Some of the most fun I ever had in the outdoors didn’t involve a shotgun, a deer rifle or a fishing rod. It was sitting near a boat ramp, watching folks launch and retrieve their vessels. I have seen things that I have no doubt would have won the big money on “America’s Funniest Home Videos” if I had just had a movie camera at the right time. I can’t poke too much fun, though, because I have had a few little mishaps of my own while putting in or taking out.
Like most people who have messed around in boats for an extended length of time, I have forgotten to put the drain plug in the transom before sliding a craft in. The usual sequence is: The boater notices an awful lot of water accumulating in the bottom of the hull; he realizes what he’s done and shouts something like, “Oh, #%*!”; then he sprints for his tow vehicle and frantically tries to back the empty trailer down the ramp so he can pull the boat out before it sinks right there at the dock. Most of the time, he makes it and then spends the next ten minutes berating whoever is with him – wife, son, fishing partner, etc. – for neglecting to check the plug. Like I said, it’s all very humorous – if you’re not the one doing the scrambling and shouting.
My misadventures can’t compare, however, to some I’ve been a witness to. For example, there was the fellow who came flying up to a ramp in Swansboro late one afternoon just as a couple of friends and I were taking our boat out. He wheeled his car around, backed his small skiff down the ramp and started jerking straps loose. As he was doing this, he asked over his shoulder, “Which way to Bear Island?” I started trying to describe the route, pointing out that he needed to be careful because of shoals. It was obvious the guy was only half listening and he finally interrupted to explain that some of his friends were already on the island having a party and he was late. As he said that, I noticed a distinct odor of alcohol on his breath. Apparently his party had already started.
The eager partier/boater jumped in his car and went revving up the ramp with his empty trailer. Unfortunately, his boat followed. In his haste, he had failed to notice that the bow rope was caught on the trailer. Before we could stop him, he dragged the boat all the way up the concrete ramp and onto the gravel parking lot with slivers of fiberglass flying as she went. All of us working together were able to pull it back down the ramp, doing who-knows-what to the bottom of the hull, and into the water. The last we saw of the fellow, he was speeding off across the Intercoastal Waterway toward the island. We didn’t read about him in the newspaper the next day so we assumed he made it to the party.
Others in my Boat Ramp Hall of Fame would include a number of wanna-be sailors who tried to launch their craft without removing the winch cable first. The look on their faces when they finally figured out why their boats wouldn’t slide off the trailer, even with them revving the engine and cussing, was always priceless.
And, of course, I’ll never forget the fellow who couldn’t understand why his big, luxury automobile wouldn’t pull his brand new boat up the ramp on Harkers Island. He ranted, raged, cussed and even suggested to his buddy, who was standing by helpless, that maybe he and some of the folks who had gathered by this time could push the rig out. Finally the man who owned the marina, who was not known for his good humor, came out and stood beside the car’s open window. After watching for a few moments, he asked, “You want to get your boat out of the water and off my ramp?”
“Hell yeah, what’d you think I’m doing?” the frustrated boater barked back.
The marina owner reached through the car’s window, pulled something that went “whump,” then turned without a word and headed back inside. The “whump” was the sound the car’s parking brake made when it was disengaged.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has some suggestions for boaters at ramps. They remind everyone to practice proper ramp etiquette, be patient and obey regulations set for public access areas. Their recommendations include:
Pre-Launch at Home:
- File a float plan with a responsible person.
- Make sure you have all required safety equipment onboard.
- Check that the boat’s registration and decal are up to date and the registration card is onboard.
Pre-Launch at the Staging Area:
- Remove covers and straps before getting in line.
- Have gear and equipment already stowed onboard.
- Disconnect any wiring between your trailer and boat.
- Make sure the ignition key is in the boat.
- Check the boat’s drain plug.
- Connect your bow line.
- Wait your turn. Get in line without blocking or cutting off others.
- Ease your boat into the water and be watchful of the dock or pier and other boats.
- If possible, park your vehicle while someone else moves the boat away from the ramp.
- Observe no-wake zones and be cautious of other boats and swimmers.
- Loading onto trailers is in order of tow vehicles in line, not waiting boats.
- Carefully back the trailer into the water.
- Move the boat onto the trailer, hook the winch line and tighten it up.
- Steadily accelerate and slowly pull the trailer forward; be watchful of vehicles and people.
- Move away from the ramp area to transfer gear, secure straps and reconnect trailer wires.
Although it’s not one of the NCWRC’s recommendations, it’s a good idea for new boaters to practice launching and loading their vessels at ramps on days when the sites are not very busy. Of course, if they don’t, that’s OK too. They, along with boaters with little patience or common sense, can provide a lot of entertainment for those of us looking on.