Boat Ramp Etiquette: 10 Dos and Don’ts For Launching Your Boat

New, or new-ish to boating? These helpful tips will help you avoid ramp rage

By kncitom on June 29, 2023
Boat ramps this weekend will not look like this. Are you ready? (Photo: Tom Mailey)

Hi. It’s Tom. Lifelong boater and fisherman here. It’s 4th of July weekend. It’s going to be hot- temps in the 100s! People with boats are going to use them.

And you should! The garage or a storage facility is no place for a boat on a long, hot summer weekend.

But-and, if you’re fairly new to boating, I say this with all the respect in the world- PLEASE follow some simple rules of boat launch etiquette. At most ramps, there is nobody directing traffic, nobody overseeing the chaos. It can be anarchy, and ramp rage is real. You don’t want it directed towards you. So, here are some simple and, hopefully, helpful tips.

  1. Have your boat completely prepped and ready to launch before you get to the launch. It’s kind of mind-boggling how many people don’t quite get this. Your cooler, your kids, the dog, grandma…have them all ready to go before you start backing down the ramp. The inanimate stuff should be in the boat already. The kids, dogs, grandma? That’s up to you, but waiting on the dock is probably safest for them, unless you have someone at the helm who’s going to back the boat out into the water and away from the ramp and other launching boats. More on that with the next tip.
  2. Try to minimize dock time. It isn’t always possible, of course. But boy, when it is, it’s a stress-reliever. This is why having someone at the helm to back the boat into the water is good: dock space on busy days is at a premium, so having someone who can back the boat off the trailer, into the water and away from all the ramp chaos is super helpful. Then they can nose in and meet you at the dock. It’s also a huge help when you come back in, because on busy weekends there is often a lengthy wait to pull your boat out. Better for everyone to wait in the water for haul out.
  3. If you don’t have someone to control the boat while you’re finding a place to park (or getting in line to haul out), and you must use the dock, try tying off at the most unobtrusive spot possible. Out towards the end of the dock, or on an opposite side, away from the ramp. 
  4. Who’s backing the boat into the water? Do they know how to do it? Do you know how to do it? There is no sin in not being a skilled backer-upper. We all had to learn sometime. But, for the love of God at least put in a practice session in an empty parking lot ahead of time. And, if you’re still not confident, there is no shame in asking a more experienced boater for a little help. For real. 
  5. Are your tie-downs off? Is your plug in? Have you already checked the engine to make sure it will start??
  6. Are your tie-downs off? Is your plug in? Have you already checked the engine to make sure it will start?? (Yes, this repeat was intentional)
  7. Before you get out of your vehicle, is it in park?? Serious question! Don’t be in such a hurry that you forget. Twice in the last 2 years I’ve seen vehicles at the Granite Bay ramp on Folsom lake being recovered from the water because the driver forgot. While your at it, set the emergency brake too.
  8. Be situationally aware! Try to give other launchers room to launch. Pick a lane and then stay in it (a lot like life, actually). At the dock, if you can make room for another boat, do. If you can help another boater, help. It’s not hard and it’s good karma
  9. Have your bumpers out. Not only will you need them if you’re using the dock, ramps can be so busy you can easily drift into someone else’s boat.
  10. Lastly, be patient. I’m saying this as much to myself as anyone reading this. Our lakes are the fullest they’ve been in years. Of course there are going to be a lot of people wanting to get out and enjoy the water. Even if everyone at the ramp is doing everything right, there will still probably be a wait. Just know that going in. You’ll get your turn, eventually.

There. I feel better. See you on the water!

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