Scott Rall: Practice makes perfect for boat ramp issues

SCOTT RALL The Globe outdoors columnist It's time to fish, and there are many thousands of Minnesotans who will do exactly that. I can actually enjoy an afternoon at a busy boat ramp sitting in a lawn chair watching people load and unload their b...


The Globe outdoors columnist

It’s time to fish, and there are many thousands of Minnesotans who will do exactly that.

I can actually enjoy an afternoon at a busy boat ramp sitting in a lawn chair watching people load and unload their boats. There are a few general etiquette rules for actions at a boat ramp that many boaters know, but too many still do not.

What needs to be done when unloading your boat at a ramp really depends on where you are at and how many others are waiting to use the ramp at the same time. If you are all alone when launching, this change things a little.


First off, you should be able to have some idea of how to back up a boat trailer. There are no pull-through stalls on a lake.  The boat needs to be backed up and then unloaded.

No shortcuts here.

The place to practice this move is not at a busy boat ramp.  There is one simple key to backing up a boat. If you are new to this process then follow this simple tip: Keep both hands on the bottom of the steering wheel.

Make short and repeated moves on the bottom of the steering wheel in the direction you want the trailer to go as you back up.  Go slowly and make small corrections.

I have helped many folks, who had just plain given up ever backing a trailer, to do so successfully in only a few minutes.

For the new-fangled trailers this step can probably be skipped, but for those of us with older equipment, remember to unplug the wiring harness before the tail lights get submerged.  It will reduce blown light bulbs by almost 100 percent. I still carry a box of bulbs in the boat’s glove box just in case I forget.

The gear you need should be loaded into the boat before you get in line to launch. When the ramp is busy you might have to park quite a distance away.  

Making three trips back and forth at the 150-yard distance is sure to use up the patience of those waiting in line behind you.


This should mean everything you need for the day.  Food, beverages, tackle and rods are on the list. Oh, I forgot the sunscreen; all of you other folks, wait here while I send my kid back to get it. When he gets there the truck is locked and the effort starts over.

Remember to check the boat’s drain plug.  You are now required to drain all the water from your boat when you leave, so you don’t take along any unwanted hitchhikers. Forgetting to replace the drain plug causes delays.

Once you get the boat off the trailer, and the driver or yourself is going to park the truck, move the boat to the side of the dock, which will clear the way for the next guy.  If the landing has ramps on both sides of the dock, I will start the motor and move away from the dock a short distance and wait for my companion to return. This is not necessary if there is nobody else waiting to load or unload.

Whatever you do, don’t budge in line.  This is a way to get lots of unwanted attention from other boaters. I have never seen a confrontation at a boat ramp go well.  It’s one way to get a poor start to your boating day.

When you get done boating and the boat is on the trailer, pull out and drive a short distance before you start the tie-down procedures.  It keeps the ramp area clear for others. In Worthington, I actually pull up on the street and then can take my time getting set to transport home.

Here is a great rule of thumb for all boat landing occasions:  If you see trash, pick up that trash. Do this even if it is not your trash. Nothing makes a community look worse than trash blowing around while 10 people walk past it and do nothing.

While we are on the subject of trash, never, I mean never clean your fish at the landing and toss the guts in the trash. In a few hours the spot will not be fit for man nor beast.  

Some ramps have fish cleaning stations and that’s a different story. Use those facilities as they were intended.


Pick all the lake vegetation off the boat and trailer, which will stop the spread of invasive species.  Pull the plug on both the live well and the transom.

The time of conservation officer boat ramp education classes about these new rules is, for all practical purposes, over. They have been in effect now for several years and compliance is now expected.

On a busy weekend this summer, grab a chair and a cooler and enjoy an afternoon at a boat ramp.  You can grade the participants on how they did with my boat ramp checklist. Hope they get a good score.

What To Read Next
Friday night high school sports roundup:
WORTHINGTON – Injuries and fouls plagued the Worthington Trojans girl’s basketball team in a Big South Conference contest against stalwart St. Peter on Friday night. The Saints defeated the Trojans 74-53.
WORTHINGTON – The top 10 teams in Minnesota Class A high school gymnastics will be in Worthington on Saturday (Jan. 28) for the state True Team meet. Participating teams are Becker, Benson, Big Lake, Byron, Detroit Lakes, Mankato West, Melrose, New London-Spicer, St. Peter, and Worthington.
Tom Goehle, son of legendary coach Hugo Goehle, was once a star athlete at Hills-Beaver Creek High School. Now he gives back through coaching and his involvement in Fellowship of Christian Athletes.