The Dos and Don’ts of Boat Ramp Etiquette

Margie Nelson // April 16

Growing up on the banks of the Yellowstone River you get to learn many things about being around a busy and heavily used river. Some are wonderful skills that you utilize for the rest of your life such as fly fishing, boat rowing, and how to navigate the river whether you are on a raft, boat, kayak, paddleboard, or an innertube. These skills, including boat ramp etiquette, will bring you much enjoyment in your life. 

boat ramp etiquette

You also learn skills in launching various types of watercraft. These skills will bring you enjoyment mainly because you will be admired, respected, and looked up to if you manage them properly. 

If you do not possess proper boat ramp etiquette you will be ridiculed, yelled at, and possibly get a lesson or two from the more experienced and crabby people who make a living on the river. 

Why are they crabby?  Because some people out there are dummies. Don’t be a dummy! It literally starts the day off for the professionals in a less-than-professional manner.

Boat Ramp Etiquette

Inner tubes, paddleboards, and kayaks

Let’s work our way up the watercraft ladder and start with the basic, fun, and easy-to-use inner tube. This is an easy one. Your tube should be properly inflated and secured before you head to the fishing access. When you arrive at the access site, park your vehicle in a designated spot that is not used for a vehicle pulling a trailer. This is very important and you should be able to tell easily which spots are NOT for you. 

You can also drop your belongings off to the side of the ramp or close to the ramp on a grassy area, out of the way of vehicles with boats and trailers. The ramp is there for the use of a vehicle with a trailer. Unload, park the car, and come back and fiddle with your stuff.  No one will steal your stuff while you park your vehicle,  it will only take you a short time.  When you have parked, go to the spot you dropped off all your necessary gear and inflate and situate there.  Make sure to stay out of the way of the road to the ramp and the ramp.  When ready, take your personal watercraft to the water on either side of the ramp and stay out of the way of vehicles with boats and trailers.  

These methods also work well for stand-up paddleboards and kayaks.  You can unload out of the way of the ramp. The main focus is to be on or around the ramp with your vehicles and belongings for the shortest time possible.

Boat or raft on a trailer

If you are launching a rubber raft, drift boat, or other watercraft on a trailer, be vigilant in your preparation.  At the access, there are many places where you can stag and arrange your gear on your craft.  Make sure that it is properly inflated, you have your cooler and other gear already in the boat, you have unleashed your oars and removed the straps that secure the boat to the trailer, and have properly stored these items. 

Now, wait your turn. 

Sometimes you are lucky enough to be the only person there, but that rarely happens.  Please be adept at backing your trailer down the ramp; don’t practice and learn this skill on a busy ramp.  If you are not practiced, there will most certainly be someone who is watching you, which will make you worse at this than you really are.  Ask them for help, they would rather help you out and get the show on the road than watch you anyway. When your trailer is in the water adequately to launch your craft, quickly float it to a secure spot on either side of the ramp so the next person can quickly launch.  Park your vehicle in a spot that is designated for trailers and get down to the water and enjoy your day. 

You will enjoy it more having practiced good boat ramp etiquette.  Believe me.  You do not want to be on the wrong end of that stick.  Boat ramp etiquette is a pet peeve of professional river people, as well as seasoned veterans. 

The best thing to remember is that you should not get in line for the ramp until you have everything arranged and situated. 

Have a great day on the water, but first, use your boat ramp etiquette!

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About the Author

Margie Nelson

Margie Nelson was born and raised in Livingston, Montana. She spent her early years in love with the outdoors, particularly all things in the water, which lead her to an education in Marine Biology and Oceanography. But her heart always brought her back to the Mountains. Growing up in Montana in an outdoors, hunting, and fishing family afforded her many different skill sets. She has taken her skills as a provider and now spends most of her time creating “trophy meals” from her harvests that take her literally through all the steps from Skills to Skillet.