HOW TO TRUCK: How to Launch a Boat

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HOW TO TRUCK: How to Launch a Boat

Boats don’t have wheels and your truck can’t drive on water. Fortunately, however, trucks are perfect for bringing your water toys to the lake. In the latest installment of our How to Truck series, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to launch a boat.

Step 1: Assess the Boat Launch

Boat launches are not all created equal. Some are beautiful concrete, while at others you’re lucky to get a bit of gravel. Make sure you note all of the potential obstacles at the launch before backing down.

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Step 2: Prepare Your Boat

The last thing you want to do is launch your boat without gas, or without a plug in the back. Make sure everything is onboard before you launch, including life jackets, a tow rope and a paddle.

Step 3: Backing In

Backing a trailer in can be tough, but it gets easier once you get the hang of it. The basic rule to remember is, when your steering wheel is turned left, the trailer wheels go right and vice versa.

A simple trick you can use to get around this backwards way of thinking is to place your left hand at the bottom of the steering wheel when backing up. That way, when you move your hand to the left, the trailer’s wheels will go to left.

A good habit to get into is to begin by walking around your trailer and visualizing the entire reverse in your mind. While backing in, use a combination of the mirrors, backup camera and looking over your right shoulder to guide the trailer where you want it to go.

The first move in maneuvering, which we’ll call the cut, sets up the trailer on the proper angle, then the second move, when you follow the trailer, continues the turn while bringing the vehicle’s wheels back in line with trailer’s wheels.

When making the cut, beware of jackknifing the trailer, which means you don’t follow fast enough and the truck and trailer end up on close to a 90-degree angle.

Like with the whole boat-launching process, you’ll want a spotter outside the truck for this.

Step 4: Prepare Your Boat Again

Get your boat close to the water then gently stop and put your truck in park with the parking brake engaged.

This is where you will prepare the last few things on the boat. You’ll need to take off any rear-end straps, then remove the front strap holding the boat to the trailer.

Make sure to disconnect the power to the trailer lights before submerging the lights in the lake. Some lights are built to withstand water intrusion, but it can’t hurt to disconnect them just in case.

Step 5: Shift into 4WD

Having your truck in four-wheel drive will help eliminate the chance of the tire slippage and should help you dig out of any mud or sand you get into.

Step 6: Launch Time

Make sure your buddy in the boat is ready to go, then slowly start to back in. When you think the boat is about ready to start floating, start lightly tapping the brakes every few seconds. You should be able to clearly see when the boat is floating and free of the trailer. Wait for the boat to float past the submerged trailer before moving forward.

Step 7: Be on Your Way

Finally, pull the truck back up the loading ramp. Watch and make sure your friend in the boat is making out alright and doesn’t need any help out on the water. Then pull up the ramp and be on your way.

And that’s how you launch a boat.

  • Robert Parker

    Well; here are some questions to answer before you launch:
    1. will you be alone, or will you have a helper… ?
    -If alone, then, next question: Is there a dock upon which you can tie your boat..?
    -if there is a dock you can tie-up to, which way is the wind blowing and how much traffic is at the launch pad..?
    -if the wind is blowing, you will need to tie-up both bow and stern, and you should do this, if alone, at all times
    -should you tie-up without getting into the boat..? or,
    -should you launch then take your boat to the dock under power.?
    All of these questions, and answers require different actions… and there are many more…
    and to address all the variables, would take more length than I would probably have room for in this post. 🙁 But I will try and keep going as long as this post allows me….
    Okay; so if you are alone, sometimes that can be easier than having a ‘helper’ …
    -you are less likely to ‘miss something’
    -it is easier to ‘make decisions’
    -your actions can follow a direct path .. of which I will expound…
    First: if unfamiliar with the launch pad, watch how others do it and learn from their mistakes and successes.
    Second: have a plan to launch, a list of things you need to do, in order of execution
    Third: check your ‘list’ against how others are launching, and if you have questions, ask the person who you watched launch… etc.
    Third: if there is a ‘launch line’ prepare your boat while waiting in line so that you are ready.
    Fourth: some docks allow ‘two at a time’ to launch, so if alone, you need to get in the line which allows you to launch next to the dock
    Fifth: continue with your ‘action plan’ in launching, tying, and parking..
    Sixth: if the dock is busy, be prepared to leave the dock as soon as you can (so a spot is open for another to ‘tie up’)
    Now that you have ‘a plan to launch’ how do you get your boat READY..?
    Again; you should have an ‘action plan’ a step-by-step to-do list.. what would I do first.?
    -Upon you decision how to launch and where, prepare your boat for that action…
    First: if alone, you want to launch next to the dock, then you will need both a bow line and a stern line, neatly coiled for instant use
    Second: have your life jacket ready to use, either already on, or immediately available (some docks have Park Rangers, and if you ‘don’t have your jacket on while you are in the boat, you can receive a ticket) and have enough ‘approved’ life jackets for everyone in the boat.
    Third: finish the launch preparation by checking: is the drain plug pushed in and locked.? tow lines ready and in place.? oars in the boat.? (required) Check the motor by starting it (no worries, it won’t overheat, just run it to see that it runs) Unhook trailer lights and brakes, but not the boat. You will unhook the boat’s rear straps at the water’s edge, then the front (depending on how you want the boat to float and tie up).
    BACKING THE BOAT/TRAILER
    First; can you use your rear-view mirror..? or can you use only your side mirrors.?
    HERE IS A BASIC RULE TO REMEMBER: with your hand at the top of the steering wheel, turning to the LEFT (counter-clockwise) your boat/trailer will move LEFT. (need I say the other option..?) You should practice backing the boat/trailer prior to launch so that ‘you got it’. Now when just backing the trailer… can you see the trailer in your mirrors or over your right shoulder.? VERY IMPORTANT. Many empty trailers cannot be seen. This becomes a BIG problem if you haven’t checked it and prepared for it. Some trailers have a tall ‘stick’ high enough to be seen when the trailer is empty, usually on both rear points of the trailer. It is nearly impossible to back a trailer when you cannot see it. (there is a way, but not for this post).
    Okay; now that you have practiced and you are proficient in backing your trailer, your boat is prepared, now is time to put it in the water.
    First: if alone, you want to launch next to the dock, so pull up directly away from the launch point, remove your rear straps and check the plug, oars, and life jackets, and motor. Back up confidently (if you haven’t practiced, and you take more than two tries, and there is a line, pull out and go to the back of the line: launch etiquette)
    Second: back into the water so that the rear of the boat is floating and the water line is approximately at the trailer axle(s). This will keep the boat, while partially floating, within the trailer tires/fenders and not let it drift off center. At this point (for some boats) you can manually push the boat rearward, off the trailer, and using the bow line, walk it over to the dock (depending on traffic, depth of water, size of dock, etc,) If this is not possible, then you will need to tie-up to the dock while you are in the boat and under power.
    Third: to launch under power, you need to get in the boat (while the rear of the boat is floating) start the boat while the propeller is in the water, and it is in neutral, then unhook the bow line and stow it neatly (you will need it in just a moment). So now you have control of the boat and time to ‘back it up’ (if you did not get the boat into the water deep enough, and your propeller depth does not give you the power to move the boat rearward, ask a bystander to give you a push (it happens all the time, no worries). If no bystander, you can back up the trailer further, or get out and give it a push, then hop in and take control. While all of this is happening, keep an eye on your vehicle. Stealing a person’s vehicle (while you are in the boat, alone) can and does happen every now and then. So, back the boat up, tie up, turn off the boat, and go park your truck/trailer (use a ‘pull through’ spot).
    Fourth: time to load your boat and back-up your trailer. Remember; the trailer will go left if you turn left.. and hopefully you can see the trailer or the tall sticks. Back the trailer to the depth that you launched. Unhook the trailer’s bow line and pull out a couple of feet, ready to attach to the bow hook on the boat. If you have done this properly, you will be able to power the boat onto the trailer smoothly and easily to a point that your boat is sitting on one row of trailer supports (this way the boat ‘wont get away’ while you get out and hook it up). So do that, hook up your trailer’s bow line to the boat, then, using the trailers winch, pull your boat up to the front boat support. Drive the truck/trailer up to where the boat is about 6 feet from the water’s edge (it should be centered on the trailer) then shut off your truck, parking brake on, and it is in PARK or 1st gear) go to the rear of the boat and take out the plug, and while the boat is draining, hook-up the rear trailer straps, plug in the trailer’s electrical connections, and go and park. This is where you will prepare your boat for travel.
    SIDE NOTES: the trailer’s wheel bearings will need to be checked and repacked every season, and so will the trucks wheel bearing and differential if they get into the water.
    From this ‘how to’ you can extrapolate a ‘how to’ if you have a ‘helper’ or two. 🙂
    If you have any questions or additional comments, please feel free to post them.

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  • Boulderman

    Don’t know if somebody has already addressed this but you don’t put your hand at the top of the wheel when backing your boat down into the ramp as most people suggest. the secret is you put your hand at the bottom of the wheel that way when you turn your wheel to the left the boat trailer goes left when your turn your wheel to the right the trailer goes right. that way you don’t have to think in Reverse. Simple

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  • Stephen Elmer

    It’s funny, I didn’t learn this trick until well after I learned to reverse with a trailer. So I still place my hand at the top of the wheel out of habit.

    It is a great trick though! I will add a bit about it into the article.

  • Boulderman

    Thanks for your response I’ve had to commandeer peoples vehicles many times to keep them from running over the family pet or worse especially with those non-compliant u-haul trailers