Stay Smart Behind the Wheel

Tips and tricks for navigating the highway and boat launch while keeping stress levels low.

Even beyond the rules or warning signs you might see posted alongside the highway or at the boat ramp, there are certain ineluctable rights & wrongs when it comes to towing a boat and using a boat launch. Trailering decorum boils down to employing common sense and a healthy dose of courtesy toward your fellow boaters.

BASIC HIGHWAY ETIQUETTE
Etiquette actually begins the moment you pull out onto the road with your beautiful Sea Ray in tow. Remember, a vehicle towing a boat is going to accelerate and brake much more slowly than it does without the trailer on the hitch ball. Let the traffic clear enough so that when you do pull out, those sharing the road around you don’t have to put on the brakes.

The same etiquette applies to making lane changes and slowing for stops or turns. Before making any lane changes, look over your shoulder in the direction you are changing lanes to make sure there isn’t a car hiding in your tow vehicle mirror’s blind spots.

It is also a courtesy, not to mention lawful, to use turn signals earlier than you normally would to make those behind you aware of your intentions. Nothing is more annoying to drivers than a person ahead who expects those around him to be mind-readers, whether he’s about to brake, turn or change lanes.

“Most of all, don’t be in a hurry,” says Robert Krouse, trailering engineer with General Motors North America. “Let other drivers pass if they want, and don’t try to pass others unless it’s really necessary.” Robert also encourages cautious driving on hilly terrain. “Downshifting will help you maintain speed on downhills,” he says. “Crest hills no faster than you want to be going once you head down the other side. Grade braking features on GMC’s Acadia, Yukon and Sierra HD models make this task simpler.”

When stopping at a gas station, the best pump to shoot for is the one on the outside of the island that allows you to pull straight through when exiting. While towing a boat, you never want to pull in to the gas pumps in a way that blocks fellow drivers’ access to another pump or the drive-through space.

BOAT LAUNCH ETIQUETTE
If you were looking for a single directive to steer your life by, it would be hard to beat “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s simple, direct and it works across most situations. Take the boat ramp, for example. Many boaters, both novice and seasoned, have “boat-ramp tunnel vision”; all they think about is getting out on the water and hitting that throttle. They forget about everything and everyone else around. Good boaters have a game plan before they turn into the boat ramp or launch area.

The routine can be pretty simple: Stay out of fellow boaters’ way as they head to launch their boats, and have your boat ready so that when you do pull up to the ramp, everything is set to launch and go. Common boat ramp courtesy calls for treating those around you with respect. That includes everything from the way you handle yourself at the launch ramp to the way your vehicle and trailer are parked after launching the boat. For example, handle any last-minute boat prep—such as removing tie-downs, putting in the drain plug and loading gear into your boat—in the parking area. Do these things before approaching the launch ramp proper and in a location where you aren’t blocking traffic. Your fellow boaters will appreciate the courtesy.

Seasoned boaters also know to turn off their vehicle’s lights if they use the boat ramp after dark. Headlights pointed at the eyes of a person trying to retrieve or launch a boat can cause night blindness. Instead, etiquette calls for using the parking lights when approaching or on the boat ramp.

LAUNCH LIKE A PRO
If you watch seasoned boaters, you can see they make it their goal to get the boat in the water as quickly and efficiently as possible. Part of that trick when launching is to have the boat’s operator at the helm and ready to start the engine as soon as the prop is underwater. The tow vehicle driver should pause at that point until the boat operator gives a thumbs-up signaling the engine is operating OK. Then back the boat down into the water until the top of the trailer fenders are just above the surface, which usually means the boat can slide free and clear of the trailer.

As the boat operator moves to the dock on the side away from the boat ramp—or remains far enough out from the ramp to allow other boats to launch—the tow vehicle driver should find a suitable parking space and pull far enough into it so as not to block the alleyway on either side of the vehicle/trailer.

RETRIEVE LIKE A PRO
The same type of etiquette applies when the day is done and it’s time to put the boat back on the trailer. Come to the dock, drop off the tow vehicle driver, and then back away from the dock (if the launch area is busy) until you see your boat trailer backing into the water. Ease the boat onto the trailer, hook the bow strap and crank the winch tight. Have the driver pull the vehicle up the boat ramp to an area that doesn’t block traffic. Wait to take out coolers, fishing rods, wakeboards, the Porta Potti or the five kids until your tow vehicle and boat/trailer are on the ramp.

By following these tips and showing such respect at the boat ramp, you can be sure that you’ll always stay on the good side of your fellow boaters.

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