It’s never quite as exciting as the launch of a Space Shuttle, but the boat launch can often be as eventful, as unpredictable, as entertaining, as challenging and even as life changing as blasting off astronauts into space.
My experiences at boat ramps goes back over 60 years. I’ve pretty much seen it all at least once.
When I was young, boats that were trailed behind cars and trucks were much smaller. They were usually no more than 14 or 16 feet in length. They were made of wood, and had a single outboard motor on them, or maybe a single screw inboard in them. I remember the first 20 foot fiberglass Thunderbird Cabin Cruiser my Dad sold to a neighbor, with new twin 1958, 50 h.p. Johnson outboards motors on it. It was huge, and launching it was a whole new adventure.
Back then, most boat launching ramps were crude, often no more than a concrete pads poured out into the water on some sloped beach near the water way. There were seldom docks, seawalls, or cat walks. The process of launching boats back then was more simplified. There was much less ramp traffic, and much less pressure for the unseasoned boater to perform under the eyes of and the scrutiny of other more experienced and sometimes inebriated boaters.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, many good boat trailer manufacturers came out with tilt down and roll on trailers, which made boat launching even easier. My Dad sold Gator Trailers, Magic Tilt Trailers and Seminole trailers, all of which, if set up properly, made launching boats a breeze. With these trailers, the rear wheels usually never touched the water, but the boats would slide off effortlessly.
As trailed boats grew larger, heavier, and later included three and four engines, trailers became larger and heavier as well. Tilt style and roll on trailers gave way to the modern float on trailers, with water proof bearings and aluminum frames. The boats no longer slide off the trailers, but must float off and on. Of course that means the trailer must be partially or mostly submerged, which also means the vehicle must much be farther down the ramp than in the early days. Most modern public boat ramps are now steeper, have bulk heads cat walks, and staging areas. Many have numerous ramps where multiple boats are launching and pulling out at the same time.
Especially on holiday weekends, most are over crowded during peak hours, and wait times can be tens of minutes and even hours before launch time. When it’s your turn, pressure is on!
All of these changes and evolving dynamics have made the modern boat ramps a stage for almost any type of human behavior imaginable. From outright drunken brawls, to total humiliation, to vulgar exchanges, and even pure stupidity, it all can be observed on a given weekend at the average public boat ramp.
There’s always the guy who cannot back his trailer straight down the boat ramp. After numerous tries, he’s straddled the middle, taking up the entire ramp, and leaving others unable to launch or pull their boats out of the water, tempers flare!
There’s the beginner, that cannot drive his boat correctly, and bounces off other boats to make his landing. Or the drunk that is lucky to even see the ramp let alone dock accordingly. Both Launching and removing boats can be a source for adventure at the boat ramp. Tempers flare!
You can often see someone fall on the ramp, slide into the water, fall off their trailer, fall overboard, or even fall off the dock. That’s a common occurrence. Often others laugh.
I’ve seen numerous times, where the captain forgets a dock line to secure the boat at launch, only to helpless watch it float away while he stands on the trailer watching. Usually a brief swim is needed to retrieve the boat at that point.
Then there’s the guy that forgets to remove the wench cable from the bow after launch, and who then proceeds to drag the boat back up the ramp when he pulls the trailer from the water.
With many of the large heavy boats today, some vehicles are not able to pull the boats out of the steep ramps, and must be pulled out by other vehicles. This always ties up ramps and often tempers flare.
The most humiliating event is when the vehicle ends up down the ramp and in the water.
If you ever want free entertainment on a busy holiday weekend, most public boat ramps will provide all you need. Just bring a comfortable chair, sit back and watch the action.
The Ultimate in stupidity!