What Is the First Thing You Should Do After Retrieving Your Boat Onto Your Trailer?

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You’d be amazed at how many boat accidents occur on land after the boat has been retrieved from the water.

Most mountaineering accidents occur on the way down the mountain for the same reason. Once you think you are “home-free,” you drop your guard…and that is when accidents occur.

So, here’s a list of what to do before you crack that celebratory beer and start sharing fishing stories.

When Retrieving Your Boat…

If you are new to boating, retrieving your boat refers to the process of maneuvering your boat onto your partially submerged trailer and pulling it up the launch ramp (and out of the water).  As a newcomer to the boating world, remember that loading a boat onto a trailer is serious business. In the same way that you’d follow boating safety tips in the water, be sure to prioritize safety out of the water, too.

Power loading (using your engine to get onto your trailer) is a classic boat ramp no-no.  

Thou shall not power load. 

Always use the winch when you load a boat onto a trailer.  Also, don’t forget your parking brake.  Just saying.

But we’re not here to tell you how to retrieve your boat – we want to lay out the steps you need to take after your retrieve.

Step #1: Rinse Off Your Boat, Trailer, and Riggings

No one likes this step, but it will definitely extend the lifespan of your boat (and your trailer).

If you boat on freshwater, there are plenty of microbial plants, bacteria, and crustaceans eagerly waiting to colonize your boat. They will have a field day in storage, so rinse those little intruders off!

We love boating on saltwater.  Salt, however, is public enemy #1.  You can think of salt exposure like sun exposure:  a short amount of time in the sun is great.  Too long in the sun, and it becomes toxic. 

Salt causes rust, which many boat owners call a “cancer”:  Once it starts, it’s hard to stop.  Prevention – rinsing off your boat – is the best defense.

If your boat catches a lot of splash, start with the interior. Next, move to the top and finish with the bottom.  Make sure to thoroughly rinse out all of the nooks and crannies on your trailer, which is metal and not optimized for use in water. (Check out this boat maintenance guide for more information on properly cleaning your vessel).

Finally, you may want to rinse off your tow vehicle if any saltwater splashed on it during retrieval.   

For those sailors out there, if your sail caught even one single splash of salt water, all that canvas has to be washed off…and dried.  (We’ve yet to meet a sailor who actually likes de-rigging.  It’s a hassle – but a necessary one.) 

Don’t forget to wash off all of your lines/rigging, lifejackets, and any part of your boat that got wet.

You also need to dry your boat.  The drive home is a nice opportunity for an air dry – if you don’t mind water-spotting on the hull.  If you want to keep your hull spotless, wipe it down with a microfiber towel.

Step #2: Secure Your Boat to the Trailer

You’d be amazed how many tired sailors and boaters drive off without securing their boat…only to have it come off the trailer.  Again, none of this is rocket science…but it’s easy to get careless when you’re tired, hungry, and thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner.

Step #3: Check the Winch Strap and Attach the Safety Chain

Tighten up the winch strap.  It should be attached to the cleat or bow eye.

Sometimes, the boat bounces a little bit on the bunks when you pop it up the ramp onto flat ground, so you’ll want to double-check that the winch strap is taut to the winch post.

Attach the safety chains to the trailer tongue.  When your boat is cruising down the road at 55 mph, you want redundant systems to ensure your boat does not fly off the back of the trailer. That’s never fun.

Step #4: Transom Tie Downs

You can find dozens of transom tie-downs online. Those thick trucker webbing tie-down straps with the hook and cinching action are great. Pay attention to the load rating of the tie-down straps. (If the packaging doesn’t indicate the test of the lines, don’t buy them—they are junk!)

The jury is out on transom savers, but you can imagine that your heavy outboard motor could put a lot of stress on your transom if you hit a hard bump while driving. 

Step #5: Double-Check Your Trailer

Even if you inspected your trailer when you took your boat out of storage, you should recheck it.  You should always test your trailer lights every time you are about to hit the road.  If your trailer lights don’t work correctly, you are a danger to everyone on the road, as well as yourself.  (Plus, it’s a sure way to get a ticket.)

Save up to $1,200/year on boat storage

Step #5: Drain the Bilge

Even small amounts of water sloshing around in the bilge can cause major wobble and balance issues on the trailer.

Be sure to pull the drain plug and drain all of the water. Also, empty out any live wells and bait wells. (Hopefully, you completed this step before retrieving all the fish you caught!)

In some locations, you may need to remove weeds from your boat and trailer before leaving the ramp area to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. 

Step #6: Stow Your Gear

Lifejackets have a nasty habit of taking flight on interstate highways. In fact, any gear (like a towable water tube) that is left out can become airborne.  Your boat will be exposed to much more wind at 55 mph than it sees out on the water.

While it’s tempting to load your boat with all your gear (and treat your boat as a storage unit of sorts), it’s safer to put that additional weight in your tow vehicle.

Never store wet gear unless you like the smell – and destructive effects – of mildew(Of course, you already washed and dried your jackets and other equipment per our instructions above, right?)  

If you catch a whiff of mildew, sunlight is the best cure.  Fungi and sunlight do not get along well.

Step #7: Watch For Boat Wiggle

No matter how carefully you try to secure it, your boat is heavy and carries a lot of inertia on the roadway.

With the right bump, even high-test webbing can break – or snap a cleat off.  Do a visual inspection every time you stop.

What to Do If You Run Into Trailer Alignment Problems

If your trailer starts to sway, you should safely come to a stop (if you’re on a highway, throw on the hazards, slow down, and take the next exit).

Minor boat sway can lead to speed wobbles, which are nasty, self-reinforcing wobbles that can (quite literally) flip the trailer. Any side-to-side motion is a red flag, and you should slow down immediately if it becomes too erratic.  (However, A bit of up-and-down bouncing is to be expected.)

There are different types of boat trailers, but all of them can go squirrely with trailer problems or an inexperienced driver.  Check out our complete guide to towing.

Know the Ramp Rules

Every ramp has its own regulations and customs of use. 

Ramp hogs are universally hated, so make sure that you don’t lollygag while getting your boat off the ramp.  It’s a courtesy issue to other boats and boaters but also a safety measure.

Be aware of the other boat owners around you who are waiting to use the boat launch ramp or retrieve their vessels.

Find Safe Harbor For Your Boat – In Storage

There’s a famous expression among salty boaters: “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what it was built for.”

We tend to disagree: a ship that is not properly stored is not safe. If you don’t have room on your property to store a boat, consider Neighbor for your boat storage needs.

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