Volume XVII, Issue 21 # May 21 - May 27, 2009

Getting Into Hot Water

Ten pratfalls between trailer and water

by Allen Delaney

I keep my boat in a slip, and there’s a reason for that. It’s called other boaters. I let the marina, and their insurance company, worry about transport. But each spring, like lemmings marching to the sea, often with the same result, thousands of boaters trailer their vessels to the water.

Seated on the stern of my boat, my Memorial Day entertainment is watching the captains back their boat trailers down the ramp to venture out on their seasonal maiden voyage. Sometimes their cruise lasts all the way to the end of the pier.

For your entertainment and edification, here is the Top-10 list of launching fouls — irritants and mishaps — I’ve witnessed over the years.

10. Bad timing

Nothing can back up the launch line faster than the Ramp Hog (a name usually preceded by several colorful adjectives) who decides the time to ready his boat for a day of fun is when the trailer wheels hit the water. The place to ready your boat is in the parking lot, far away from traffic and the ramp.

9. Jackknifed trailer

I once watched a guy back his trailer into the right piling and take out his trailer’s left taillight. He pulled up, re-positioned, and promptly took out his right taillight on the left piling. He pulled up again and kept going, leaving the marina, I assume, out of embarrassment.

Moral of the story: If you buy a boat and trailer, practice, practice, practice backing that trailer up before heading for the ramp. If not, you will be the entertainment for the day and the subject of many stories later, much like this one.

8. Mangled propeller

Smaller outboards are equipped with a lever that allows the operator to manually raise and lower the engine in increments. Larger engines are equipped with hydraulic lifts that, with a touch of a button, will raise or lower the motor. Thus, in shallow water, the motor can be raised to get the boat into back creeks and such.

As soon as you hear that tell-tale thump or scrape of metal against concrete, you’ll realize that you forgot to raise the engine upon water entry. Your day is ruined, especially when you have to wade in to retrieve your now-mangled prop.

7. Launched trailer

This is a classic blunder that I think has happened to everyone, and if it hasn’t, it should, since it happened to me. It’s early morning, dark, you’re tired but determined to get out there to catch the big one. You’ve transferred the equipment from your pickup to the boat, put the engine up, and are ready to go. You back the trailer in, exit your truck, and scratch your head wondering why the trailer’s fenders are bobbing in the water.

D’oh! You forgot to remove the tie-down strap. Good thing it’s dark. Maybe no one will recognize you.

6. Escaped boat

It is heartbreaking to watch your pride and joy float toward open water all by itself. This is usually due to the lack of communication within the boating party. If it’s between spouses, the communication quickly becomes loud and accusatory. If it’s between fishing buddies, it usually becomes loud and physical with someone, not always intentionally, going in after the boat.

Always complete launching by securing the bowline to pier.

5. Poor pier placement

The guy in front of you launches his boat, then ties it off a foot from the ramp. He then moseys to his truck, drives nine miles to the nearest parking spot, ambles back, gets in his boat and roars off.

Ramp etiquette states that when your boat is in the water, you must pull it back and tie it off as far as possible from the launching site so others can get their vessels into the water. If you do not observe this simple rule, you could find that while parking your truck, your boat may have experienced mishap No. 6.

4. Failed engine

The boat is in the water and it’s not sitting on the bottom. So far, so good. You hop in and begin yanking on the starter rope. And yank, and yank, and yank until your yanker gives out. Your arm dangles uselessly by your side, and the line to the ramp is beginning to look like a boat show.

Tip: Make sure your engine is tuned, has new plugs, fresh oil and gas, and that it starts before heading for the marina. While still at home, hook your garden hose to your boat engine and start it there. Better to anger a few neighbors once in the spring than a dozen captains waiting to get on the water.

3. Swimming at the ramp

The boat ramp is not the place to introduce junior or your dog to the joys of swimming. A rapidly rotating boat propeller and children do not mix well. Besides, at low tide, I have seen boat parts, rods, cans, bottles and whatever else falls off and out of a boat, lying about underwater at the base of the ramp.

2. Ill-timed chatting

Ask about the fishing or crabbing results in the parking lot or inside the marina while you’re buying bait — not while launching your boat. I have waited in my car impatient to launch my boat, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel, while Joe Sixpack and Harry Boatowner yack about what bait is producing the best results.

Call the marina the day before or check the Outdoor section of your local newspaper to get the information you need to catch the big one. Or do what I do: Relax by floating around. Who wants to ruin the day by having to clean fish?

1. Forgotten plug

Yes, this is the number one source of entertainment. Everything’s been checked, props up, engine vented, enough life vests, tie down strap is off, the motor is in good shape; you are ready to go boating. You drop the boat in without smashing any taillights, tie it off at the end of the pier, park your car and trailer, only to return and find your boat half submerged with your cooler floating in the bow.

How could you have forgotten to put in the plug?

P.S. If you’re the guy I saw last year chugging into the marina while allowing your two sons to dangle their feet over the bow, you should sell your boat. For you non-boaters, it is illegal for anyone to hang any part of their body over the bow of a vessel while it’s under way. Something about the possibility of falling in and meeting a rapidly rotating propeller.

If you’re on the Patuxent River this year and see a 25-foot boat named Just Lookin’, give Capt. Allen Delaney a wave.