, and remove any loose items from the decks which could fly out while en route.
Approaching the Boat Ramp
When you arrive at the boat ramp, take a moment to observe the area and consider the best approach for launching your boat. A good practice is to position the tow vehicle and trailer at a 45-degree angle to the ramp before reversing.
This angle will make it easier to back up your trailer in a straight line and reduce the chances of the boat and trailer slipping off the ramp. Remember to be patient and make gradual adjustments.
Back Down the Ramp into the Water & Launch Your Boat
Now it’s time for the fun part—launching your boat into the water! Before you reverse down the ramp, disconnect the trailer electrics from the car and remove the electric board to avoid getting wet. Then remove all the straps securing the boat to the trailing, ensuring the boat remains attached to the winch strap!
Remove the propeller cover and store it away. Walk around the boat and attach any lines to keep it secured against a pontoon or jetty while parking the vehicle and trailer. Double check the boat drain plug is securely in place!!
When you are finally ready, back your vehicle down the boat launch ramp until the front wheels of your trailer are in the water. Take it slow and use small, gradual movements.
Then, engage your parking brake and put your vehicle in neutral. You may need someone else to help you down the ramp if it’s slippery or visibility is limited.
Next, release your trailer’s winch brake and let your boat float off its trailers’ bunks or rollers and into the water. If the boat does not easily float off the trailer, you may need to reverse further, but beware not to go too deep, or you could damage your car!!
Once your boat is floating freely, you can either lower the outboard motor and start the engine or ensure someone has hold of the lines ready to secure it to a dock.
Once you are satisfied that the boat can drive off under its own power or the boat is ready to be walked to a dock and tied up, disconnect the winch strap from the bow eye and winch in the excess straps.
Finally, you can drive the trailer away and park up, ready for retrieval at the end of the day.
And that’s it—you’re ready to enjoy a day on the water!
Retrieve and Load Your Boat onto a Trailer
When it’s time to retrieve your boat, slowly approach the ramp and ensure the boat is aligned with the trailer. Here are some tips to help you with the boat retrieval process:
- Approach the ramp slowly and at a slight angle, taking into account wind and current conditions.
- As you near the trailer, straighten out your boat to align with the trailer’s centerline.
- Use dock lines or a boat hook to help guide your boat onto the trailer if necessary.
- Ensure the boat’s bow eye is snug against the bow stop, and the boat is centered on the trailer’s bunks or rollers.
- Attach the winch strap to the boat’s bow eye and use the winch to pull the boat snugly onto the trailer.
- Once the boat is secure, slowly drive up the ramp, careful not to let the boat slide off the trailer.
Broadly, retrieving a boat back onto a trailer is a reverse of the above steps.
However, there are a few things to watch out for:
- Boat alignment: Make sure the boat is aligned correctly with the trailer. Misalignment could cause the boat to slide off the trailer or damage the hull.
- Wind and current conditions: Strong winds or currents can make maneuvering the boat onto the trailer difficult.
Finally, If you are boating in saltwater, it is essential to flush the trailer’s wheels, brakes, and bearings with fresh water, as it can result in corrosion and damage to the trailer’s bearings and brakes, leading to costly repairs.
Launching your boat from a trailer doesn’t have to be complicated—follow these simple steps, and you’ll be on your way in no time. And once you get some practice, it will become second nature. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and enjoy some time on the water!
Q: How do I know if my boat is aligned correctly on the trailer?
A: The keel should be centered on the trailer, and the boat should sit level on the bunks or rollers. Additionally, the bow stop should be snug against the boat’s bow eye to ensure proper alignment.
Q: What should I do if my boat won’t come off the trailer when launching?
A: If your boat is stuck on the trailer, check that all straps and winches are fully released and correctly centered. You can also try gently rocking it back and forth to help loosen it from the trailer.
Q: Can I launch my boat alone, or do I need a second person?
A: Although you can launch a boat yourself, having a second person can provide helpful assistance, especially in challenging weather conditions or strong currents. They can also help guide the boat onto the trailer and ensure it is securely fastened.
Q: How do I know if my trailer brakes are working correctly?
A: To test your trailer brakes, slowly drive your vehicle while applying the brakes – you should feel them engage and bring your vehicle to a steady stop.
Q: How do I back up my trailer in a straight line?
A: When backing up your trailer, use your side mirrors as guide points and turn your steering wheel in the direction opposite of where you want to go. Take your time and make slight adjustments as needed for optimal accuracy.