Rules of the ramp

Adventure 3 min read

Monogamy doesn’t exist in boating. You may love your cruising sailboat or your roomy trawler, but no one can expect to be satisfied by just one boat. We had this epiphany on a calm August day as we watched our sails through the sweat in our eyes. We decided to add a trailerable runabout to our personal flotilla, which turned out to be a brilliant idea, aside for one small problem—the public ramp. The term “ramp rage” is not an exaggeration. It accurately refers to the increase in blood pressure and the loss of self-control that accompany the use of a public landing. There are rules for using a boat ramp, but unfortunately, they’re usually unwritten and largely ignored.

Below is a brief review of ramp etiquette.

Rule #1: Load gear into your vessel at home or in the parking lot, not while the stern is floating

On our first visit to the public landing, we got behind several families preparing for what looked like a month-long fishing trip. A car, boat, and trailer were already in the ramp, and two other cars blocked traffic 50 feet away. We waited while poles, coolers, ice, tackle boxes, pets, and small children were retrieved from seats and car trunks. These were eventually carried, albeit with no sense of urgency, to the dock. Finally, a man began loading the pile on board, and we watched in disbelief as he opened three cases of beer, removed the bottles, and meticulously placed them in the cooler—one at a time!

Rule #2: Keep in mind that tidal water is called tidal for a reason

One of our local ramps is fairly steep and covered in thick sand, and last summer, we had particularly vicious low tides.  A pickup truck was backing a heavily loaded 24-foot boat into the water, when, too late, the driver realized he had no traction. His tires spun hopelessly as the bed of his two-wheel drive submerged in slow motion. It took four men, one towrope, a lot of bystander advice, and nearly an hour before the ramp was cleared. (Four-wheel drive is recommended.)

Rule #3: Whatever your catastrophe is, don’t block the ramp

We’ve watched boats launch with old fuel, no fuel, dead batteries, and, most entertaining of all, the plug still in the pickup glove box. A busy Labor Day is not the time to realize that you “haven’t run ’er for a while” and have no idea whether your boat will float, much less pull away from the dock under its own power. If you want to be on the receiving end of ramp rage, pull out a five-gallon gas can and go for fuel while your boat is still on the ramp.

Rule #4: The lines in the parking lot aren’t just suggestions

They designate parking spots, and your vehicle belongs between them, not on top of them. On a recent weekend, five vehicles and trailers had been parked across spots, leaving five other cars full of eager boaters (including us) no choice but to go home.

Rule #5: Never, ever cut in line

Just before sunset, we were waiting our turn to come into the ramp. There were four boats milling about impatiently in some semblance of a line while one poor guy repeatedly jackknifed his trailer. He finally gave up, waded in, and swam his boat sideways onto the bunks. I was next and had already dropped my husband at the dock. I was putting the boat in gear as the landing cleared when a skiff whizzed past and cut me off. The captain ignored my indignant shouts and my husband’s dirty looks as he and his buddy got their trailer. They even had the nerve to wave as they pulled out of the ramp.

At this point, I gave up on civility. Tired, sunburned, and harassed by deer flies, I gunned the engine and roared into the landing and right up onto our trailer. Securing everything with lightning speed, we were a model of ramp efficiency for the audience of waiting boaters. Feeling smug, I signaled the OK to go, my husband pulled forward, and the admiring crowd all heard the deafening screech of metal dragging on concrete. In my haste, I had forgotten rule number six.

Rule #6: Take enough time to do it right

I tilted up the sterndrive and looked down at what was left of the prop. Without a word, I got in the car. At least we remembered rule number three and didn’t block the ramp.

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