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Every boater on the water should be able to read and understand colored navigational aids. Knowing what these aids mean is very important to the safety of everyone on the water.
According to the Boating Safety Resource Center, there were 651 deaths in 4,515 U.S. boating accidents in 2012. Another 3,000 were injured. Of those, 13 deaths and 236 injuries were caused by navigation rules violation.
By understanding the basic markings of navigational aids in the waterway, boaters can make sure time on the water is fun as it should be.
These green and red navigational aids that could be seen on waterways include buoys, beacons (daybeacons), cans and nuns.
Red marked navigational aids should be on the right side (starboard) of the boat when returning FROM open water. Red markers will have even numbers and should increase as the boater moves inland. Helpful tip: "Red, Right, Returning."
Green marked aids should be on the right side (starboard) of the boat when traveling TOWARD open water. Green markers will have odd numbers and will decrease as the boater moves toward open water.
If there are no markers, navigate clockwise around landmasses, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Preferred Channel Marker
If an aid has a combination of red and green, it notes a preferred channel. The top color of the marker indicates how a boater should treat the navigation. (If the top color is red, it is considered a red marker and vice versa.)
Safe Water Marker
These aids mark fairways, mid-channels and offshore approach points, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. They have white and red vertical stripes and could be in a variety of shapes (spherical, cans or buoys), have lights, contain letters and have a red topmark. This marker indicates it is safe to pass on either side but it should be kept to the port (left) side of the boat when moving upstream or downstream.
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Safety Requirements for Boats
The US Coast Guard's Federal Requirements state, "All recreational boats must carry one wearable PFD (Type I, II, III, or Type V) for each person aboard... [and that] any boat 16 foot and longer (except canoes and kayaks) must also carry one throwable Type IV PFD." PFDs should be Coast Guard approved and in good condition. They must also be the proper size for the intended user. State laws vary on PFD use, but units must be readily accessible in case of an emergency. In some states children must wear PFDs in certain sized boats or for specific boating activities. Furthermore, adults accompanying children should also have PFDs on at all times to immediately assist a child in an emergency situation. Federal, State, and local park authorities may also have regulations regarding PFDs in their waters.
Types of PFD Flotation
PFD flotation can be divided into two main categories. The first type of PFD flotation is inherently buoyant. The device's buoyancy is a result of the materials used, often foam panels. These PFDs come in all sizes and are for both swimmers and non-swimmers. Inherently buoyant PFDs were the mainstay for years for water sports and recreational boating. Improvements in design and features have made these PFDs more comfortable to wear.
Inflatable PFDs can be seen as the second generation of life vests. These devices come in automatic and/or manual inflating models. Manual models are inflated by pulling a tab. They can also be blown up with an included tube if for some reason the tab doesn't operate properly. Automatic models are inflated via a C02 cartridge that is triggered by a sensor that activates once it hits the water. These also have a manual back-up option. Inflatables are less bulky than inherently buoyant PFDs because they are only inflated when an individual is in the water. Inflatable PFDs also require minor maintenance to keep them ready for inflation when needed, such as keeping the C02 cylinder full and the unit's status indicators green at all times.
Hybrids are another type of flotation device. They combine inherently buoyant materials as well as inflation technology. They come in all sizes except infant. In many ways, hybrids combine the best of both worlds in PFD design and come in carrying models, including some for water sports.
The Five Types of Life Jackets or Life Vests
Selecting the Best PFD for Your Needs
"The best PFD is the one you wear," is a common water safety phrase. Begin selecting your PFD by reading the label and ensuring the device is U.S. Coast Guard approved for: your size and weight; the type of activities you'll be doing; and the water you'll encounter. For some, this may mean having various PFDs for different situations. For example, an angler may have a Type III PFD for small inland lakes, and a Type I for larger water bodies.
Fitting Tips to Ensure Your PFD Fits Properly
The next important step in choosing a PFD is ensuring it fits properly and is comfortable. Try on several models with different amounts of clothing to gauge how the PFD will feel when worn at various times throughout the year. Adjustable straps will help you alter the fit for the amount of clothing you'll wear. Note that a PFD should fit snug; if it is too loose it will not provide proper flotation in the water. A common fitting procedure is to put on the PFD, and tighten all straps and close zippers. Next, raise your arms above your head and have someone try and lift the PFD up by the shoulders. The unit is not a proper fit if it is too loose. Signs of this are if the device freely moves and almost comes off, or if the main zipper touches your nose.
PFDs for Children
Like sizing an adult PFD, the procedure is similar for a child. The vest should fit snug. To test the fit, tighten all straps and close zippers and then lift the child by holding the PFD's shoulders. The child's ears and neck should not slip though the head opening. It is also advisable that a child wear, at minimum, a Type II PFD.
Adult and child PFDs should also be water tested after purchase to ensure they're a proper fit. The advantage to testing a child's PFD is not only to ensure proper fit and flotation. It's an opportunity for your child to become comfortable with the device on in the water. Help your child get comfortable in the water and explain why they need to wear a PFD. This will help them remain calm in an emergency.
PFD Additional Features
Features to look for in a PFD include brightly colored material as well as reflective tape so you can be easily seen on, and in, the water. Most PFDs today are made out of durable, water resistant materials, such as 200-denier nylon. Older models were often made of cotton or other slow-drying fabrics, resulting in mildew quickly growing on damp PFDs. Some recent models have padded or fleece-lined collars to provide extra comfort in cool conditions.
Large buckles and snaps make removing vests easier in damp or cool weather. Corrosion resistant and oversized zippers are also good features in a PFD. Pockets are also important. Handwarmer side pockets can help take the chill out of cold fingers, while chest, cargo, mesh or internal pockets are great to carry personal and functional items. Finally, a D-ring allows for clip-on accessories, like a whistle or fishing line cutters.
The best practice is to regularly wear your PFD at all times when on or near water. This buyer's guide has provided some details on the types of PFDs available and selection tips, but the ultimate responsibility rests with you to properly select a PFD for your intended use. Safe boating!
While there are numerous safety and regulatory rules governing boats that focus on keeping everyone aboard safe, there are also many misunderstandings and myths. If you deviate into one of the gray areas and are caught, the fine could be costly. So what are the areas, and what are the answers? Believe it or not, every time a boat pulls up to a dock or ramp, the situation on board can change.
|Life jackets or Personal Floatation Devices are one of the areas that cause problems for many boat operators.|
The reason is simple: an additional person might have boarded, or an important piece of gear might have been left behind. Some boat operators think that once they have been checked for compliance in the beginning of boating season, they are good to go for the year. Not so. If you are operating a motorboat, you are subject to be stopped. Game wardens and boating enforcement officers look for clues that often lead them to problems onboard.
The first indication is a large number of people — five or more — on board the vessel. This often signals a party and possible drinking. The next nearest signal would be a boat that leaves a party beach or on-shore bar where alcohol consumption is common. Then attention is also cast to boats that are speeding or operated in a careless manner. And once you are signaled to stop, the inspection begins. You need to be properly prepared for the safety of everyone.
Life Jackets or PFDs
When it comes to boating misunderstandings, the Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) rank at the top of the heap. The average boater thinks that PFDs only need to be on board, or that there should be one for each occupant. In fact, there should be one PFD that fits and works properly for each occupant.
"With life jackets, if you have children less than 7 years of age in South Dakota, they must wear a life jacket if the boat is going at anything greater than wake speed," said Wildlife Conservation Officer Jeremy Rakowicz with South Dakota's Game, Fish & Parks. "It must be a wearable life jacket that is the correct size.
This is a violation if the jackets don't fit properly. Almost all PFD's have printed recommended weight guidelines inside." And don't expect a kid to wear an adult sized PFD, Officer Rakowicz cautions. In most cases a child in the water could easily slip out of the oversized PFD. It's important to note that some state regulations exceed the US Coast Guard Requirements. Do your research carefully.
And while on the subject of floatation devices, what about throwable devices?
"If your boat is less than 16 feet, it is not required by law, but it is recommended that you carry a throwable floatation device," stated Rakowicz. "Any boat 16 feet or longer needs a throwable device in addition to a PFD for everyone on board." You should also be certain that the PFDs are not ripped or damaged by exposure to the sun.
Each boat is much like a car on the highway, and instead of tags, there are numbers affixed to the bow. Along with those numbers is a small piece of paper — the registration — that says the numbers belong with that boat. In most states you have about 30 or 60 days after moving or changing an address to reflect this on the boat registration. And since registrations can be set from 1 to 3 years in length, boat owners often forget when it's time to renew. The other news is that registration renewal cards issued by the agency in charge of boat registrations are often not forwarded through the postal system if you move. Where's the best place to keep your registration on the boat so it's dry but accessible?
|Be certain you have the right gear whenever you launch your boat.|
"What I've seen that works the best on most boats is to put the paper in a Zip-loc or dry bag, and then put it in a compartment on the boat or in a tackle box," said Officer Rakowicz. "A sealed tight lunch box will also work. On a jet ski, there is often a waterproof container on or by the seat on most models, and that also works to hold a wallet, fire extinguisher and registration." If you don't want that important piece of paper to become wet, find a system and storage container that works on your boat.
On the water, most boating enforcement officers can simply call in and check on the registration. There's, however, little grace period for an expired boat registration. One other problem is that after a long winter storage session, owners and operators simply forget to bring all the gear — including the registration papers — back on board the boat. Or it might be on board, but you don't remember where. The important point is to keep the registration dry and keep it readily available.
If you only operate during the day, then onboard navigation lights are generally not an issue. It's those early morning fishing jaunts and late evening pleasure trips and cookouts on remote beaches when most operators suddenly discover the boat lights don't work. Navigation lights help other boat operators determine that you are a boat, and which direction you are headed. Without them you place yourself and nearly everyone on the body of water in danger.
In addition to a maze of wiring and complex connections, most boat wiring systems have fuses. And like nearly everything that is on or near water, there are many opportunities for the onset of corrosion. Make it a point to check your boat's lights before you pull away from home or leave the dock or boat slip for the trip. It's much easier to work on things when the boat is stable, and at a location where you have more tools nearby. In most cases the wiring connection to the battery is the starting point to check for contact and corrosion. Next in line are fuses and switches, then light bulbs. It's a good idea to pack along a spare light bulb in case one burns out. And don't forget that rear — or stern — light that is often on a long pole so it's up high and visible from all directions. Often times this item is left behind when boating season begins or someone rushes to reach the lake. If it's not on board, you can't use it.
Whistles, Horns and Signals
Whistles, horns and other signaling devices are often used to send a message to other boats or persons on land should you have a problem. In most cases a wave of the arm by you could be viewed as a friendly gesture and not bring aid to your boat. So, do you need a whistle or horn to be legal?
"In most cases this is not required, but in some states it is. Required or not, it's highly recommended to have a whistle or horn on the boat," continued Officer Rakowicz. Again, research your state's requirements regarding horns, whistles and signaling devices.
If your boat breaks down, how are you going to reach shore or move the vessel about? In most cases, a paddle will help greatly. This is another item that is not legally needed in most states, but highly recommended.
Believe it or not, you'll need a fire extinguisher onboard that's US Coast Guard approved. Often times an unsuspecting boat owner buys a fire extinguisher that is designed for kitchen home fires, but does not meet the US Coast Guard standards for boats. Check the extinguisher rating, and take time to look at the gauge. Not only must the right type of fire extinguisher be onboard, it must be serviceable (charged). Most have gauges and dials or press pressure buttons on the top. You should check this important piece of equipment regularly.
When a fiberglass boat catches fire, the gas onboard and in the lines, and the resin in the fiberglass, burns fast and furious. In minutes the entire boat will possibly burn down to the waterline and you'll have a heap of limp fiberglass. And yes, in case you are wondering, you'll probably have to pay a tow and recovery fee because leaving the fiberglass on or in the water is littering.
Impaired Boat Operation
If you've ever seen a boating accident involving an impaired operator, the horrid scene is enough to convince most boat operators to never drink and drive. And unlike wrecks on the highway, when there's an accident on the water someone often goes overboard and then there is the possibly of drowning. The best rule is don't drink any alcoholic beverage and operate a boat --period. The laws and fines, and the legal limit, now closely follow those involving roadways and vehicles in most states.
Many boating safety laws are actually US Coast Guard laws that are enforced under cooperative agreements by state enforcement officers. And each state has many additional boating laws that help boaters and passengers have a safe trip. Sometimes, however, boat operators are confused by US Coast Guard Auxiliary courtesy checks.
These courtesy checks are not for compliance of state regulations, but they are an aid to help you determine if you have all the necessary safety equipment.
Failure to play by the rules can be costly. "If you are charged with not having the correct number of PFDs, it will cost you around $100," commented Officer Rakowicz. Fines could be higher in other states. Learn the rules, and get it right.
Boat launch activity can range from placid to pandemonium — or anywhere in between. Line-ups and on-the-ramp mishaps can send impatient individual's stress-levels soaring; conversely a vacant launch on a calm day is a welcome sight to any boater. Boat launches are often busy, but they don't have to be chaotic. Here are some tips for keeping your boat launch experiences running as smooth as the drag of a new fishing reel.
|Preparation is critical for boat launching to be a smooth operation.|
Homework: Ask Questions About the Boat Launch
A little digging can go a long way when it comes to using a launch for the first time. If you can, it's a good idea to inquire with local anglers, baitshop owners, or guides about the state of the launch. Questions to ask are: "Is it gravel or concrete launch? How many boats can be launched at a time? Is there a dock? Is the launch in good condition? Is there a fee? And if you have a larger boat, does it have the depth to handle it?
Knowing about a sub-par launch is important so you can be prepared, or simply avoid the shabby one and find a better ramp close by. Lastly, you'll want to make sure you get directions — driving in circles is a pain on a good day, but it's a lot worse when you're towing a boat and pressed for time!
Keep the Boat Trailer & Gear in Good Condition
Just as important as knowing about the launch you'll use, is being prepared with the right gear to get in and out of the water quickly and in a safe manner. It's essential that your trailer be in proper condition, including working lights, adequately-inflated tires with sufficient treads, as well as a winch, strap, and clip to keep the boat secure. If any of these items fail, you might not make it to the launch.
You will need the following gear when you're ready to launch: A bowline is critical for launching a boat alone or if you plan to secure it to the shore or a dock before departing. If needed, you should also have a spare line attached to the stern. If resting your boat against a dock, fenders and bumpers will protect it from damages caused by rocks. If you regularly beach your boat, consider investing in a KeelGuard to protect your hull. Don't forget to carry a spare plug and keys for your boat. Losing either of these can create a lot of disarray at a launch and quickly end a trip. Lastly, always carry the required safety equipment, especially life jackets, spare paddles, a signaling device, a bailer and a throw rope.
Tip: 10 Boating Essentials Under $25
How-to Launch a Boat
Phase One: Preparation
Preparation is critical for boat launching to be a smooth operation. Most launches have areas designated for pre- and post-launch activities. You should always use these areas and never (even if the launch is empty) do your preparations on the ramp itself. Local anglers living down the street could arrive and be ready to go before you are, and clogging a launch ramp simply equates to bad launch etiquette.
Before preparing your boat for launching, walk to the ramp itself and make sure it's suitable for your towing rig and boat. Steep gravel ramps might be too much for a vehicle with low horsepower and limited torque or bad weather conditions might make the ramp too dangerous to use.
When you prepare your boat, do the following — remove the tarp and any securing straps (like transom tie-downs). Load in any gear you haven't already put in the boat so you don't have to carry equipment. Check your boat plug to make sure it's in securely and also make sure the keys to the boat are in the console as well. Double-check the amount of gas you have (you should have already done this before you moved your trailer). Remove the safety strap (or chain) and winch strap connected to the bow eye and connect the bowline. You should also disconnect the wiring connector to the trailer, as brake light bulbs can burn out if the box leaks when underwater.
|Launches that are void of activity make them prime spots for theft. Using a trailer hitch or coupler lock can reduce possible theivery.|
By now your boat should be ready for launching. Before you go any further, take a few minutes and go over the launching process with your boating partner (if you don't have a partner you might want to get help from someone at the launch). If launching a boat with a first time user handling the bowline, advise them to brace themselves for the weight of the boat - I've seen launch-novices taken off guard and pulled into the water by the force of a recently-launched boat.
Another option (used during tournaments) is to launch a boat with someone in it, so that once they enter the water they can start the engine and vacate the launch to make room for the next trailer. This is a great option, but should be done by boaters who know their boat is in good working condition.
Phase Two: Ramp and Water Entry
This should be the fastest of all three phases. Slowly drive your trailer towards the ramp, entering the water with caution. (Note: a launch ramp is not the place to practice reversing your trailer. If new to operating trailers, go to an empty parking lot and become proficient and confident at backing up your rig before heading to a launch for the first time).
When traveling down the ramp, avoid sudden braking, especially if you've removed all securing straps connecting the trailer and boat. If the launch ramp is concrete you may be able to drive with all four tires in the water; however, vehicles can easily get stuck in soft-bottomed (or natural) launches, so aim to keep the front tires on land.
Once the boat enters the water, continue to back-up the trailer, at a steady pace. Launches with sufficient depth will cause the trailer to drop out from underneath the boat, and the boat to float away by the momentum of the backing-up process. If the launch is shallow, you may need to get out of your vehicle and push your boat off into the water. (This is also the best option if launching the boat alone. If doing this make sure your boat is secure before leaving the ramp to park your vehicle).
As the boat floats off the trailer, double check that everything is alright with your partner before driving off. When accelerating off the ramp do so at a steady pace, but be sure to keep your eyes on your side mirrors. The reason is simple: mistakes happen. If you've followed the above suggestions it's likely you'll have an error-free launch, but if you've forgotten to unhook a strap or accidentally snagged the bowline with your trailer, you'll see it in the mirrors. Keeping your windows down and stereo off will also allow your partner to holler if anything is wrong. Once you know everything is ok, vacate the ramp so the next boater can use it.
Phase Three: Vehicle Parking, Leaving the Launch
After launching your boat, quickly park your vehicle and trailer. This should be a pretty simple operation, but keep a few things in mind. First, off launches can be busy places filled with families and moving rigs, so always drive with caution and be alert for youngsters. Second, try and minimize the footprint your vehicle and trailer leave when parked. I'm often amazed at how much space some people use when parking rigs on an angle, not backing up fully into a spot, or several other creative space-hogging maneuvers that leave other boaters shaking their heads. Third, keep in mind that as often as launches are busy, they can also be void of activity — making them prime spots for theft. Don't leave valuables in your vehicle and keep things out of site. Lastly, when parking your rig, make sure you use the parking brake, especially if on an incline.
Once you've parked the vehicle, pay any fees for using the facility (if needed) and get in your boat. When driving your boat from the launch, keep your eyes peeled for signs regulating no-wake zones. Of course, as a general rule, it's best to not blast-off from the launch to ensure you don't make waves for launch users. Also, most launches are close to shallow water; so don't let your enthusiasm get the best of you. Take your time and slowly drive to deeper water before getting on plane. Otherwise you might find yourself returning to the launch sooner than you think with a damaged motor and/or hull.
Extra Features to Make Boat Launching Easier
The trailer that comes with your boat will have all you need for launching, but some extra features will make life easier. I've already mentioned the importance of a bowline, fenders or bumpers, and proper safety equipment (such as life jackets), as well as duplicate spare parts (like trailer bulbs and a boat plug). Add-on features for your trailer includes:
The above steps are some suggestions and tips on how-to safely launch your boat. To leave the water, all you need to do is reverse the procedure and remember that taking your time and being thorough will often result in a safer and quick exit than if you rush, which increases your change of making mistakes. These seasons, try the above tips to make launching a boat a breeze, but don't forget to be patient with new boaters while waiting in a line to use the ramps; we've all been there before.
|Before you head out to the lake, check out the water sports gear at Bass Pro Shops.|
During the Dog Days of Summer, the only thing better than being in a boat is being towed by one. The freedom of skipping across a placid lake, cool wind blowing in your hair, and the thrill of adventure is exhilarating.
Whether you want to water ski or wakeboard, kneeboard or ride a towable tube, here are five beautiful bodies of water in the U.S., organized by region, to make the most of your time in the sun and on the water.
1. Lake Winnipesaukee—N.H.
Known for its calm waters, this lake is popular among water skiers. At 72-square miles and with an average depth of 43 feet, it’s the state’s largest lake—the third largest in New England— and among the most beautiful: It’s surrounded by no fewer than 3 mountain ranges.
2. Trophy Lakes—S.C.
There are lakes that happen to be good for water sports, and then there are lakes that are made for water sports. Trophy Lakes, a private lake 5 miles from Charleston, is made for water sports—literally: In 1988, water skiers Kim Bryant and Alan Sanner had the lake built specifically for skiing enthusiasts.
With an average depth of 10 feet and spanning more than 2,000 feet, the two lakes are ideal for beginning wakeboarders, skiers and tubers, as well as seasoned pros (according to the site, 21 world records have been set at the lake). Group rentals are around $125 an hour.
3. Lake Cumberland—Kentucky
This reservoir, located approximately 2 hours south of Louisville, spans six counties, and stretches across more than 65,000 acres, making it one of the top ten largest man-made lakes in the country. It’s the perfect destination for your next excursion on the water.
4. Lake Powell—Utah
Imagine yourself gliding across glassy waters while plowing past towering amber rock formations in a reservoir of the Colorado River. Or, make your imagination a reality and join the roughly 2 million people each year who visit this “aquatic playground” between the border of Utah and Arizona.
Known worldwide as one of the best spots for getting up on a pair of skis, Lake Powell features four well known bays ideal for carving a wake (Warm Creek Bay, Padre Bay, Rock Creek Bay, Halls Creek Bay). Behind Lake Mead, it’s also known as the second largest man-made reservoir in the U.S., checking in at more than 162,000 acres.
5. Big Bear Lake—California
Nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains, this picturesque Southern California snow-fed lake is a paradise for water sports enthusiasts (although because of cold water temperatures, swimming is discouraged). Big Bear Marina and Big Bear Wakeboard Cable Park are great local places to start your water sport adventure. It measures a maximum of 72-feet deep, and is 7 miles long.
By Tom Keer for TakeMeFishing.org
Every time I go fishing I expect to catch fish. Some days I catch a lot while other days I catch squat. Every time I go boating I expect to return to the dock. So far, that trend has held true and I’m thankful for it. And as there is time and effort that goes into catching fish there is time and effort that goes into boating safely. As the adage goes, “fail to plan, plan to fail.”
First, make sure you have enough life jackets for the individuals on board. There are different types of life jackets for different activities. The Safe Boating Campaign is a great resource for determining if a life jacket is right for you. Children, especially, should wear life jackets at all times when on board.
Secondly, make all maintenance for your boat and engine are up to date. I spoke with Capt. Curt Jessup, the owner of a Massachusetts marine assistance service called SeaTow Cape and Islands . His service directly rescues several hundred stranded boaters every year. I asked him for some insight into common issues that can be prevented.
“No matter how well you maintain your boat, engine, sails, and rigging, there is likely to be a time when they fail,” said Capt. Jessup. “Boaters who are properly prepared are most likely to come out of a bad situation unscathed. More importantly, they’re able to keep what is a normal situation, such as a non-working motor, from escalating into a life-threatening accident. While I have a laundry list of situations, here are some of the ones that regularly are at the top.”
Reviewing the Rules of the Road from sources like BoatUS is important when you’re under way. Knowing the difference between a nun, a can, a bell buoy, their colors, and who has the right of way is critical to avoiding an accident. Look at this picture for there are a number of violations. Here are some that I see:
When planning a trip out on the water, most typically start their checklist with the basics: fishing license, spinning rod, bait-casting rod, back-up rod, bait, snacks, sunscreen, nautical maps, tide chart, GPS, lucky ball cap and life jackets. Then, grab the kids, keys, wallet and you’re off!
A great way to spend time with family and enjoy nature, boating and fishing are thought of as an escape, a way to de-stress. Disconnecting from a busy lifestyle often means leaving technology off the boat packing list. But, consider perhaps, packing your phone as its apps can be valuable, or lifesaving, in an emergency.
While apps can’t replace a VHF or save a sinking boat, they can help you prepare for a day on the water or help you react if something goes wrong. Consider adding these apps before your next outing:
This not a comprehensive list of all the helpful boating and fishing apps available, but it should get you started. Be sure to search for others that may provide important boating safety information before you set out on your next trip.
For all the relaxation fishing and boating can provide, it's amazing the level of stress often experienced at the launch ramp. Much of the tension can be avoided by simply adhering to a code of boat launch etiquette.
Use the Tie-down Area to Prep and Button-down the Boat
|Launching preparations, such as removing the transom straps, should be done in an area away from the ramp.|
For those waiting in line to launch, probably nothing is more infuriating as watching a crew pull onto the ramp and then begin the task of preparing the boat for the day's outing.
Most boat launches have a tie-down area, a place where boaters can transfer gear to the boat, rig the electronics, remove transom straps and accomplish any other details needed to get the boat seaworthy. The ramp's not the place to do this; when you pull onto the ramp, the boat should be ready for launching.
The same holds true at the end of the day. Once the boat is cranked up tight on the trailer and the safety hook has been secured, pull it to the tie-down area to button things down. If there is no formal tie-down area, use an open slot in the parking area.
Learn to Back a Trailer
One of the more stressful phases of the launching process is backing the trailer down the ramp. Many folks don't have a lot of experience at this. Trying to learn under the impatient gaze of those waiting their turn to drop their boat isn't the setting to gain the proper know-how.
The inexperienced boater should practice in an empty parking lot, such as after business hours in a shopping center. Learn to use your side mirrors; while it might be frustrating at first, the ability to use your mirrors will make life much easier for you at the ramp. There are lots of YouTube videos that provide tips on backing up. Personally, I like to keep my hand on the top of the steering wheel and turn the wheel toward any "drift" the trailer makes.
One of the keys of backing a trailer is setting it up properly so that the actual backing up is pretty much a straight shot. As you practice in an empty lot, use markers like empty soda bottles as reference points to mark each side of a simulated ramp lane. You'll know you're getting the hang of it when, as the trailer and the vehicle straighten up, you can see each marker in a side mirror. Then you have a straight line backing down the ramp. Most launches are roomy enough to allow this maneuver.
As you gain experience you'll be able to accomplish tougher launching scenarios, where you have to back in at an angle.
Shut off Headlights
One of the busiest times at the launch is right at dark, as folks return from the evening's fishing. Be sure to shut your headlights off after you've gotten your trailer in position to retrieve your boat. Otherwise, your lights will blind the person trying to back their trailer down an adjacent lane. On many newer vehicles the lights come on automatically so you might have to turn off the ignition to extinguish the headlights.
Don't Hog the Courtesy Dock
Many public launches provide a courtesy dock — a nice feature to have during the launching and retrieving tasks. You don't have to run the nose of your hull up on shore to pick up your part your partner after parking the truck; if you're alone you don't have to beach your boat to get your tow vehicle. Remember: This dock is a courtesy dock; it's purpose being to expedite the boat handling process. It's not for securing your boat while you wait to meet a fishing buddy — the one who's always a half hour late. Just like the ramp, the dictum is "get in, get out," so the space is available for the next person.
Familiarize Yourself with the Facility
|When loading the boat, idle it onto the trailer and then winch it the rest of the way.|
If it's your first time at a launch facility, don't go truckin' full bore into the thick of things. Rather, pull into an open parking slot, jump out and look things over. Figure out where to ready the boat; see how the area is designed to handle the traffic flow. Some big multi-lane ramps have "in" and "out" lanes. Find this out before you pull onto the ramp. Read any signs posted by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Learn to Drive a Boat on the Trailer
Many modern boat trailers are designed to have the boat driven on during the loading process. Such trailers are fairly low slung and feature hull bunks and side bunks that center the boat as it runs up on the trailer. If your trailer is of this design (ones that aren't will have several keel rollers along a center beam of the trailer), learn to load the boat this way. It's much more efficient than winching it on, a process that often requires hip boots (or wet feet) and multiple ropes if it's windy.
Power loading the boat — cracking the throttle open to run the bow right up to the stop — often scours out sand/gravel from the prop wash, creating undesirable shallow areas in the boat basin. This is especially an issue with high-powered engines. Instead, ease the boat on using lower RPMs; you can then winch the boat up the last couple of feet.
Most of the unpleasantness experienced at a boat ramp is often fueled by the rush to get out there "while they're biting." Slow down, think for a minute, and the boat launch experience can be just another part of a great day on the water...for everyone.
|When outfitting your boat trailer, security and safety are two important factors to keep in mind.|
Many boaters can recall the serenity of quiet mornings, clear skies and calm water. The flipside to this picturesque image are memories of boat trailer and launch ramp mishaps. Beyond communicating proper launch procedure and choosing a quality launch, the right tools and equipment are two other important factors in successfully towing and launching a boat. This Buyer's Guide discusses boat trailer accessories to make launching, loading and trailer-towing easier and less stressful.
Keeping the Boat Rig Together
Let's first look at the items you need to safely secure the trailer to the towing vehicle. The hitch is a critical connecting piece. It should be properly installed and certified to pull the weight of the rig you plan to tow. The ball mount and hitch ball should be of superior quality and tightly secured together. The ball mount is secured to a receiver hitch with a hitch pin that is usually held in place with a clip. It is a good idea to carry a spare clip and a pin in case you happen to loose these pieces.
The trailer is connected to the vehicle with a coupler. The coupler should slide easily over the ball, and then be set to a secure position. The unit should be secured in the locked position with either a pin or a lock to prevent it from opening during transport. Test this critical connection point for a secure link before towing.
Run the trailer's safety chains underneath the coupler and attach them to the proper "holes" on your receiver. This cross-over ensures that if the coupler connection fails, the chains catch the trailer, preventing it from hitting the road or separating from the vehicle. Some chains can be purchased with clips for easy, but secure, links to the receiver hitch. Check chains and the other coupler parts for wear, replacing rusty ones with new stainless steel ones.
Securing the Boat
|Some tie-downs have ratchet and heavy-duty clips for a tight connection between the boat and trailer.|
Keeping your boat on your trailer begins with a secure connection at the bow. Usually the boat is held in placed at the bow clip by a winch strap (with a clip) and a security chain. A tie-down strap can also be used. Every so often, inspect the bow clip, chain and winch strap for signs of wear and weakness, replacing worn parts as needed; frayed straps can break while towing or when cranking a boat on a trailer.
The boat's stern can be fixed to the trailer using tie-downs. Tie-downs come in various models for different boat designs. Transom and gunwale are two common types for keeping the rear of the boat snug on a trailer. Some tie-downs have ratchet and heavy-duty clips for a tight connection between the boat and trailer.
A transom saver is another useful accessory, especially if you regularly drive on rough roads. It stabilizes and holds the engine while towing your boat. The motor's weight is transferred to the trailer, as opposed to the back of the boat, reducing stress to the transom area.
Launching and Loading a Boat
Launching your boat from the trailer can be a smooth operation with the right accessories. First, a long bowline allows the boat to properly float off the trailer when launching. Installing a plank trailer walkway on the front of your trailer will prevent you from falling off the trailer. The walkway provides a wide, slip resistant ramp that mounts directly onto your trailer. This add-on is particularly useful during cold conditions.
Loading a boat onto a trailer may seem like a roll of the dice, but it doesn't have to be a gamble. Guide-ons will greatly enhance your launch ramp exits. These pieces of hardware mount to the back-sides of your trailer and guide your boat on the rig. They are especially useful in rough water and heavy winds. Guide-ons come in bunk, roller or post models and some even feature lights to increase your visibility in dark conditions. I highly recommend guide-ons for any trailer.
As your boat moves on the trailer, bunks and rollers move it to the proper towing position. Keeping your bunks in good shape and replacing worn padding will ensure your boat's hull does not scratch on the trailer. Rollers can also come in non-marking polyurethane models that will outlast rubber ones. Some rollers have grooves to make centering your boat a snap. As the cylinder rolls, the grooves guide the boat to their center position.
Finally, if your trailer doesn't have fenders for the wheels, consider adding some. Fenders protect your boat's hull, trailer and vehicle from dirt and debris while towing. Some fenders also have side steps. Steps can be useful when launching and loading your boat. They are also safer to walk on than a wet, slippery trailer frame.
A Word on Boat Trailer Wheels
The quality and condition of your trailer wheels is critical to your and other's safety on the road. You should regularly inspect wheels for wear and bearings for proper lubrication. To make the latter an easier process, consider a device that keeps bearings lubricated at all times. Simply look at the device and you'll know if you need to add grease. These systems also reduce how often you need to repack your bearings.
|Having a spare wheel and the tools to change a flat is wise when towing a boat.|
Adding a cap to your bearings will help contain grease, preventing it from splattering on the hubs of your wheels. Carry a spare bearing kit as a precaution for problems during travel. Keeping bearings lubricated is important, so invest in a grease gun and some specialty marine grease.
Having a spare wheel and the tools to change a flat is wise when towing a boat. Spare wheels can be secured to a trailer with special hardware. Carriers come in models for various tire types and in different mounting options. Use a cover to protect the spare from the elements.
Security for Your Boat and Trailer
Locks are one of the best methods to deter thieves from your boat and trailer. Trailer locks can be purchased for the coupler, spare tire, as well as large models for the hub of your trailer wheels.
For the boat, there are locks to secure outboard motors and propellers. Motor units cover the transom mounting clamps. To secure your propeller, two options exist. One is a specialty lock that replaces the prop nut and washer, allowing the unit to operate when locked. The other option is a larger prop lock, which connects the propeller to the out drive, or lower unit. This style of lock must be removed for the motor to work.
Boat Maintenance and Storage
To prevent your boat from rolling during storage, use wheel chocks, especially if on a slope. Units can be purchase in plastic or metal models to hold trailer tires in place. Another handy item is a jack wheel stop. This flat, plastic ring encircles the jack's wheel, preventing it from moving.
Depending on the weight of your boat and the distance you need to move it, you may want to consider a trailer dolly. Dollies let you move your boat trailer by connecting at the trailer coupler. The dolly's long handle reduces your need to bend and lift the trailer, which greatly limits the potential for back strain. The unit's wheels also make moving a trailer an easy operation.
Another accessory that helps move your trailer is a jack that mounts to the trailer's tongue. Jacks often come with most, but not all, trailers when purchased. Cranking the jack's handle, you can raise or lower the frond end of your trailer. The jack's wheel also facilitates moving the trailer when not being towed, as jacks come with a wheel to support the front of a trailer.
Lights and Wiring on Your Trailer
|Lighting fixtures come in a variety of models with different features, like submersible boat trailer lights.|
For safe travel, and to meet transportation laws, the lighting on your trailer must work at all times. Before towing, ensure all signal and brake lights are functioning. It's a good idea to carry spare bulbs if you need to replace one. If a light isn't working and you can't isolate the problem, a small accessory can be plugged into your vehicle's 4-way plug. If the unit's lights go green when signals and brakes are used, the automobile wiring works and the trailers wiring is the problem.
To replace wiring or lights you can buy parts individually or in a kit. Most kits include the necessary mounting hardware. Lighting fixtures come in a variety of models with different features, like submersible trailer lights, corrosion resistant materials, and LED light sets for longer burning hours. You can also purchase reflectors for your trailer to replace broken ones or to simply increase the unit's visibility.
A toolkit or storage box that you can keep in your vehicle or boat for your trailer is a sound investment. Beyond standard tools (such as pliers, a ratchet set, screwdrivers, etc), the box should also keep trailer specific items (bearing grease, electrical tape, scissors, tire pressure gauge) and replacement parts (bearings, pins, light bulbs, etc).
Your trailer plays a critical role in your boating activity, carrying your vessel to and from the water. The above accessories make towing and launching your boat an easier and safer process, so you can enjoy more time on the water and less time on the pavement fixing problems that could have been prevented.
Accepting an invitation to join a friend on his or her boat for a day of fishing is a privilege. As with many potential relationships, your conduct during the outing will have a lot to do with being asked again. This compilation of dos and don'ts should help ensure that second date.
Do Chip in for Fuel
|Always kick in for your share of the fuel - for both boat and tow vehicle - when fishing as a guest.|
With the high cost of fuel, this should be a no-brainer. Sadly, this doesn't always seem to be the case.
As a rider, if you agree to accompany someone for a trip, understand that's it your ethical obligation to pay your share of the fuel. We all know what gas costs — a shocking reminder reinforced each time we fill up. Do a little simple math in your head during the day to arrive at a liberal estimate of what the tow vehicle and boat motor used that day, and then leave the boater with half that amount. At day's end — or when at the pump — don't ask the awkward question, "Can I give you something for gas?" That matter should have been answered when you said yes to the trip.
Don't Leave Your Trash in the Boat or Vehicle
A day on the water will produce the inevitable collection of empty water bottles, balls of twisted fishing line, sandwich wrappers and pile of torn plastic baits. The boater has enough to do at the end of the day tending to things like re-organizing the boat and charging the batteries. Add picking up your trash to the list and you might have spent your last day on that particular boat. The same goes with the tow vehicle. Take with you empty containers that held food and drink consumed on the way home from the lake.
Do Be on Time
With the understanding that things can happen, such instances are the exception. More commonly lateness is simply a matter of poor planning or, worse yet, poor manners — an implication that says, "My time is more valuable than your time." Want to make your boater happy? Have your tackle and duffle neatly organized and ready to be stowed when he pulls up to the meeting spot. Want to make him unhappy? Make him wait, pondering the question, "How can I ready the boat, couple the trailer to the vehicle, and be on time when my rider can't?!"
Don't Over-use the Smartphone
Smartphones can be a tremendous asset to anglers. Given a decent signal you can monitor the weather, check solunar periods, and even access web sites to see if that big crappie you caught is a new state record. As a rider, what you don't want to do with a smartphone is email, text or call other fishing buddies for advice on where and how you should be fishing that day. Chances are your boater has a pretty good idea of how he wants to approach the day's fishing, and such unsolicited advice isn't going to be well -taken. If you want to know how your buddies would fish that day, go with them.
Do Limit Your Fishing Gear to a Reasonable Amount
|Make sure you dispose of your litter before departing for the day.|
This seems to be an issue with folks that have their own boat but also fish in others' boats. When they show up as a guest, they bring the same level of rod/reel combos and tackle that they have in their own rig.
Understand that there's only so much room in the back of the boat — a limitation put to the test if you bring outfits to cover every conceivable crankbait, jerkbait, spinnerbait, drop-shot, Carolina rig, Texas rig and jig presentation known to fishing, along with the tackle boxes filled to the brim to rig said outfits. Pare down your tackle choices and number of rods when fishing as a guest. It may mean having to use only three or four rods to fish a variety of baits and lures. Scissors take up a lot less space than five extra rods.
Don't Rig Your Rods at the Ramp
Don't be the guy that waits until the boater is ready to float the boat off the trailer to start rigging rods. Chances are you have a pretty good idea of the type of fishing you'll be doing that day, so you can have your stuff already rigged. If not, beforehand ask, "How deep will we be fishing? Will we be in cover or open water? Fishing fast or slow?" If it's not possible to have these items addressed prior to the trip, no problem; just rig up after you get to the first fishing spot. Remember, you brought scissors.
Do Maintain a Positive Attitude
Finally, keep your spirits up, even on days when the fish don't cooperate as well as you'd anticipated; or when the weather conditions are challenging. A lot of whining will have your host considering the many merits of fishing alone.
There's a lot more to fishing than simply catching lots of fish. Be a good sport and it's likely you'll get the opportunity again.