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Towing, Launching, and Recovery Checklist

Most PWCs and small boats are stored at the owner's house and trailered to the launch ramp. To do this safely a check list should be used that includes pre-tow, towing, pre-launch, launching, retrieving, post retrieving, and towing home items. While this seems like a long list, many of the items are common sense and will take very little time to check. Below are listed some of these and you may add different items that may be unique to your own boat or PWC.

If you purchased a used boat with a trailer be sure the trailer is rated to carry the boat and your gear. Each trailer should have a capacity plate affixed to the trailer near the tongue. The combined weight of your boat, motor, and gear should not weigh more than 90% of the trailer capacity weight.

Many states have scales both public and private that will weigh the trailer, with your boat and gear, for a small fee. This weight is known as the GVW or Gross Vehicle Weight.

If you don't know the weight of your boat and gear you can return after launching your boat and weigh just the trailer; subtract that weight to get the weight of the boat and gear.

If you purchased the boat new, have the dealer recommend a trailer that will support your PWC'S, or boat and gear.

Pre-Tow

  • Make sure stern drives and outboard motors are raised prior to trailering to avoid damage.

  • Know before you go - read and understand your state's trailer laws.

  • Check to be sure the trailer is registered and a valid sticker is on the license plate.

  • Become familiar with the owner's manual for your trailer.

  • Check to see that your tires are properly inflated including the spare.

  • Regularly service, lubricate, and adjust the wheel bearings according to the manufacturer's recommendation.

  • Check to ensure that there are no loose bolts, cracks, broken joints, or faulty welding.

  • Test the tie-downs to be sure they are tight and properly attached.

  • Inspect the hitch and safety chains. Criss-cross the safety chains when attaching them to the towing vehicle to keep the trailer under control if it disconnects. It is recommended, and some states require, that safety chains have a secure connection to the trailer and towing vehicle rather than the "S" hook attachment. The chains must have a breaking strength that exceeds the weight of the trailer, boat, and gear. Have a dealer or your marine mechanic inspect them if you are in doubt.

  • Turn on and test your trailer's lights and signals to be certain they're working properly. This includes all marker lights. Check for loose or hanging wires that may catch when you are on the road or at the launch ramp.

  • Check your vehicle's rear view mirrors and adjust if necessary.

  • Check the fluid level in your trailer brakes (if equipped).

  • Many trailer brake units have a safety chain that should be attached to the towing vehicle so that if the trailer breaks away from the vehicle, the brakes are activated stopping the trailer. See the owners manual or your marine mechanic for details and maintenance information.

  • It is recommended that you secure all "light" gear, PFD's, empty coolers, maps, clothes etc. in an enclosed area in the boat or in your vehicle to prevent them from flying out during your trip.

  • Do not leave boat soft tops up when trailering.

  • Make sure your boat or PWC cover is secured to prevent it from flying off during your travel.

  • Be sure that 7 to 10% of the gross trailer weight is on the tongue of the trailer. This will eliminate fishtailing of the trailer under tow. Improper loading of gear on the trailer will reduce the tongue weight and increase the possibility of fishtailing.

  • There are a lot of things to remember when planning a boating day. Organizing and making a checklist unique to your own PWC or boat is a must.

On the Road with a Trailer

Give yourself enough distance to maneuver. When you are turning corners, they need to be wide turns so the trailer doesn't hit the curb. When passing another vehicle, allow for the length of the trailer before changing lanes. Always err on the side of caution, and scan your mirrors when making the above maneuvers to be sure your vehicle and trailer will clear.

Remember the added weight of the trailer with boat and gear requires additional stopping distance be allowed. This is especially critical when the road is wet or you are going down hill.

Periodically pull over or use a rest stop to check the rigging, tires and bearings. This is vital on long trips. The bearings can be checked by laying your hand on the hub and check for excessive heat. The tie downs and winch cable should be tight. Do not over tighten them as it will put undue stress on the attachment fittings when the trailer is on the road or hits a bump. If you are in doubt discuss this with your dealer or marine mechanic.

Launching Your PWC

  • Check your personal watercraft for possible damage during the trip.

  • Walk down the ramp to determine the type of ramp or launching site you are using.

  • Determine your place in the line of boats waiting to launch. Be courteous.

  • As you prepare for the actual launch, release the tie downs and put in the plug.

  • Ventilate the engine compartment by opening it.

  • Secure all latches.

  • Back your trailer into the water to the manufacturer's recommended depth for unloading.

  • Quickly and safely remove your PWC from the trailer and move it to the shoreline launching site.

  • Remove your vehicle and trailer from the ramp area as soon as possible and park it in the designated area.

  • Get your life jacket and other safety equipment from your vehicle and take them to the launching site.

  • Your PFD must be worn if "driving" from the ramp to the courtesy dock/shoreline launch site.

  • The lanyard is the key. Never plug it in until you are seated and ready to get underway. The lanyard should be removed when the PWC is not in use. Never park on the beach with the lanyard connected.

Launching Your Vessel from a Trailer

  • Prepare your vessel for launching, in an area away from the ramp that doesn't block others from launching, or retrieving their vessels.

  • Remove any unnecessary gear in your boat to lighten the weight of the boat when launching.

  • Remove the tie downs

  • Unplug the trailer lights

  • Install the drain plug in the boat. Many a boating day has been ruined by failing to do this small task.

  • If you have additional people with you, use them to guide you down the ramp and assist with removal of the boat from the trailer. Communication between both parties is a must.

  • If you are alone, ask people at the ramp to assist you.

  • Never block a ramp with an unattended vessel or vehicle. Remove the vessel from the launch lane to the beach, or launch dock as soon as possible and move the towing vehicle off the launch ramp once the launch has been completed.

  • Back the vessel into the water far enough so that the lower unit of the engine can be lowered and the cooling water intake for the engine is submerged with the vessel still on the trailer.

  • Once the engine is warmed up and can idle, back the trailer further into the water until the vessel floats free of the trailer. Undo the winch line from the bow eye of the boat, put the vessel engine in reverse and back slowly away from the trailer.

  • If launching or retrieving a sailboat, be sure and check for overhead hazards in the launch area and between the staging and launch area. Branches, power lines, and other items may be low enough to hit the mast if erect. When possible, step (erect) the mast or remove the mast with the boat in the water.

  • If you have never launched a boat before it's a good idea to find an empty store or mall parking lot to practice and get familiar with the handling characteristics of the trailer before attempting to launch your boat "for real" at a launch or marina. Inexperience has caused boaters to become frustrated. That can result in damage or loss of the boat and sometimes even the towing vehicle.

Retrieving Your PWC

  • Back your trailer into the water to the manufacturer's recommended depth for loading.

  • Push and/or pull the PWC onto the trailer and secure the bow safety chain or winch hook. Do not try to ride your PWC onto your trailer.

  • Pull away from the ramp slowly to a area away from the launch area so you don't block the ramp for others to use, having someone check to be sure the PWC is centered on the trailer or support rails.

  • Secure items inside the vessel, re-attach tie-downs and plug in the trailer lights. Check to see that the trailer lights are working.

  • Follow the manufacturer's guidelines for after-ride maintenance of your PWC and trailer.

Retrieving Your Vessel

The steps for removing your boat from the water are basically the reverse of those taken to launch it. However, keep in mind certain conditions may exist during retrieval that did not exist during launching. As you approach the takeout ramp, take special care to note such factors as:

  • Change in wind direction and/or velocity.

  • Change in current and/or tide.

  • Increase in boating traffic.

  • Visibility, etc.

First, unload the boat at dock or mooring if possible while someone gets the trailer.

Second, maneuver the boat carefully to the submerged trailer and raise the lower unit of the engine.

Third, winch the boat onto the trailer and secure it.

Finally, drive the trailer with boat aboard carefully out of the ramp to a designated parking area for cleanup, securing of gear, connecting and checking the trailer lights and securing the tie-downs. Practice will make launch and retrieval a simple procedure. The best advice is to retrieve your boat cautiously with safety as your main concern.

Before you leave the boat launch be sure you remove and dispose of all weeds from the vessel and trailer; remove the drain plug to release bilge water, and drain any live wells. This will help prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance plants and animals.

Secure items inside the vessel, re-attach tie-downs and plug in the trailer lights. Check to see that the trailer lights are working.

Check to make sure all the trailer attachments are secure before departing.

Matching the Trailer with your PWC or Boat

If you purchased a used boat with a trailer be sure the trailer is rated to carry the boat and your gear. Each trailer should have a capacity plate affixed to the trailer near the tongue.

Many states have scales both public and private that will weigh the trailer, with your boat and gear, for a small fee. This weight is known as the GVW or Gross Vehicle Weight.

If you don't know the weight of your boat and gear you can return after launching your boat and weigh just the trailer; subtract that weight to get the weight of the boat and gear.

If you purchased the boat new, have the dealer recommend a trailer that will support your PWC'S, or boat and gear.

Make sure the boat sits on the trailer so all the rollers and supports fit the contour of the boat's bottom with equal support. The trailer ball should be bolted or welded to the towing vehicle. The boat's weight should be evenly distributed along the trailer. If there is too much weight on the rear of the vehicle it will raise the front end making it difficult to control while not enough weight on the rear of the vehicle will cause the trailer to sway and fishtail.

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