Launch Ramp Maneuvering Advice - 01/16/2019
Launch Ramp Maneuvering Advice summer
Warm Summer days can be busy times
at the launch ramp.

Today’s question for Capt. Steve is “How should I maneuver at a crowded launch ramp?” Close quarters launch ramp maneuvering on a busy weekend can cause some angst in boaters who have not had much experience. Single-engine sterndrives, in particular, can be tough to handle in tight spaces, and that is the crux of this week's question to Capt. Steve.

Launch Ramp Maneuvering Advice cooperation
We love it: Dad is going to pull the boat off the trailer as daughter guns the SUV's engine when Mama gives the word. What could be better?

Dear Capt. Steve:

I have a single-engine sterndrive and I have a little trouble at the dock moving it around. I'm sure it is probably because I am getting used to the boat and need more practice, but some tips on accomplishing this would be great.

Here is the scene: The lake I drop into has two docks with about 50 feet of room in between. I had my boat docked on the starboard dock but I had to back my trailer into the port dock (busy day). So I had to move my boat to the other dock without hitting the boat behind me and not hitting the boat about 30 feet behind my trailer. It seemed every time I was trying to move astern and pull the boat away from the starboard dock, my bow would turn towards the dock and I would drift sideways dangerously close to another boat.

I'm wondering if in that case just throw a long rope across to the port dock and have someone pull me in?

-- D.R.

You raise an interesting question and it’s a tough one to answer without being on the boat and seeing first hand what’s going on but I think I get the picture. By all means, throwing a line to someone is the easiest solution, but let’s try a few moves to see if we can do it better, and do it alone.

    • Your single engine sterndrive will control the stern much better than the bow. So I would be untying the boat from the starboard dock and pushing the stern out as I step aboard.

    • Then slowly back out at a 45-degree angle away from that starboard dock towards the port dock. It may take just a shot of reverse rather than holding it in gear. You want slow.

    • Just before you line up with your trailer, and before reaching the boat behind your trailer, turn your wheel hard to starboard (this should not take long).

    • Drop into reverse again and this will pull the stern to the starboard and swing the bow to port. Only use a shot of reverse. Your goal here is to remove that 45-degree angle and replace it with a direct line to your trailer but aiming for the right fender. (2nd method, if you find that you're backing too fast, then turn hard to port and use a shot of forward. This will result in the same thing as above; your stern moves to starboard and bow moves to port… you straighten out.)

    • Now straighten out the wheel and touch forward gear (or reverse if you went with the second method). This is to stop the pivoting and keep you lined up with the trailer. You may still be drifting over to port, which is why we straightened out by lining up with the right fender.

    • Now you should be able to drive forward and onto the trailer. Don’t be shy about speed at this point. You want to get up onto the trailer. You’ll have a few seconds of steering before you reach the trailer anyway so drive right up and onto it.

Now of course this doesn’t take into account wind, etc. but the point is…. You push the stern away first and that gets you on your way across the ramp entrance. Now all you need to do is bring the bow away from the dock and get lined up. Then go for the trailer.

This all happens in one fluid series of moves.

Launch Ramp Maneuvering Advice depiction
Forgive my art. My daughter’s the artist in the family and she’s out with her mother.

Try to get to the ramp on a weekday, and in the middle of the day, when it’s relatively empty. Then practice when there’s no pressure to get it done in a hurry. A few times going on and off the trailer will go a long way towards increasing your confidence in your ability. Then on a busy day, you’re suddenly the one doing it right.

Capt. Steve

If you have a question for Capt. Steve, you can write him here.