How To Launch A Boat (6 Easy Steps)

Owning a boat creates so many opportunities to spend quality, fun time with your family. It opens up a whole vista of new opportunities, fun activities, new skills, being a role model for your children, or just it could be a way to escape the hustle and bustle of life.

Launching your boat is not hard if you learn the proper steps. In the following boat launch guide, we take you through the steps you need to prepare your craft and put it in the water.

Whether you’re launching a boat by yourself or heading out with a group of friends, follow these steps, and you will have a fun day boating with no horror “YouTube” moments.

The Best Way To Launch A Boat

Although there are many different places where you can launch a boat, the two main types of boat launches are off a boat ramp or from the beach into the sea.

In both instances, the preparation of the boat is similar; however, the actual launching process is very different. This article discusses how to launch your boat off a boat ramp under the following steps.

  1. The skills and qualifications you need to launch a boat.
  2. The checklist is to be followed to prepare the boat at the water’s edge.
  3. The Steps To Prepare The Boat For Launching.

Step 1. You Need The Following Skills And Qualifications

You will need some new skills to operate your boat safely, as follows.

You May Need A Skippers Certificate To Control Your Boat

Internationally, many countries require a person in control of a boat, even on inland waterways, to have a skipper’s certificate.

Before legally going boating in the USA, you must find out the individual State’s law and adhere to them. Whether your State requires a certificate or not, It is good to practice to learn the rules that apply. These will include

  1. What is a low wake area?
  2. How to safely pass oncoming boats.
  3. What safety devices are required in the boat.
  4. Does legislation require Personal Flotation Devices (PFD’s)? Even if not a legal necessity, never leave the shore without each person, in particular children, wearing a PFD.
  5. What are the rules for alcohol and boating? Top Tip – they don’t mix.
  6. How to warn other boaters that you are towing skiers, water toys, or wakeboarders.

Your Boat May Need To Be Licenced

In America, all boats built after 2018 must include a notice which confirms the boat complies with the U.S. Coast Guard Safety Standards.

The Coast Guard has implemented rules which require new boats to have more flotation to support the weight of heavier modern gasoline outboard engines.

The manufacturer’s responsibility is to ensure the boat is compliant with this regulation. If your boat isn’t, we recommend contacting the dealer or the manufacturer directly and addressing the concern.

You Will Need To Learn How To Reverse A Boat Trailer

Nothing causes more angst to a first-time boat owner than having to reverse a boat trailer in front of interested (judgmental!) onlookers.

If you practice beforehand and approach the situation calmly, this quickly learned skill helps you get the boat in the water.

  1. Practice makes perfect. Don’t make the first boat launch the time to learn these skills. It will only end up in an embarrassing tangle of boat and car.
  2. Before boat launch day, drive to an empty, big enough parking lot and set out to learn the skills.
  3. Reversing a trailer requires that you do the opposite steering inputs than you would in a solo vehicle. For example, to turn left when you reverse, you start the turn by steering to the right – clockwise. A good tip is to hold the bottom of the steering wheel and move this hand in the direction you want to go. Move it to the right, and the rig will turn right, and visa-versa.
  4. The next thing to remember is that you only initiate the turn using this steering method. Once the rig has started turning and has reached the angle you require, move the steering wheel back to the straight-ahead position. You can reduce the angle by oppositely turning the steering wheel, or if needed, sharpen the angle by turning the wheel more in the first direction.
  5. Anticipate when the boat will point in the correct direction. At this stage, slowly feed in the opposite lock to bring the vehicle in line with the boat trailer.

Now you can impress everyone with your new skills at the dock. The only advice at this stage is to stay calm. Boat ramps are often very busy, with all types of vehicles and boats lining up for their turn to launch.

Don’t be intimidated.

Take your time, remember what you learned when practicing, and head for the water. If the rig starts to get out of position, stop, move forward, and straighten things out.

Step 2. Prepare The Boat For Launching

When you arrive at the marina, what do you do?

To save time on the ramp and make sure there are no embarrassing mistakes, find a quiet spot away from the launch lane queue. When you are safely stopped, tick off the items on the following checklist.

  1. Check, and recheck that the drain plug is installed and tightly screwed in.
  2. Undo the tie-downs, fold them up, and store them in a locker.
  3. Loosen the bow strap connecting the bow to the trailer winch.
  4. Unplug the trailer lights. This plug is not waterproof, and you stand the risk of blowing a fuse if it enters the water while connected. In addition, if the water is cold, the hot light bulbs may pop.
  5. Check the ignition key is in place.
  6. Switch on the boat’s master battery switch.
  7. Trim the outboard motor up until you can release the tilt lock.
  8. If you have one installed, remove the transom saver.
  9. Lower the motors trim so that the engine is at a shallower angle and is ready for action.
  10. Pump up any pool toys which you want to use. Doing this now means you can use the car’s electrical plug while still close to the boat.
  11. If it is a sunny day, erect the boat’s Bimini or canopy and secure the tie ropes to its cleats.
  12. If your boat is equipped with one, pump the fuel primer; this is a bulb-shaped rubber device positioned at the point where the fuel line joins the engine.
  13. Attach bumpers to the side of the boat, which will be closest to the quay.
  14. Check the steering and throttle are working appropriately.

You’re all set; it’s time to test those reversing skills and launch the boat.

Step 3. Launch The Boat Off A Boat Ramp

When it is your turn to launch, here are the steps to follow.

  1. Attach a boat line to each cleat on the side of the boat that will be closest to the dock.
  2. If you have someone with the knowledge and skill to operate the boat, ask them to sit in the captain’s seat.
  3. Before reversing, check how wet the dock ramp is. If it is slippery and the ramp is very steep, a heavy boat may drag the rig down with the risk of the boat and car ending up in the water.

If you have any doubt, ask a nearby vehicle owner if you can attach a strap to their vehicle and the front of yours; this will act as an anchor and prevent your day from being ruined!

  • Slowly reverse your rig towards the water and stop when the boat floats. At this point, ask the driver to turn on the ignition and trim the motor fully down. Double-check that the drain plug is secure.
  • The driver should now start the engine.
  • Once started, have the driver move to the bow and lean over to disconnect the bow strap.

Step 4. How To Manoeuvre The Boat Off The Trailer

The driver should return to the captain’s chair and attach the ignition halyard to their wrist.

The boat will float free from the trailer with the engine started and the bow strap disconnected.

The driver must ensure the engine is turned to the straight-ahead orientation, select reverse gear, and slowly back the boat off the trailer.

When the boat is well clear of the trailer, while still in reverse, and there is sufficient depth, the driver should turn the wheel clockwise, which will rotate the boat in an anti-clockwise direction.

Once the boat points away from the bank, the driver should turn the wheel anti-clockwise, select forward gear, and “Go About.” Advance the throttle to a level where the boat starts making makes headway and continues turning until it points at the quay.

The area around the dock is almost definitely classified as a low wake area. The driver must maneuver the boat slowly, with only enough headway to maintain steering control to comply with this.

The area around a dock is often littered with hazards which can include:

  1. Boats are leaving or returning to the pier.
  2. Water toys drifting wide of the docked boats
  3. Skiers are flying in from a run.
  4. Children are playing in the water.

The driver’s responsibility is to ensure that all the waterway rules are obeyed and that the boat is safely maneuvered.

Step 5. Docking The Boat

Once the driver has ensured that it is safe to proceed, he can start the journey to the dock.

Remember, there is a time delay between an action being taken and when the boat starts to respond.

The delay has two consequences.

When a boat travels in a specific direction, no brakes can work against surface friction. To slow a boat, select the opposite gear. There will be a delay in changing direction after setting forward or reverse gear.

The driver must always plan and make sure the speed is slow enough before the dock is reached to counter this.

The horizontal rotation of the boat’s engine determines the boat’s direction. If the motor is in neutral gear, the only turning force available is from the skeg behind the propellor, which is ineffective if the propellor is not generating thrust. The opposite is true in that the higher the engine power, the more responsive the turn will be.

The driver needs to keep these two variables under control when approaching the dock.

In calm conditions, with no significant current, the driver should aim for a position that will place the side of the boat about 1 foot (30 cm) from the dock.

As the boat draws up parallel to the dock, the driver should reduce the throttle setting to zero and select reverse gear. If the pier is on the right-hand side of the boat, the driver can turn the steering wheel clockwise while the boat is in reverse gear; this will draw the back of the boat to the dock.

If the process has been done slowly with no dramatics, the boat should stop (heave to), and the stern will be against the dock.

The driver should select neutral and quickly move to the back of the boat and attach one of the prepositioned lines to a bollard or other attachment point on the dock.

The driver should then keep hold of the front line, stand on the dock, and gently pull the bow towards the quay. After attaching it securely, switch off the engine.

What To Do If There Is A Current Or Wind

There are two types of current or wind which affect docking.

1. If The Wind Or Current Is Blowing Towards The Dock

The best way to approach the dock is from the side from which the current is flowing.

If the water current flows from left to right, aim to dock the boat on the left of the dock.

Approach the dock leaving twice the space (2 feet, 60cm)  to maneuver, recommended for calm situations.

As before, keep the approach speed low and apply reverse gear to stop the boat once you get alongside the dock.

With the gear in neutral, allow the wind and current to drift the boat into its berthing spot.

As before, the driver should secure the boat to the dock.

2. If The Wind Or Current Is Flowing Away From The Dock

Approach the dock slowly with the boat’s bow angled toward the pier. Once the boat closes on the dock, turn the steering wheel towards the dock and select reverse gear to pull the back of the boat gently to its mooring.

 Secure the boat.

Don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time. Practice does make perfect, and before long, you will be acting like an old sea dog deftly maneuvering your boat into restricted spaces.

Step 6. Park The Car And Trailer

We haven’t forgotten that you may still be sitting in your car with a forlorn expression, wondering what to do next!

With the brakes applied and the appropriate traction mode selected, carefully drive back up the boat ramp to the allocated parking spot.

Many marinas have separate spaces for trailers and cars. If this is the case, maneuver the trailer to its spot. Now the boat is not there, you may be unable to see the trailer, so judging its position can be a little more challenging.

Drop the jockey wheel, unhook the car, and park it. You are now ready for a day on the water.


Boating is meant to be fun and relaxing. With a bit of care, preparation, and a lot of caution, launching your boat should not present any difficulties, and when safely in the water, you are set for a day of sunshine and laughter.

Project “Practice Makes PerfectBoating

Check out our article on: How To Beach A Boat: (Two Must Know Techniques!)

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Project Boating Editorial Staff

My name is Brad Visser the chief editor and owner of We have an amazing team of writers that contribute to our website. This team is passionate about boating and have years of experience not only in boats, but in writing helpful, informative articles to answer questions you may have.

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