8 Unwritten Rules of Boat Ramp Etiquette

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If I were a betting man, I’d bet a bag of worms that you’ve uttered some not-so-pleasant words under your breath at the local boat ramp. It seems that these accesses are where common sense goes to die. It can be funny, but those chuckles quickly turn to frustration when you’re rushing to catch a morning topwater bite with a line of slow-moving trucks and boat trailers in front of you.

When I started dragging an old, beat-up bass boat as a teenager, I made a lot of mistakes; I even fell neck-deep into 40-degree water at my first-ever bass tournament while simultaneously swallowing half of the lake. I looked like a wet ferret. So I’m not being cynical or preachy. I simply want to make sure everyone knows a few important, unwritten rules of boat ramp etiquette. I wish I had read something like this in my younger years. 

1. Move to the side if you’re not ready

There are a lot of things to check and re-check before launching your boat. Waiting until you’re in the middle of a long line at a busy boat ramp is not the time to perform these tasks. 

When you pull into the parking lot, move to the side and let others go ahead and dump their boats. Put your plug in, take your straps off, take your motor toter off, plug in your graphs, put your lights in—whatever you have to do—before clogging up the line. 

Not only does this drastically help the flow of traffic, but it also ensures that you’re doing everything properly and safely because you’re not being rushed. Just move to the side, sip your coffee and take your time. Your fellow fisherman will thank you.

2. Turn off your headlights

Ever tried to back a boat trailer with someone’s headlights in your mirrors? It’s practically impossible. As soon as your truck goes into reverse, shut off your headlights so people backing their trailers in adjacent lanes will be able to see. This is a major hold-up I commonly see at boat ramps across the country. 

3. Catch up after your truck is parked

I fish tournaments by myself most of the time, so my truck often sits on the ramp for a few minutes while I dock my boat. This isn’t an ideal time for me to hang around and talk fishing with my buddies—my parked truck is slowing traffic, taking up an entire lane and probably ticking some people off. There’s no time for chit chat. 

Fishing is largely about fellowship and camaraderie, so there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the time with your buddies. Just get your rig out of the way and then you can talk to your heart’s content. 

4. Don’t hog the ramp

A lot of marinas have multiple boat ramp lanes, but no concrete dividers. Essentially, they look like one really wide ramp. When the facility is busy, don’t go down the very middle—that just clogs things up for everyone else in line. 

Dump your boat on the farthest side of the ramp as possible so other folks can launch next to you. There’s no reason one trailer needs to take up four or five lanes.

5. Have your nav lights on when your boat touches the water

Of course, this is assuming you’re launching in the pre-dawn hours.

Boat ramps—especially during a tournament—are extremely busy and there are boats idling everywhere. If you launch your boat without the lights on, you’re endangering those around you. You might be able to see them, but they cannot see you. 

6. Only tie to other boats with permission

These rigs cost a lot of money and there’s no sense in scratching someone’s boat. It might seem harmless, but just be respectful and politely ask permission before tying up to someone else’s boat if there’s no more dock space left. That guy worked hard to afford that boat, so be cognizant of his investment. 

It’s a good idea to keep a few cheap bumper buoys in your rod locker. This will ensure there’s no damage to the fiberglass, aluminum or rub rails on either boat.

I’ll throw this in here while I’m at it: Don’t walk across someone else’s boat without permission. I’ve had it happen before and guess what—they accidentally stepped on and bent the handle on my new $200 reel. Accidents happen, but this can be easily avoided.

7. There’s nothing wrong with using your trolling motor

It takes a lot of practice to learn how to precisely manuever your boat via outboard at low speeds. If you’re in a local derby with 150-plus boats out there, things can quickly turn into an impromptu game of bumper boats if you’re not careful. 

If you’re in a tight spot, there’s nothing wrong or wimpy about standing up and deploying your trolling motor. It’s better than scraping the bow of your boat across someone’s cowling.

8. If parking lot is empty, give everyone some space

If you sneak out for a few hours of weekday afternoon fishing and there are only a few trucks in the parking lot, give the other guys a little breathing room—don’t park right next to them. When it’s time to put his boat back on the trailer, he’ll have to do some Austin Powers-esque moves to free himself from the unnecessary bind you put him in. It’s hard to back a trailer when you have 6 inches of wiggle room on one side of your rig. His truck doesn’t need yours to keep it company. 

The world would, indeed, be a better place if we were all aware of these simple boat ramp rules. But it’s also important to remember something: Don’t be ugly to someone if they’re simply unaware. We’re all on the same team, so try to be nice and always be willing to help a brother out.