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TALKIN WITH DOKKEN: Tips for the boat ramp

Q. I watched what I can only describe as a comedy of errors this past weekend. It took a husband-and-wife couple 12 minutes to back their boat trailer into the water and another 14 minutes to get the boat loaded on the trailer. Do you have any advice for people who need to take the time to learn what to do at the boat ramp?

A. The situation you describe is a common occurrence at boat ramps and can result in some less-than-pleasant encounters if it happens at particularly busy times. While I’ve never witnessed it personally, I’ve even heard of fights breaking out at congested boat ramps.

Beyond the obvious — knowing how to back up a trailer — the best advice I’ve seen regarding boat ramp etiquette comes from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, which offers these suggestions:

  • Don’t pull onto ramp until your boat is ready to launch.
  • Prepare for launching in the parking area. Remove covers, load equipment, remove tie downs, attach lines and put in drain plug, before backing onto the ramp.
  • When ready, pull into line to launch. Wait your turn. Be courteous.
  • It takes at least two people to efficiently and courteously launch a boat: one to handle the boat and one to take care of the tow vehicle.
  • Don’t block the loading area with your boat until your tow vehicle is ready to load. Wait until you are clear of the launch area to unload gear.
  • As soon as your trailer is in the water, load and secure your boat to the trailer.
  • Remove boat and trailer from the water as quickly as possible.
  • Get clear of the ramp. Pull into the parking area to finish securing your boat and unload gear.

The most entertaining attempt at loading a boat I’ve ever witnessed occurred two summers ago while fishing the Manitoba portion of the Red River. Two friends and I were returning to the ramp at the end of a great day of fishing when we watched two guys spend 26 minutes trying to load an old, blue fiberglass tri-hull onto a bunk trailer that was completely submerged.

I’m not sure how long they’d already been at the ramp — fortunately, no one was waiting — and since we weren’t in a big hurry, we dropped anchor on the other side of the river and resumed fishing while we enjoyed the show.

If you have a question for Talkin’ with Dokken, call (701) 780-1148 or send an email to

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is editor of the Herald's Northland Outdoors section and also works as a copy editor and page designer. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

(701) 780-1148