How to launch a boat

Adventure 3 min read

Launching a boat yourself can be challenging for a beginner. But it’s important to learn. Knowing how to launch a boat is a key aspect of boating etiquette that makes traffic at the shore more manageable for everyone. Check out this video from our friends at Discover Boating to help make the process as simple and stress-free as possible. If you’re getting ready to buy your first boat, consider printing out the steps below and keeping them aboard so you always have a reference handy until you get the hang of launching a boat.

A guide to launching a boat for the first time

The process of putting your boat in the water consists of three parts: staging, launching, and making space for others.

Staging and getting ready to launch a boat

Check a few things before your boat is ready to go in the water. Make sure to do the following steps away from the waterline so as not to block the dock for other boaters.

Check that the drain plug is closed

If it isn’t, your boat will quickly fill up with water.

Check the ignition

Don’t start the engine until your boat is in the water — that can damage the water pump. However, you should insert the key and turn it from “off” to “on” to ensure to charge the battery and that the electrical system works.

Add your dock lines and fenders

Your boat has special cleats at the bow and stern to attach dock lines. Once the dock lines are in place, add fenders on the dock side of the boat to protect the sides from bumping the dock.

Load gear

While you’re still in the staging area, transfer food, recreation equipment, boating accessories, and any other boating gear you’ll need from your tow vehicle onto the boat.

Prepare to put the boat in the water

Unhook the trailer’s electrical supply from the trailer hitch on your tow vehicle. Next, remove the tie-down straps from the back of the boat.

Launching your boat into the water

Once you have finished your prep work, wait for your turn to access the dock. Don’t rush the following steps but try to work as quickly as you can — that’s basic courtesy. When it’s your turn to launch a boat, get your vehicle in position with the stern (back) of the boat toward the ramp.

Reverse down the ramp

Back in slowly, with the rear of the boat toward the water. Start far enough away from the water that you have time to adjust your trajectory to put the boat in straight.

Park your tow vehicle

You know you’ve gone far enough when the stern of the boat begins to float. Set the tow vehicle’s parking brake before you get out.

Slide the boat into the water

Release the trailer winch and safety chain, then use the bow lines to help guide the boat back until the drive is submerged. Once it is, one of the crew can slowly reverse the boat back into the water.

Making space after you launch a boat

Once your boat is floating and free of the trailer, you’ll need to secure it so you can get your tow vehicle out of the way and clear the boat ramp for others.

Take your boat away from the ramp

Once you’ve launched the boat, use the motor and bow lines to guide the boat away from the ramp to the end of the dock.

Tie the boat off

Use the bow and stern lines to secure the boat to the dock. When you are securing the lines is not the moment to learn how to drop anchor.

Move your vehicle

As soon as the boat is secure, move your towing vehicle and trailer back to the staging or parking area to clear the way for others. If you have enough crew, someone can move the towing vehicle while others move the boat to the dock.

Stay safe while you launch

There’s a lot to learn about how to launch a boat by yourself. Boating courtesy dictates working quickly, but safety comes first, so stay calm and don’t rush. Take the time you need to work carefully and safely. If you’re new to boating, work a little more slowly and be sure about what you’re doing. If you’re launching a boat for the first time, don’t be afraid to say so. It lets other boaters know you’re learning, not wasting time — and they might even give you a hand.

And remember, whether it’s your first time launching a boat or your thousandth, you can protect your vessel with boat insurance from Progressive. Before you hit the water, make sure you know how boat insurance works, whether you need it, and what boat insurance coverages are available.

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