Cargo Trailers

How to Launch & Retrieve Your Boat

Many boaters trailer their boat to and from the water. There are over 780,000 registered boats, making Michigan third in the nation for boating recreation. Michigan also has over 1,300 public boating access sites, as well as over 80 harbors and marinas. So while we have an abundance of public access sites for boaters, there are always lots of boaters using them. Here are a few practical tips for launching and retrieving your boat.

The Launch

The Launch

There are two steps to follow when launching your boat. Following these guidelines will ensure that you can launch your boat quickly and safely, while being courteous to your fellow boaters.

Prepare Your Boat Away From the Launch Area

1. Prepare Your Boat Away From the Launch Area

Don’t pull up to the ramp and park there while you get your boat ready to launch. You’ll block other boaters who are ready to use it. It’s extremely discourteous among boaters. Instead, park your boat away from the ramp area to prep it.

  • Remove all the tie downs except the winch line
  • Load your boating equipment and supplies into the boat
  • Disconnect the trailer’s brake lights to avoid burning out any bulbs
  • Insert the drain plug
  • Remove any motor travel supports you might be using
  • Put the trim up so you don’t damage your prop during the launch
  • Check your boat trailer’s hubs and be sure they’re not hot. If they are, wait until they cool down - and have your wheel bearings serviced
Launch Your Boat

2. Launch Your Boat

When you’re boat is prepped and ready to launch, then approach the boat ramp and when it’s your turn, back the trailer into the water.

  • Back far enough so that the trailer tires are in the water, but not the axle bearings
  • If possible, keep your vehicle’s rear tires out of the water.
  • Apply the parking brake
  • If you’re doing this by yourself, attach a safety line to the bow
  • Slowly release the winch line so the boat enters the water gradually
  • If you suspect any engine problems, start it up and let it run for a few moments while still attached to the winch line. If it doesn’t start, it’ll be easier to retrieve your boat if it’s still connected to the trailer
  • Once in the water, tie the boat to the dock and immediately move your vehicle and trailer away from the launch ramp area so other boaters may use it
Retrieving Your Boat

3. Retrieving Your Boat

When the time comes to take your boat out of the water, be sure you have someone to spot for you, especially when dealing with a steep boat ramp. Both of you should make sure there are no other boats or pedestrians in the area. Then:

  • Get your vehicle and trailer ready to retrieve your boat and wait your turn
  • Remember your boating etiquette. Don’t make other boaters wait while you unload the gear in your boat. Do that away from the launch area afterwards
  • Back your trailer down the ramp and into the water until it covers about two-thirds of your trailer’s rollers or bunks, keeping your towing vehicle’s wheels out of the water as much as possible
  • Attach the bow line in order to steady the process
  • Carefully maneuver your boat close enough to the trailer in order to attach the winch line
  • Once attached to the winch line, shut off the boat’s engine and tilt it up to avoid any damage while loading
  • Crank the winch and pull the boat up onto the trailer. Make sure no one is in the path of the winch line in case it should break
  • Secure your boat to the trailer, then tow it out of the water and move it away from the ramp area so you don’t block other boaters
  • Remove your gear; remove the drain plug to drain the water from the bottom of the boat. Use a pump in the bilge, if necessary. Drain and clean out any livewells or baitwells
  • Clean your boat before you leave the ramp area to prevent the spread of invasive aquatic species. This is a growing problem and many states have specific regulations you must follow. Michigan just instituted a new set of regulations on March 21, 2019. You can find them here.
Information provided is reliable but not guaranteed. Give our boating experts a call to confirm if information applies to you and your specific model.