You don’t have to look far to find viral videos of boat launches gone wrong. Without a doubt, nobody wants to be the person at the dock on a busy Saturday who doesn’t know what they’re doing. We’ve covered all the steps below, so you know how to launch a boat from a trailer with ease. We’ll even throw in some boat launch etiquette so you’ll look like you’ve been doing it for years.


As simple as it may seem, launching a boat is like any other task – it takes a bit of preparation. So before you throw the truck in reverse and back down to the dock, take a few minutes to move all your gear into the boat. Most importantly, do this while you’re parked somewhere that gives other vehicles plenty of room to launch and retrieve their boat.

One of the first things to check is that you’ve got the drain plug in and take off any tie-down straps used to secure the boat to the trailer. You’ll typically have one on each side of the transom. Additionally, remove any braces used to secure outboards. You’ll want to store accessories like a safety chain, straps, outboard supports, or covers for electronics in a consistent location so you know exactly where they’re at when you return. With an outboard motor, double-check that it’s in the raised position, otherwise you risk damaging the lower unit.

It’s also a good idea to unplug the trailer lights, particularly if you’ve got incandescent lights. Even with submersible trailer lights, there’s still a possibility you could get a short circuit, which could result in a blown fuse in your vehicle.

You’re not ready to release the winch yet, but as long as you’ve got the interior of the boat ready to go and all the straps and accessories removed, it’s time to start the engine and head towards the boat ramp. Move your towing vehicle so you’ve got a straight shot at the launch. Put it in reverse and slowly back up towards the launch. If necessary, start over from a better position. This usually takes some practice, so keep that in mind before you let frustration set in. And remember – you’ll have to steer opposite of what you normally do.


Before the winch reaches the water’s edge, stop and put the vehicle in park. It’s a good idea to use the parking brake at this point and if you’ve got a steep, slick, or icy launch, you might even use a couple wheel chocks.

Then it’s time to release the winch and unhook it from the boat. It’s best to add some slack winch line to easily unhook it. If you’re alone, use a rope attached to the bow to keep the boat from getting away from you when you back up further.  If you’ve got help from a friend, pass them a rope connected to the bow. On windy days or with bigger boats, it’s helpful to use both bow and stern lines for more control.

Continue to back up the vehicle to get the boat off the trailer. Then, either put the vehicle in park again and get out and ensure it’s free from the trailer, or have your friend secure the boat to the dock or shoreline. If there are other people waiting to launch, you’ll want to put the boat to the dock, while giving enough room to others who are waiting to launch a boat.

You’ve launched the boat – now simply find a place to park. It’s always a great idea to double check the vehicle for any gear you’ll need before you walk back to the boat. It’s easy to forget a small cooler with drinks and snacks, that extra jacket, or sunscreen. Once again, preparation makes time on the water easier. And like we mentioned at the start, being prepared for a smooth launch makes the process quick, simple, and safe.