Boat Ramp Rules

Keep kids and guests safe when launching and loading your trailer.

Boat Ramp Rules
Boat Ramp RulesTom King

A sad story out of Australia about a 4-year-old who drowned while trapped in his car seat when a tow vehicle slid backward and submerged at a launch ramp prompted a ­discussion among the Boating staff about simple steps that can make your ramp experience as safe as possible.

Most boats are launched and retrieved without incident or injury. However, the potential for mishaps still exists, and having kids along can divide your attention and increase the risk. Here are some rarely discussed steps that can help protect youngsters, other guests and you.

1. Protect the Young'uns
This means no kids — ­especially unattended youngsters — in the tow vehicle while launching or retrieving the boat. The same can be said for keeping kids out of the boat at these junctures. Children can accidentally knock a vehicle out of gear or take a nasty spill as a boat or trailer rolls up and down the ramp. Also, the ­Australian story tragically teaches us that kids are less likely to extract themselves from a submerged vehicle. Ideally, launching and loading should involve two adults — one each behind the wheel of the tow vehicle and the boat.

2. Adult Supervision
Slippery pavement, lots of traffic, preoccupied drivers and precarious docks make for a dangerous place, so you really need a third adult to shepherd the kids to safe areas. Unattended kids will surely wander off, oblivious to danger, usually toward the water or courtesy docks. Have a supervising adult gather the kids at the top of the gangway, get them into life jackets, and wait until the boat is securely tied up before escorting them down the dock for departure. Once you return to the dock, reverse this procedure, waiting until the rig is off the ramp and in a make-ready area before you load the posse back into the tow vehicle.

3. Roll the Windows Down
Communication is critical at the launch ramp. It is almost impossible to communicate either verbally or with hand signals when you have the windows up on the tow vehicle. Also, turn the air-conditioning fan down and shut off the radio — the noise from both can interfere with clear communications between the driver and helmsman. There's another reason to have the windows down: Should the tow vehicle somehow slide backward into the water, you will be able to open the door and clamber out. You won't be able to do so with the windows up, and electric windows quickly short out under water.

4. Back Up in Neutral
My dear departed friend Dick Uranga taught me this trick 20 years ago: Once the rig is rolling backward down the ramp, put the transmission in neutral. That way, the reverse function and the vehicle brakes are not fighting each other. It's also less likely you will inadvertently leave the transmission in reverse when it's time to power the rig up the ramp — a mistake that might suddenly propel your vehicle backward into the water. "Don't laugh," Uranga said. "I've seen it happen."