Public Dock and Boat Ramp Etiquette

Our Definitive Guide to Get You In And Out Of The Boat Ramp With Ease

A great season of boating starts with having good boat ramp etiquette, but one of the trickiest parts about using a boat ramp correctly is that it is all about following the rules, many of which are unwritten.

At the height of Summer, public boat ramps are in extremely high demand, with a high volume of boat launches. Demonstrating the right boat ramp etiquette can go a long way in ensuring that everyone is able to launch quickly and safely.

Boating Etiquette at The Ramp Made Easy

In today’s post, we’re going to give you the lowdown on boat ramp etiquette and strategy, so that the next time you go down to launch your boat, you have a quick and easy unload and launch, followed by a thrilling adventure on the water, rather than setting a collision course for other boaters or even the dock!

And like anything else in life, a great experience starts with great preparation.

Park and Prepare

Most public boat ramps have a staging area where you can park and prepare your boat for the water. When you arrive at the boat ramp, find the nearest prepping area in the parking lot, park your tow vehicle and trailer with the boat still on it, and load your boat up with everything you need for the day out.

Take Off the Covers

This requires first removing all the covers from the boat and storing them either in the tow vehicle or onboard the boat itself. You can also remove the stern tiedowns from the transom eyes.

Now, it is time to load gear, towers, ice and beverages into the ice chest, water toys such as floaties and pads, personal bags, fishing rods and everything else you and your passengers will need to have on the boat.

If you haven’t already done so, check that the boat’s safety equipment is on board, including things like lifejackets, flares and any other safety gear that you are normally required to keep on the boat.

Important: At this point in time, the bow eye must remain hooked up to the boat.

Technical Prep

Go around to the stern and check that the drain plug is in the transom, below the drive assembly, and is tightly installed. Now hop aboard and turn the battery switch in the port storage area to the ‘On’ position.

Make sure that the ignition keys are in the ignition but DO NOT START THE ENGINE!

Boat Engines Need Water

Why do we say so? It’s simple: Running the engine for even a few seconds while the motor is out of the water, will destroy the engine’s water pump impeller almost instantly.

Before heading to the next step, ensure that you have an experienced boat driver at the helm.

And with that sorted, it’s time to head to the boat ramp to prepare for launching your boat.

The Launch Process

When it’s your turn, have the tow vehicle back the boat down the ramp and into the water until the trailer fenders are just submerged. [Make a mental note of this position because this is the correct position for reloading your boat on to the trailer when you return.]

The skipper should now partly lower the boat’s outdrive. If your boat has a Volvo engine, the outdrive will not lower unless the ignition is switched on and the starter won’t engage until the drive is slightly lowered.

Important: Don’t lower the outdrive all the way, otherwise it is likely to hit and/or grind on the boat ramp. Either way, it’s an expensive, day-ruining mistake that is easily avoided!

Get Ready To Start Your Engines

It’s time to start your engine/s and get ready to launch your boat. When you do so, pay close attention to your gauges to ensure all is well with your motor/s.

Next, the driver of the tow vehicle should remove the trailer’s bow hook from the boat. Once done, the boat driver can engage reverse with a very slight throttle and the boat will then slide off the trailer. If that doesn’t happen, ask the tow vehicle driver to back the trailer slightly farther down the ramp into the water.

Park The Vehicle and Get Ready To Board

Once the boat is free of the trailer, the tow vehicle driver can pull the trailer away from the water and park in an appropriate parking spot.

The boat driver can then idle the boat to the dock where the passengers/crew should be waiting to board. This will ensure that the boarding process is as quick as possible allowing the boat to move out of the launching area.

Reloading On to The Trailer

At the end of your day out on the water when you return to the dock, the process of reloading your boat on the trailer is just about reversing the above steps.

The 4 crucial steps for reloading your boat on the trailer:

  1. Trim the outdrive partially up before driving or pulling the boat on to the trailer.
  2. The boat driver will be able to drive the boat mostly on to the trailer and, with the engine still running and forward gear engaged at slightly above idle, they will be able to get the boat almost all the way up on to the trailer.
  3. The vehicle driver should be outside the vehicle and positioned near the front of the boat, ready to hook the winch hook to the bow eye of the boat. With a little effort, they will be able to crank the boat fully on to the trailer.
  4. Once the boat is fully on the trailer, the boat driver should place the engine into neutral and fully raise the outdrive, then shut off the engine.

Time To Leave the Ramp

Now that the boat is ready to be pulled out of the water, the tow vehicle driver can pull the boat out of the water, off the ramp, and move the whole rig to a staging area or other parking area in order to allow other boaters to use the ramp while you finish up and prepare to head home.

Before you do anything else, be sure to shut off the battery switch and remove all remaining personal belongings from the boat. Make sure there’s nothing left in the boat that can blow out of it on the way home.

Install the transom straps/tie downs between the stern eyes and the trailer and the tonneau covers, if appropriate.


With a touch of planning, patience, and practice, your boat ramp experience can be stress-free and straightforward. Adhere to the outlined steps, and you’re guaranteed a seamless boat launch and reload.

But before you go: Now that you’ve leveled up your ramp etiquette, how about leveling up your boat, too?  Design your dream Cobalt today at!