Avoiding Boat Ramp Embarrassment

Important tips to avoid lonely nights on the sofa, or being the star of a viral video as Colorado's boating season begins.
boat ramp
Never use a busy boat ramp to “teach” others to back a trailer.

There are two things you should not learn from a spouse or significant other . . . canoeing and trailer backing. I know there are many other examples but these are my observations from my career as a park ranger and manager.

Want to see couples fight? Hang around at the boat ramp. It won’t be long until an argument erupts as someone is trying to get a boat on or off a trailer. Or as couples are paddling in or out from shore.

With boating season upon us, it’s a good time for me to share some things I have seen in hopes you might avoid similar public displays of disaffection and perhaps ruin your day at the lake.

Trailer Backing

Busy boat ramp.
Busy boat ramp.

This is where you see the most fights, domestic violence, tears, anxiety, damage to boats, trailers, docks, trucks, etc. Of course, these incidents always seem to occur on a busy boat ramp with lots of witnesses.

It seems that in many cases the person most comfortable backing the trailer is also the person most comfortable driving the boat. 

I’ve observed this play out in many ways.

Scenario One

A couple in a boat motors up to the dock and ties up. The boat captain gets out and heads to the parking lot to retrieve the truck and trailer, backs it into the water, gets out of the truck, gets on the boat and loads it onto the trailer, hops back in the truck and drives away. This is normally easy to do, unless the ramp is crowded and people are waiting to load. Then stress levels can rise causing tension as traffic on the ramp backs up. Squabbles can occur.

Scenario Two

The person most comfortable driving both the boat and the truck decides it’s time to teach the passenger to back up the truck and trailer. This is generally done by yelling or eventually screaming from the boat, which is still afloat behind the ramp. 

As tension builds, the novice trying to back the trailer down the ramp gets frustrated as the trailer jackknifes and you may hear the words “I told you I couldn’t do it” being yelled or eventually screamed at the teacher on the boat. (I use the word “teacher” loosely.)

This situation can escalate and the boat driver/teacher may get yelled at by others bobbing in the water, waiting to load. This can happen because the “teacher” is distracted by the fish-taililng trailer on the ramp and lets the boat drift toward the other boats in the queue. 

The truck driver may experience a flight response and get out of the truck, walking away and telling the teacher to do it himself. Or the driver may even beg other people to back the trailer in for them. These people may be total strangers, which then causes more yelling from the teacher on the boat. 

It should be obvious, but you should never use a busy boat ramp to “teach” another to back a trailer into the water. The results are not pretty. 

Scenario Three

This is the reverse of scenario 2 with the novice trying to guide a bobbing boat onto a trailer as impatient strangers stare and even offer unsolicited advice as the “teacher” shouts instructions from behind the wheel of the truck. 

Either way, all the yelling is a surefire buzzkill guaranteed to ensure you boat alone in the future. (And probably sleep alone on the couch for a few nights.).

Soaking Your Partner

This occurs a couple ways and both can result in frayed tempers.

The partner backing the trailer down the ramp can get soaked, and the truck stuck and in need of a tow, if the driver ends up too far onto the ramp and the truck sinks in deep water. 

This happens if the ramp is long and the water level is low and the ramp suddenly drops off and the truck ends up in deep water. If they back in far enough, they will find out trucks do not float as they watch it slowly sink under water. That is a guaranteed fight. 

Most common is the disaster that can occur when one partner forgets to put the plug in the boat and it fills with water as the boat floats off the trailer. A temper fit by the other partner can be avoided if you are lucky enough to quickly steer it back on the trailer and insert the plug.

But often couples find themselves too far out from shore before they realize the boat is taking on water. This requires a boat tow and quite a bit of stress and in some extreme cases having to abandon your sinking boat. 

Boat and Ramp Repairs

This occurs often in the spring when we are so excited to get back in the water we forget to make sure the engine runs. You may see people parked in the parking lot trying to make repairs while their partner and friends in the truck wait not-so-patiently. Worse case is you float off your trailer to realize it will not start and need to be pulled back onto your trailer. 

Enjoyable Boating Adventures

tubing

If you follow these tips, you will have much more enjoyable boating adventures. And you won’t be the star of a viral video. I would like to say what happened at the boat ramp stays at the boat ramp. But if you search YouTube, you’ll discover that is far from the case.


Written by Darcy Mount. Darcy is the Eleven Mile State Park Manager. If you have general questions about Colorado Parks and Wildlife, email Darcy at AskARanger@state.co.us. Darcy may answer it in a future column.

4 Responses

  1. This is funny..probably because I’ve been in all of those scenarios! You really need to practice on the trailer backing, but for many of us, the only practice we get is the few times we actually go boating. I would recommend deciding which spouse is to do what and then, learn your job and stick with your job. Over time, this is what we’ve found works for us: My husband handles the boat, I handle the trailer. I practice with the trailer as much as possible. Not just backing it in and out of the water, but in and out of the campsite, in and out of tight parking, in and around the campground, etc. If your job is working the trailer, then your spouse needs to understand you need to practice with it as much as possible. (Gals, you can do it!)

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