How to Safely Launch a Boat By Yourself


Solo boat launching

If you are looking for information on solo boat launching, the chances are you may be preparing to launch a boat by yourself for the first time. Single-handed boat launching is a skill and requires a calm and ordered approach as well as confidence and patience. Depending on where you choose to launch your vessel, techniques for launching your boat alone may vary and of course safety is paramount.

However, below you are sure to find a few tips that work reliably for you as the best approach can vary from location to location. Mistakes can lead to your boat floating away or hitting the water or worse, a major accident may ensue if you use the wrong technique. But, by following the guidelines below and with a bit of practice you will soon wonder what all the fuss was about as you easily launch your boat single-handed.

Why learn to launch alone?

Why should you learn to launch a boat on your own?

Well, some mariners and anglers just enjoy being on the water alone, so competent single-handed boat launching is essential. For others a friend may have let them down or they may have found it difficult to muster a crew together. Perhaps you are going to be boating with children and are the only adult.

Whatever your circumstance, launching a boat by yourself can be challenging and you can feel pressured if you are on a busy ramp. But take heart because most boating enthusiasts who were hesitant and worried the first time they solo launched have now become adept at this and can launch faster single-handed than others can with a second pair of hands. You will soon be like that.

You may also want to read the article that shows how to load a boat on trailer as you will also most likely need to retrieve your boat from the water for your homeward journey. Be sure you have measured your boat as knowing the dimensions, especially the width, is important when loading it and hauling it.

Key steps for launching a boat by yourself

Below are the key steps you need to follow for a successful solo launch.

Choose your launch location carefully

The location you choose to launch your boat from will greatly affect your ability to launch the boat quickly and safely.

It is well worth considering if you want to be launching on a busy waterway (where you can ask for help) or if it would be a better idea to avoid busy waterways (or at least busy launch sites) until you have become more proficient at the technique of solo launching and gained a bit more experience.

Launch at quieter times

In peak season popular easy-to-use ramps will be busy and you could cause quite a queue or create an obstruction while you run through your steps. Though this is not something you should worry about too much the stress and anxiety it may cause you could lead to you making mistakes and possibly even damaging your boat. Though most experienced boat users will offer you a helping hand in such situations it is often better to seek a more solitary and less busy launch site so you can develop your skills at solo launching.

To avoid ramp congestion consider launching your boat a good bit earlier than normal at a time when the waterways will have very little traffic and when most people are only preparing their boats for the journey to the waterway. This way you will give yourself ample time to solo launch without feeling hurried.

Alos by taking this “early bird” approach if you run into difficulties it is just a matter of waiting for another boater to arrive and asking for help; you can then get help without the prying eyes of a lot of other water users.

Use private facilities

Alternatively you can seek out paid facilities where the ramps are under-utilised or perhaps join a marina where you can enjoy the use of a private ramp.

This will obviously incur extra costs but it may be worth it, at least in the short-term, while until you perfect your solo launching skills.

Unfortunately good facilities that offer the easiest launching will very often come with a lot of boat users and thus may have the same challenges as unpaid ones.

Make sure the ramp is close to a dock

Ideally you need a launch ramp with a decent dock nearby where you can moor your boat whilst moving your trailer and vehicle off the ramp. A ramp without a nearby dock will make self-launching much more difficult.

The more length your launch ramp has, the more length you have to work with in getting your boat safely in the water, so longer is better.

Look for a facility that has multiple ramps and also a courtesy dock where you can moor your boat while you park your vehicle, rather than one that has just a ramp dock which may be overused or cause you to hamper other users.

Equipment can give you the advantage

If you know that you will be launching your boat by yourself regularly, it is well worth considering the towing vehicle you will use and suitable it is to your specific boat.

Also consider the trailer and equipment you will be using and how suitable they are to the boat as well. Are they also in good working order and up to the task?

If possible while you are learning this new skill consider using a smaller boat for practice as it will be easier to handle at your launch ramp. A small boat, like a Jon boat, is more readily towed and can be readily launched in shallower water and with shorter ramps. It is also much easier to manipulate the boat in the water should something go wrong or you need to realign the vessel due to an error you made when launching it in the water.

Your trailer also needs to be up to the task and it must be easy to handle as you need to be confident backing it into the water to an adequate depth where the boat floats.

Invest in the right trailer set-up. To do this I advise you to visit a local dealer and discuss your needs with them. However, be sure to shop around and get a few different opinions about which trailer is the best fit for you. You may need to buy a trailer that works best for launching your boat alone rather than relying on a trailer that comes with your boat or one that you picked up on craigslist.

Good keel rollers are believed to be a good choice as the boat can roll into the water readily when launch and retrieval by winching is easier. Many experienced boat owners swear by them.

Preparation is key

When you arrive at the water, don’t rush to the ramp. Pull over and make sure that you and your equipment are properly prepared so you can run through the steps quickly when you get to launching.

Pre-rigging will save you time and make your launch smoother.

You will need to exit your vehicle and prepare your boat for the launch as follows:

  • Remove the transom straps or tie downs.
  • Insert your drain plug ahead of time.
  • Tilt your engine upwards to avoid damage as you reverse the boat down the ramp.
  • Leave your winch hooked to the boat and leave the winch in the retrieve position.
  • Ensure your mooring lines for the dock are also in place ahead of time.

It may even be prudent to check your boat battery, fuel and electronics before you enter the water, even though you will have already done this before leaving home, in case a fault has developed and you find you cannot move your boat once it is launched.

Careful descent and reversal of your boat into the water

Reverse your boat slowly down the ramp ensuring it and your vehicle are straight. You want to reverse the boat in a straight line into the water. Having to excessively adjust and readjust your steering to center the trailer and boat will just cause you problems. So, take time to get your set-up correct before you start the descent. Small steering adjustments are fine.

Be aware that you may have to back your boat farther into the water than you would normally do if you had an additional pair of hands to help you.

Do not unhook your boat bow until you reach the water’s edge. At the water, park your vehicle and unhook your bow, leaving the winch attached and pull out some length, approximately 2 feet.

Back your boat into the water and stop when the boat begins to float. This will usually mean both trailer wheels are fully covered by water or almost fully covered. With the winch still attached the nose will recede from the trailer as the boat slides off.

Complete the launch

Put your vehicle in “park” and step onto the trailer. Unhook the winch, push your boat backwards and climb on.

Navigate to the the nearest dock to secure your boat (ensure that you do this thoroughly so your boat does not drift off).

Return to your vehicle and park up properly.

You are now ready to hit the water!

Personal safety is critical

Your safety and the safety of other water users should never be overlooked. Boating alone carries risk and so does solo launching. If you are launching your boat alone it is critical that someone else knows where you have gone and what you will be doing on the water.

Also if you are moving between your tow vehicle and boat trailer repeatedly the rule is that you must ensure that your vehicle is properly parked with the handbrake on! Every year accidents occur because boat owners fail to follow this simple rule.

While reversing the trailer into the water you may also want to consider leaving your driver’s window fully open in the vehicle and your seat belt unfastened just in case your vehicle rolls back into the water – this gives you ample opportunity to evacuate the vehicle should it start to sink.

A final word

Everyone knows that it can be embarrassing to ask for help but don’t be afraid to do just that.

If you are not confident with any stage of launching your boat alone it is well worth seeking assistance. Experienced boat owners will be more than happy to share their knowledge with you as everyone who navigates the water needed to learn a new boating skill at some stage.

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