How To Launch A Boat By Yourself [Step-By-Step]
In all my years of boat ownership, I think launching a boat, especially launching a boat by myself, has been one of the most stressful parts of boating.
We have all seen the epic fail boat launch videos on YouTube. It seems that every boating season, we get a new group of boat launch fails. Some of these even include the tow vehicle being submerged underwater.
Are you feeling the stress of launching a boat by yourself? If so, this article is for you. I want to share with you what I have learned in regards to how to go solo and launch a boat by yourself.
Important disclosure: I have a “float on / float off” or “bunk style” trailer. If you have an all-roller style boat trailer, you would need to follow a different approach to launching your boat alone. Never do this with a roller style trailer! An all-roller trailer setup has been known to have boats slide off the trailer on the ramp prior to launching in the water using the process I am going to describe here.
Okay, so let’s get to the details on how to launch a boat by yourself.
Step 1: At Home Boat Prep
They say preparation is the most important part of most tasks and this is especially true when wanting to launch a boat alone.
- Start by hooking up the garden hose to your boat motor and make sure it runs at home before getting to the ramp fully loaded only to learn the boat motor isn’t running.
- Load up all of your gear at the house. Lures, Ice, Rods, Beer, or whatever else you want for a day on the water.
- Install the boat plug BEFORE leaving the house. Some people will say to do it at the ramp to drain any water from the bilge. I prefer to do it at the house first just to make sure I don’t overlook this step at the ramp when trying to hurry and get in/out of the water quickly.
Step 2: Pre-Launch Boat Prep (Before Getting Onto the Ramp)
You have arrived at the boat launch parking lot. Find a safe spot to make final preparations prior to launching your boat.
This is the time to get all of your gear on the boat if you have not already. This allows you to get on the ramp, launch the boat and go.
You do not want to hold up the ramp while you carry coolers, chairs, fishing rods, and other gear down to the boat via the ramp dock. One it makes more work for you to carry everything down to the dock, and more importantly, you will irritate other boaters wanting to gain access to the boat ramp.
- Start with a Safety Check and make sure you have all required safety gear for the day (flares, life jackets, dock lines, registration, etc.)
- Double check to make sure the plug is properly installed
- Disconnect your trailer lights from the vehicle before entering the water
- Put up your VHF antenna
- Tie on your fenders (aka – bumpers)
- Turn on your battery switches
- Make sure you can easily get on and off the boat, don’t have gear everywhere
- Disconnect your safety straps, tie down straps, but leave your winch strap connected but loose. Give it a little slack but not too much. *With a bunk style trailer your boat should not move, but the winch strap gives you a margin of safety if for some reason the boat starts to slide before getting into the water.
Next, you need a dock line with loops on either end. Put one loop over the metal trailer stand where the winch is located. Attach the other loop end to your bow cleat making sure both ends are secure.
This line should have slack in it because when you launch the boat, this is what is going to hold the boat when you back it into the water and let it slide into the water.
Now it is time to leave the staging lane and head to the launch lane (ramp).
Step 3: Boat Ramp
This is the quickest part of the process because you have already done your boat launch prep ahead of time.
Once you have a clear ramp, it is time to back the trailer down the ramp and put the boat in the water.
With a bunk style trailer, you will notice the boat is not going to move while backing down the ramp.
Just before getting to the water, stop and disconnect the winch strap if you kept it on for safety as mentioned above. Once you get to know your boat and ramp, you can disconnect the winch strap in the prep phase above. While out of the vehicle, check to make sure your dock line is still secure to the bow cleat and trailer, and it has slack in the line. Then get back in your vehicle and it is time to launch.
Back the boat into the water. Typically this is where the wheels are wet and the boat is in the water. Then give the breaks a firm, quick press. This breaks the tension between the weight of the boat and the trailer bunks. Your boat will start to float into the water, and your bowline will catch it and bring it back.
Then you will want to set your parking brake and put the tow vehicle in park.
Get out of your vehicle and tie your boat off to the dock.
This is where your boat ramp facilities will determine what you do next. If you do not have easy access to a floating dock, you will probably have to walk down your trailer and jump up onto the bow.
Where I often launch my boat, we have nice floating docks installed. As a result, I back down the ramp and pull close to the floating dock. This way, when the boat floats and the bowline is holding it, I can simply walk down the floating dock and easily step over the gunnel and into my boat.
I then start the boat and walk up to the bow and with the flip of a wrist, I can get the bowline loop off of the trailer and pull the line into the boat.
I back the boat up a little way and tie it up to the floating dock. If your boat has a mid cleat, you only need one line to tie your boat off to the dock. Simply tie the boat up tight using the mid cleat and you are good to go.
Some people will put out a bow rope, and mid rope and a stern rope. In my opinion, this is overkill because if you do it right, you are not going to be at the boat ramp very long.
Step 4: Park Your Vehicle and Go Enjoy A Day On The Boat
Now that your boat is secure at the boat ramp dock, go park your tow vehicle and trailer. Then it’s back to the boat for a great day on the water.
How long should it take to launch a boat by myself?
So, how long should it take to launch a boat myself? Expect it to take less than five minutes to solo launch your boat. Excluding the prep time as described above in steps 1 and 2, actually launching the boat (step 3 and 4) should take less than five minutes. When you get really good at it my guess is you can back your boat into the water, launch it, park and be back on the boat in under three minutes!
What If I have A Boat That Is Not A 21 to 24 Foot Boat, With This Launch Process Work?
Yes. I have seen this process used with 30-foot center consoles all the way down to 14 foot flatbottom skiffs. There may be some slight differences, but I’d say 99% of the process is the same. The biggest difference is in the trailer setup and the steps required to secure a 30-foot boat vs a 14-foot boat.