August 2012

Ready to launch

Launch safely with a checklist

Mistakes at the launch—a hazard whenever cars, trucks and trailers operate in close quarters—can result in serious injuries and property damage.

With nearly 13 million recreational boats registered in the U.S., launch ramps are often crowded with operators so eager to launch that they forget or neglect important steps.

To make jumping the gun less likely, use a safe-launch checklist:

  • Put on a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket before working on or near the water.
  • Make sure the launch area has plenty of room for easy turning and parking.
  • Check that water depth at the ramp is adequate for your boat.
  • Make sure the launch ramp is wide enough for both the boat and trailer.
  • Check that the ramp’s incline is appropriate for the length of the boat and trailer.
  • Scan the ramp’s surface for slippery conditions and sharp objects.
  • Make initial launch preparations away from the ramp to keep from delaying others. Raise the outdrive or motor to keep it from dragging on the ramp, remove the support bracket, and install the drain plug. Disconnect the trailer wiring. Release transom tie-down straps. Check the fittings. Connect the fuel tank, check fluid levels, and check the drain plug one more time.
  • Keep the boat winched to the trailer until ready to launch.
  • Back the trailer down the ramp, keeping the tow vehicle’s wheels out of the water.
  • Shift into park, set the emergency brake, and block the wheels.
  • Run the blower on inboard boats five minutes before starting.
  • Lower the outdrive or motor, look for water entering the boat, sniff the bilge and start the motor.
  • Make sure water is passing through the engine cooling system.
  • Attach a bow line to the boat, release the winch and disconnect the winch line.
  • Launch the boat with a slight shove or by backing away under power.
  • Move the towing vehicle and trailer to the parking lot to make room for the next boat and trailer in line.
  • Move your boat to a dock away from the ramp to load any passengers or additional gear.

Make this checklist part of your routine. When you follow correct ramp procedures, you encourage other boaters to follow your example.

–U.S. Coast Guard



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Mastering Marlinespike

Lark’s head

About 2,000 years ago, a physician used the lark’s head to tie a sling for broken bones. Today this knot secures such things as baggage tags. Not used for much aboard ship, the knot will slip unless both the bitter end and the working part are both under tension.


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