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As we all rush to go fishing over summer with boats in tow, there’s a real log-jam in the road that can cause all kinds of congestion and angst.
This bottleneck is often a steep, slippery, single lane with traffic going both ways, and the traffic is reversing trailers! It’s the boat ramp and it can be a source of frustration for many, as you watch your precious fishing time tick away, as someone blocks your pathway to the waiting snapper and kingfish. That frustration can be avoided by following a few simple tips.
First off, make sure that your trailer is well maintained, the lights are working and you have the correct tow ball and a vehicle capable of towing the weight.
And just like vehicles, trailers need regular maintenance, particularly if they have brakes. These are moving parts that get very hot and are plunged into salt water, so it’s not surprising that boat trailer brakes can have issues if not maintained. So take the trailer in for regular servicing to get bearings, brakes, and springs maintained.
Boats make great storage space when going camping, so kids' bikes, BBQs gas
bottles, dive bottles, surfboards and even generators and espresso machines
can get loaded in to go camping. But remember, these things all increase the weight of your boat, and the balance of it. A correctly set-up boat trailer will be balanced and track straight. Depending on the size of the boat, it can have anywhere from 50kg to300kg of load on the tow ball, and even slight changes to this weight can make the trailer sway and affect the handling of the vehicle.
So if loading up the boat to go away, make it a balanced load; ideally load over the axle and don’t exceed the trailer's or the vehicle's capability. Too often you see the family wagon doing a wheel stand up the highway, swaying side to side; this is incredibly dangerous.
Prep for launching before leaving home
If your boat has been on the trailer for a while, you should do all the standard checks to make sure it’s safe to tow - safety chain on, straps on, wheel bearings OK, propeller flag on, lights working and hitch secure. But also check that the boat can come off the trailer when you want it to: grease the rollers and make sure that the winch isn’t jammed and the D shackle on the safety chain can be undone.
When you arrive at the boat ramp, pull over to the side before backing onto the ramp - remove the straps, put the bung in, remove the propeller flag, turn the battery switches on, remove travel clip on the outboard, check the engine start, secure rope to the bow, and brief your crew on the launching procedure. Once again, do this before you back onto the boat ramp.
Every year I see someone back onto the ramp and block boats both ways while they prep their boat for launching. When the said person (we’ll call him Nigel) senses the angst from the queues of waiting boaties, he typically starts barking orders to his crew, often the wife (we’ll call her Sharon). This is where the scene gets ugly.
“C’mon Sharon hurry up and put your bloody lifejacket on and get the kids in the boat – It doesn’t fit, how do you adjust it? – Just get the boat off then – I don’t know how”…You can see how this can escalate, and it usually ends with Sharon up to her waist in the water giving Nigel a blast in front of an audience while the kids duck for cover in the front of the boat. You don’t want to be Nigel or Sharon, so take heed
of this advice or your long-awaited fishing day could get off to a very bad start.
On the other side of the coin, if you are waiting at the ramp and Nigel comes along, offer to lend a hand. Experienced boat ramp users need to exercise some patience and understanding... or get up earlier in the morning before the landlubbers make it to the ramp.
Other things to do to help the boat ramp flow nicely, aside from being ready to launch and retrieve:
• On a wide boat ramp, always back down one side to allow another lane to be used – don’t block the whole ramp.
• If there’s a jetty, move your boat to the side to allow other boats in, or even better, have one of the crew drive the boat out while the trailer is being parked to clear the ramp, and the driver can be collected once the vehicle and trailer are parked.
• When parking your trailer, think about other vehicles, particularly those with big trailers. Check to ensure they can manoeuvre enough to get out.
• Don’t take up two parks… or three parks as I’ve seen many times.
• If you are meeting a friend at the boat ramp to go fishing, do not park in a boat trailer car park if you don’t have a trailer.
• Try a smile and a wave to everyone at the ramp. You’ll find that 99per cent of them are good people.
Stay safe out there.