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Launching Solo

Tips for getting in and out without help.

If you're boating alone, a simple plan will enable you to back her in, bump her off and keep her tethered long enough for a quick cleating.

A Tampa Bay veteran, Capt. Richard Seward, shows us a simple plan that'll work with any small to mid-size boat. First hitch a dock line to the bow cleat, and loop it over the jack or winch stand. Start by backing down the trailer until the tires are about half submerged. Stop your tow vehicle, get out and unhook the boat. Return to your vehicle, back down a little farther and tap the brakes so inertia pulls the boat off the trailer.

Seward's experience tells him he needs a rope at least twice the length of his trailer. This ensures that his 24-foot Carolina skiff completely clears the trailer before coming tight on the rope.

Captain Rick Grassett, of Sarasota, uses the same solo launch method, but he splices a bungee cord into his bow line. He notes that the splicing is mostly for shallow water anchoring, but it also helps absorb the jolt when the boat comes tight.

Launching solo inherently takes a little more time than a two-man operation, so to keep the peace on busy mornings, load and prep your gear before backing down. Even when you have the ramp to yourself, loading when the boat is level is easier and safer than when it sits on an angle as you prepare to slide it off the trailer.

Remove the straps and confirm that the plug's in place before approaching the ramp, but keep the nose (bow eye) hooked to the trailer until you back the trailer into the water. Seward warns against unhitching the boat too soon, as he's seen folks accidentally dump their vessels well short of the waterline.

Grassett also suggests sliding push poles all the way back to prevent catching on trailer guide posts. Same goes for rods, paddles, nets and anything else that could snag, snare or tangle with the posts.

After launching, remove the bow line from the trailer, and tie your vessel securely to the dock, preferably out of the launching lanes. You may need an aft line to hold the stern in.

More Considerations

Seward notes a common mistake of solo launching: “Make sure the rope is secured well to your boat. If it comes to the end and the rope comes untied, your boat is leaving you.”

When working with water and angles, assume nothing. Anytime you leave your vehicle while it's at or near the water, apply the parking brake and leave your driver's side window down. Nutty things happen at boat ramps, so make sure your vehicle holds and you never return to a locked door.

Beware also the slick ramp. Grassett notes that extreme low tides leave more ramp exposed, so boaters often must walk on slick, algae covered concrete. Move cautiously, especially when stepping up and down from the trailer to reach your bow line. Moreover, stay alert for the villainous teamwork of slick surfaces when stepping out to unhook the boat. Sliding vehicles quickly become wet vehicles. Trailer wheel chocks are a very good idea, especially on steep ramps and when launching or retrieving particularly heavy loads.

Moreover, make certain that your trailer remains connected to your vehicle with a final glance at the hitch and chains. Stranger things have happened and if you make enough visits to a boat ramp, sooner or later, you'll see that crowd of forlorn faces standing at water's edge and staring at a vanishing bubble trail.

Lastly, stay sharp and watch for other hazards like pedestrians walking near your trailer—perhaps a fellow boater trying to cross over to the dock. For this, as well as basic solo efficiency, Florida Bassmaster pro Shaw Grigsby lauds the unparalleled perspective afforded by a back-up camera. Such technology comes standard on certain newer vehicles, but aftermarket products from brands such as AudioVox and Pioneer allow boaters to retrofit older vehicles, as Grigsby did with his 2008 Ford F250.

“This makes it so easy to hook up to my trailer,” he said. “When I'm (trailering and launching) at four in the morning, it's awesome to be able to back up and not have to get out and look, back up and get out and look again. You can line right up on the trailer, hook it up and take off.” FS

As Heard on the Forum

Snippets from a hilariously helpful thread on launching boats, from the Northeast General Forum at

“...The man took off, and rode west down the river out of sight. The funny part was, his truck and trailor was still backed down with the truck running.”

“One time I forgot the transom tie downs. I could not figure out why the boat would not back off the trailer. I had it in reverse full speed about to blow the motor up....then it hit me. Luckily it was summer time so I just went over board and took the transom tie downs off.”

“Drove without latching the ball down on the trailer. Made it to the boat ramp, fished all day. When we pulled the boat out of the water the trailer came up and my buddy hit the brakes. The trailer hit my tailgate and to this day that's the only dent in my truck.”

“Once I forgot to disconnect the trailer winch hook from the boat... after 5-6 minutes of trying to back off the trailer, my buddy noticed what was wrong.”

“Forgot to put the pin in the trailer hitch. I shook the guy's hand who sold it to me and proceeded to pull out of his lawn; my finace was riding shotgun. Excited about the new boat I didn't even think about the pin missing and I hear a terrible metal on pavement noise as the tounge slide across the road and look in the rearview to see the boat getting closer! The safety chains stopped it just short of the bumper.”

“Guy mistakenly puts his boat on the wrong trailer, and then argues with the owner of the other vehicle.”

“I started my boat at home on the ears one night before fishing. Forgot to take the ears off the lower unit. Pulled out of the house with the hose unreeling off the hose reel. Ears broke off when the boat got to the street. Thankfully before it broke the hose bib. When I came home from fishing, hose was still in the road. Did not even know it happened until I got back home.”

“Step down onto the boat ramp. Take about 2 steps and Wham! I'm lying on the boat ramp covered in slime... I stand up, Wham! I'm back in the water again! Finally, I make it to the back of the truck and hold onto it for dear life and see all the algae on the ramp. Got my big slimy wet self to the truck and then pulled the boat and trailer to safer grounds. And I was doing so well showing all the weekend yahoos how us fisherman are so good a loading a boat!”

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