American Family Insurance How to Launch a Boat

Launching a Boat

Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team

Discover tips on how to properly launch your boat for more safety and fun on the water.

Having a trailer for your boat gives you the freedom to try out a variety of lakes and rivers, and discover new fishing spots. Get to know the waterways that have public access and where the boat launches are located, then use this checklist to help your launch go smoothly and quickly. Ready, set, go!

Prepping for Launch

While you don’t want to rush, be aware that others may be waiting to launch, so move as efficiently as possible.

  • Transfer all your boating gear — coolers, PFDs, water skis, etc. — from the vehicle into the boat. This can take some time, so do this in the staging area, clear of the ramp.
  • At the top of the ramp, unplug the trailer lights.
  • Undo the tie-downs and stow them, but keep both the winch cable hook and the safety chain in the bow eye.
  • Install the drain plug!
  • Lower your motor if it’s not in danger of bottoming out on the way down the ramp.
  • Get dock lines and fenders ready to use.

Launching the Boat

It’s all about teamwork. The driver and an outside spotter can work together to maneuver the vehicle down the ramp. You’ll want a small crew at the ready to help grab dock lines when the boat goes in the water.

  • Put the vehicle in neutral and back the trailer down the ramp slowly.
  • To help you back down straight, put your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel — when your hand moves left or right, the trailer will go in the same direction.
  • If the trailer jackknifes or isn’t straight, go back up the ramp and try again.
  • As a rule of thumb, back down the ramp until the water is just above the hubs on the trailer wheels. It’s important not to back too far so the tow vehicle doesn’t get stuck. Once you know the depth your trailer needs to be to float your boat off the trailer, mark the spot on the trailer with a permanent marker and use that as your guide for future launches.
  • Put the vehicle in park, set the parking brake and put blocks under the front wheels if needed.
  • If you have a larger boat, make sure the engine is in the water, turn it over, then remove the winch cable hook and the safety chain from the bow eye and back the boat off the trailer. For smaller boats, push the boat in the water and have your crew control it with bow and stern lines.
  • Move the boat along the dock away from the boat ramp, or use a courtesy dock if one is available.
  • On the ramp, pick up the wheel blocks, release the parking brake and drive the tow vehicle to an area appropriate for trailers.
  • In the water, when starting the engine, make sure you are several feet away from the dock so your stern has ample room to turn the boat without scraping the dock.


Launching can be tricky, so practice before your first attempt at a launch ramp. Remember, the boating community is filled with great people willing to lend a hand, so don’t hesitate to ask for help or advice from friendly fellow boaters.

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