Boat-ramp etiquette 101

boat ramp
Don’t pull your boat up the ramp, then park it where it is an obstacle to other boaters dropping in or pulling out. Get out of the way before getting ready to leave. (Photo by Brian Cope)

Know the procedure, get in and out as quickly as possible, be kind

Boat-ramp etiquette 101 is a class that’s rarely taught but greatly appreciated by most boaters who spend any time on the water serviced by public access areas.

Boat ramps are the gateway to a fun day on the water. But they can also be the source of unnecessary stress, especially when crowded. And that’s even more true when boaters don’t use proper boat-ramp etiquette. 

Boat-ramp etiquette comes down to being courteous and thoughtful to other boaters looking to launch or retrieve their boats. While this seems obvious to most of us, a single boater who is either unprepared, rude or simply oblivious can back up traffic and spoil the party for everyone else. Don’t be that boater.

Next time you launch your boat, keep these tips in mind, and you’ll be one cog in the well-oiled machine of a smooth-running boat ramp:

Is boat ready?

Have all your prep work completed before you back your boat down the ramp. Some boat landings have designated “Make Ready” lanes that are out of the way of the ramp. If yours doesn’t, find a place that’s out of the way of boaters who are backing down or pulling up the boat ramp. Install your boat plug and remove all straps except the trailer’s winch strap. Have the key in the ignition and make sure your boat is ready to go as soon as it’s backed down the ramp.

Think of everything you need in the boat. This is the time to load it all. Don’t wait until you’re on the ramp to do this. Remember, once you’re on the ramp, your only goal is to get the boat off the trailer, secured to the dock, out of everyone else’s way, then drive your truck to a parking spot.

Launch efficiently, get out of the way

Once you’re on the ramp, launch your boat as quickly and safely as possible. This is not the time to check air pressure in your trailer tires or put your cooler in the boat. Whether you have a friend with you or you’re doing this alone, keep in mind that others are waiting. 

Other boaters realize it may take a little longer when you’re alone; no one will mind. But if you’re sitting on the ramp, checking your spark plugs, adding your lunch box or other almost-forgotten items into the boat is the wrong move. Back down the ramp, remove the winch strap, secure the boat to the dock, and pull your truck out of the way and park it.

When tying your boat to the dock, make sure it is out of everyone’s way. Remember that other boaters need enough room to back their trailer AND to back their boat off the trailer. 

Bonus tip no. 1

When you’re at a remote boat landing with no painted lines for parking spaces, don’t pull up the ramp in a straight line and park so you’re lined up to back down the ramp when you return. If you do, you’re blocking the ramp. Other boaters need that space to back their own boats. 

Now that your boat is in the water and your truck is out of the way, you can load any items you may have forgotten before you backed down the ramp.

Be just as mindful when retrieving your boat

Once your day on the water is complete, it’s time to retrieve your boat. Keep in mind, once you’re on the ramp, your only goal is to fasten your boat to the trailer. Back your trailer down, load the boat, fasten the winch strap and pull your truck out of the way of the ramp. Only then should you do anything else.

You’d be surprised — or maybe not if you’ve used some of the same boat ramps I have — to see how often someone will pull their boat out of the water, park at the top of the ramp, then proceed to unload their boat, toss out their unused bait, bag their trash and walk it to the trash can, check their tire pressure, all while parked at the top of the boat ramp preventing anyone else from using it.

Bonus tip No. 2

Some folks are just oblivious. Maybe they’re new to boating and don’t realize they are in everyone else’s way. Some of the most-courteous people can seem rude because they just don’t understand boat-ramp etiquette.

When you see these things at the boat ramp, stay calm and help educate those who don’t realize their behavior is blocking the ramp. Anytime I’ve heard another boater say something like “Would you mind moving out of the way so we can use the ramp?” It’s always been met with a surprised look of realization, followed by “Oh, sorry. My bad,” or something similar.

About Brian Cope 2787 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of Carolina Sportsman. He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina. You can reach him at

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