If you own a boat that gets trailered to your favorite body of water, you are familiar with boat ramps. When things go right, you back the trailer down the ramp until the boat starts to displace water. On with the emergency brake or the parking mode. You disconnect the yellow winch strap, park the trailer, start the motor and you’re off to your fishing spot or other destination.
That is if things do “go right.” Sometimes that is not the case. If boat ramps could talk, the stories they would tell!
Living next to a busy boat ramp in the Florida Keys, boat ramp gossip usually finds its way back to the T-Dock where Diane and I hide away from the Maine winter on a houseboat named Spoonbill.
Of course, most boaters are keenly aware of the most common boat launching blunder: a failure to install the transom plug before launch. Blug…blug…blug. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. Most boaters who live long enough will forget that important little plug in all the excitement of getting the boat in the water. It is astonishing how quickly a plugless boat will take on water. Dockmasters will tell you that the first outing of the new season is the most common time for this little boat-launch miscalculation.
It gets worse. Up the road from us here in the Keys there is a state park that has very steep boat ramp. A couple years ago at that ramp a hapless fisherman’s wife backed the family rig down the ramp with her husband wagging his finger from outside the vehicle. She backed it down it pretty well. She then dutifully scampered out of the vehicle to help hubby with the disconnect when abruptly the entire lash up — vehicle, boat and trailer— began rolling down the ramp. Neither was hurt but the family car and the trailer became totally submersed outboard of the ramp. It was an expensive outing. The good news was that the boat floated — aha, the plug was in!
Fishing had to wait for another day.
Yesterday, right next door, a boater’s friend backed his buddy’s boat trailer down the ramp to pick up a splendid 22-footer powered with two shiny Suzuki 150s. As soon as the boater’s buddy drove his friend’s trailer down the ramp for the pick-up and the boater inched onto the trailer bunks, the trailer tongue popped off the ball and lurched skyward. The trailer then slid down the concrete ramp and the wheels went of the edge of the concrete ramp and the trailer axle locked up on the ramp edge. Under the watchful eyes of a small ramp audience, the boater’s friend, cool as a cucumber, dove under water and attached a tie strap to the submerged trailer axle. The boater methodically cleated the strap to his bow and used boat power to life the trailer’s wheels back onto the edge of the ramp. Then, while the boater’s friend and onlookers struggled to drag the trailer back to the all-important ball, the boater kept the trailer from sliding backward by using boat power to keep it on the ramp.
Of course, this was an unusually entertaining boat ramp day. Dockmasters will tell you that most boat launchings and recoveries are pretty routine. You just never know, though, when a real boat-ramp doozy will unfold.
Suggestion: To avoid becoming a focus of spectator sport at your favorite boat ramp, all of us boaters need to make sure to do what these dudes failed to do. 1) Safety chain for the boat trailer. 2) Locking pin for the trailer tongue latch. 3) Boat plug installed. 4) Launch vehicle in park or emergency brake applied.
And don’t forget your PFDs!