How to Prevent and Manage a Boat Launch Failure

You’re all set for a day out on the boat. You and a couple of friends are kidding about who is going to pull in the biggest fish, and bragging rights are on the table.

You’ve launched the boat plenty of times, and you consider yourself a pro. The conditions are right and you didn’t have to wait long for your turn. You’re releasing the boat when you realize that, in between the jokes and excitement of the trip, you missed a step. Next thing you know, your boat is floating away with half its passengers, and your truck is submerged at the boat ramp. What’s next?

If you’ve spent enough time at a boat ramp, you’ve seen this happen to new as well as experienced boat owners. There are several steps that go into trailering a boat before you even get to the ramp, and missing any of them can have tragic results.



We asked Boat Ed’s Facebook fans where they thought boat owners most often go wrong when launching a boat from a trailer:

  1. Disconnecting tie-down straps
  2. Making sure the drain plug is in place
  3. Setting the parking brake on the towing vehicle
  4. Not undoing the winch line

They agreed that not setting the parking brake on the towing vehicle was the most common reason why boaters ended up with their vehicle in the water. This happens more often than any boat enthusiast would like, and it’s painful to watch.

Missing a step isn’t always to blame for a failed boat launch. Weather conditions or a damaged boat ramp can work against you, but do your best to be safe and follow proper launching procedures. The goal is to get in and out the water safely.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

1.   Check, Check and Check Again

Even if you have owned a boat for more than 20 years, experience cannot completely combat human error. When in doubt, run through your pre-launch checklist described in this guide to launching a boat from a trailer. If you’re boating with more than one person, have one of them double check your work. You’re better safe than sorry.

2.   Prepare for the Worst

If your vehicle ends up under water, you’ll need a rope, strap or chain to tow it out. Quality products in each category are $100 or more, but the investment will come in handy when you need it the most.

3.   Towing a Submerged VehicleSubmerged-Truck2

A tow strap is vital, but is only one piece to the puzzle. You’ll need someone else with a vehicle, preferably a truck or SUV, with a tow hitch to pull your vehicle out of the water. If you’re really lucky, you’ll find a truck with a heavy duty winch to pull you out.

Refer to the vehicle owner’s manual for instructions on where to tie the tow strap on both vehicles. Allstate advises against attaching a strap to the bumper, axles or other parts of the suspension because it can damage the vehicle. Once the strap is secure, the towing vehicle should slowly pull the submerged vehicle until it is completely out of the water.

Once your vehicle is out of the water, take caution when opening the door. The sudden rush of water can knock you off your feet. While your vehicle is still attached to the towing vehicle, let it drain before pulling it all the way to the parking lot.

If your vehicle isn’t completely submerged, and everything works right, it should come straight out. However, if your vehicle is submerged too far from the ramp or if your attempts to tow it out of the water have failed, call a professional towing company. Don’t risk your life for a vehicle.

In case you’re wondering what would be the best towing vehicle, we asked our Facebook fans. They voted on which brand of truck listed below is most likely to get the job done.

  1. Ford
  2. Chevy
  3. Nissan
  4. Dodge
  5. Toyota
  6. GMC

It was a close race, but Ford trucks came out as the favorite. (We know, we know, Chevys and GMCs are the same trucks, but that’s how people voted.)

4.   Finding a Professional Towing Company

Some marinas partner with towing companies to provide service for distress calls. If you’re not sure which company to contact, you can always call your local police department for assistance. The towing cost will vary based on the county and contractor, but with a sunken vehicle, you might not have time to shop around.

See also The 6 Seconds Before a Boating Accident.

2 comments

  1. Parking brake and “Park” only lock the red wheels. Best practice is a driver with foot on the brake pedal, locking all four wheels.

  2. I often see “boat ramp fails” on youtube where the truck and trailer is fully submerged, and a wrecker is pulling it out. As the truck comes out of the water, it is clear that the truck is in park and (most likely) the emergency brake is set, as the back tires skid as the truck comes up the ramp. My question; How does this happen time after time? The truck obviously did not roll into the water.

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