With the surge in boat sales comes platoons of new skippers eager to enjoy Beaver Lake once the water warms. It’s easy to tow a brand new boat home. Getting it in and out of the water can be another story.
Captains of shiny new boats may find that backing a trailer down the launch ramp is a squirrelly task indeed. It can be close to rocket science getting that boat back on the trailer at the end of the day. There’s wind to deal with, and crowds of people watching while they wait their turn on the ramp.
It’s wise to get familiar with boat launching before that first big family trip to the lake. A good place to start is at home with your computer or phone. There’s all kinds of You Tube videos that teach how to launch a boat, then get it back on the trailer in short order. They’ll show how to launch or retrieve a boat with a helper and how to do it alone. A funny one shows how not to launch a boat with clips of humorous mishaps at the ramp.
After some arm chair learning, it’s time to get some real experience. Tow your new boat to a big empty parking lot and practice backing the trailer. Learning this new skill will save a world of headaches later at the lake.
Next, head out to the lake with your boat and get some practice at the boat ramp, preferably on a weekday afternoon or an early Sunday morning. A great place to practice is at Prairie Creek park with its ultra-wide boat ramp, which has tons of room and lots of forgiveness for error. That’s unlike most other ramps at the lake that are a single-lane, about the width of a household driveway.
A goal is to launch or retrieve your boat in reasonable time. That’s being considerate of others who are waiting to use the ramp. It’s all part of boat ramp etiquette, which is a whole ‘nuther lesson for new boat owners.
Jon Conklin is a fishing guide on Beaver Lake and the White River who’s at a boat ramp nearly every day. He’s seen it all, some of it funny, some not. He’s kind enough here to offer some tips to new boat owners.
First and foremost, Conklin said, is get your boat ready to launch in the parking area, not on the boat ramp. Load ice chests, water toys, snacks and the family dog from the car and into the boat at the parking area. Be sure there’s a life jacket on board for every passenger to avoid a ticket out on the water. Undo the back tie-downs that secure the boat to the trailer, but leave the winch strap attached. Be sure the drain plug is in.
Now you get to show off your new-found skill by backing down the ramp. Once the boat’s afloat, unhook the winch strap and slide or drive the boat off the trailer.
Most launch ramps have a courtesy dock where you can tie your boat while you move the tow vehicle from the ramp to the parking lot. If possible, tie the boat to the side of the dock opposite the boat ramp. Tying it to the ramp side of the dock makes it difficult or impossible for the next person in line to use the ramp because your boat is in the way.
At Beaver, most boat ramps and parking lots were built in the 1960s when far fewer people lived here. That’s why skilled launching and ramp etiquette are so important today as we share ramps and parking with many others.
It’s also wise to take the online boating education course offered by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. It’s required by state law for people born on or after Jan. 1, 1986, to operate a motor boat, personal watercraft or sail boat in Arkansas. The course teaches boating laws, how to handle your new boat out on the lake and much more. It’ll help bring your family home safe and sound, eager for the next trip to the lake.
Here’s another idea if a skipper is so inclined. Check with marinas around the lake and see if they have boat slips available for monthly or yearly rental. Then you won’t need to visit a boat ramp at all.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at email@example.com