Courtesy at the boat ramp

Courtesy? Whether it is in the workplace, in the home, in the community or while participating in recreation, we have a choice about how we behave. At this time of year, the parking lots of North Bay boat ramps are filled each weekend. Boaters and fishermen arrive with smiles and plans for a fun day on the water. It’s not unusual, though, for these happy faces to disappear during the launching experience.

It is not the crowds of boaters launching their vessels at the same time but, instead, single boaters who seem not to have mastered the skills needed at the boat ramp or, even worse, are indifferent to launch-ramp courtesies. The person who parks in the boat ramp access area then leaves to get coffee, bait or visit the “facilities” ruins someone’s morning. The person who parks there then begins moving their gear from the vehicle to the boat may bring a frown and clenched teeth to the person waiting behind them. The person who backs to the ramp…oops-crooked…then tries, again and again, may cause laughter at first but soon the chuckle changes to a groan.

If you are a new boat owner or considering joining the club, the boat dealer salesman shows you how to operate the boat but does not teach boating safety or courtesy. Fellow boaters or fishermen expect everyone to know these so you either read books, watch videos, take classes or learn from someone with experience. If there isn’t a patient, expert boater among your family or friends there is another option.


A quick visual lesson in boat launching is available at any local boat ramp on an early Saturday morning. If it is a tournament weekend, you can even watch the professionals. Notice what the boaters do before they get into the line to launch their boat.

The fishing tackle, coolers and life jackets are loaded. Batteries, fuel levels and boat lights are checked. Any tie-downs are removed, except maybe the winch-hook, and the trailer wiring plug is disconnected. Lines are attached to the bow and stern cleats and a boat hook is placed where it is handy and MAKE SURE THE DRAIN PLUG IS IN. Everyone notices when a boat begins to take on water while still at the dock.


Now, and only now, is it time to begin backing the boat and trailer to get in line to launch. Notice whether the ramp width is for one or two boats. If it is designed for two boats, NEVER back your boat into the center. If you have difficulty backing the trailer, practice in an open parking lot until the skill is mastered. A busy boat ramp is not a place to practice.

To avoid propeller damage, tilt the engine(s) then begin backing the boat down the ramp until the boat begins to float at the back of the trailer. Remove the winch hook from the boat, lower the engine(s) and slowly back off the trailer while heading to the courtesy dock where the bow and stern lines are cleated to the dock. If there is no courtesy dock, idle the boat away from the ramps so other boats can be launched or retrieved. The vehicle is then moved from the boat ramp to the parking lot area freeing the ramp for the next boat.

When the day on the water is over, tie up at the courtesy dock while the vehicle and trailer are brought to the ramp. As the trailer is backed down the ramp, the boat slowly motors to the trailer. The boat can be driven onto the trailer or winched. Tilt the engine(s) to avoid the propellers scraping the ramp then head for an open area in the parking lot. Only when the boat and trailer are away from the ramp area should the boat be unloaded, drain plug removed, tie downs attached, and trailer lights plugged in.

These simple tips can help everyone at a boat ramp begin their day on the water with a smile. If you already follow these basic courtesies and are always ready to grab a line for someone, share this with someone who needs a hint!