Out to Launch


From The Boatshop

As I was ‘skimming’ through a couple of the ‘e-Groups’ I monitor, one of the messages had a link with a notation about PWC’s. Therein was a series of pictures about a, “New launching technique”.

The ‘idiots involved’ were probably too cheap to get a trailer . . .HOWEVER . . . With their combined brain power they had put the aforementioned ‘crotch rocket’ into the back of their pick-up truck. At the ramp, they backed the vehicle to the water . . . until the bed was lever with it {the water} and the PWC could be proudly ‘driven’ off. Needless to say, the next shot indicates that the vehicle is NOT ‘amphibious’, and the final shot is of what the Coast Guard would call a ‘hazard to navigation’. There was no picture of ramp ‘owner’{or comment}, but the PWC and it’s rider could be seen casually observing the entire situation.

After the usual snigger, it brought me back to situations I have observed in person. Also, as they had a ‘Season Commissioning” video at the ‘Club’ meeting a few weeks ago, maybe it’s a good idea to review a couple of things. The movie seemed very much ‘common sense’ to me, but more than a few of the ‘old salts’ did watch it. In addition, I’ll be finishing the refurbishment of the P15 and putting her on the new trailer.

I have no intention of insulting anyone’s intelligence. Certain elements are REALLY simple and I’ll only mention them in passing. Rather than go into them in detail, if you are a ‘first timer’ I recommend you go to your local library and read a FEW books on towing & trailering BEFORE you even buy the trailer or build the boat. An inexpensive paperback like, “Boat Trailers & Tow Vehicles - A User’s Guide” by Steve Henkel, is a good example. {My copy is about 12 years old}. I always get a chuckle when I ‘read’ the messages about, “Is my 8 cylinder Behemoth able to tow my P15 {about 375 pounds on a 180 pound trailer}, or should I get a Hummer?”. [NOTE: I’ve towed my 1250 lb Potter P19 with my 18 year old, 4-cylinder, 5-speed Toyota Pick-up so easily that I had to keep saying to myself {over and over}, “REMEMBER, there IS a 19-foot boat behind you !!”]

  • make sure the Trailer FITS the Boat
  • - make sure ALL the mechanical connections are TIGHT; I used a LOCK
  • DO use the ‘safety chains’
  • check the electrical connections and LIGHTS . . . ESPECIALLY the BREAK lights . . .tow vehicle and TRAILER
    {my experience is with smaller trailers - THEY didn’t have brakes ON the TRAILER}
  • BREAKS - on the tow vehicle . . . have THEM checked
  • Got gas?
  • Got air?
  • Tongue extension? Do you need a Tongue Extension?
  • Spare?, Jack?, Lug Wrench? - for the TRAILER !!
    DON’T let this list intimidate you; it’s just the basics and will fit into one of those ubiquitous 5-gallon buckets - - the spare mounts on the trailer frame with a simple $5 - 10 bolt-on bracket. It also adds to the ‘tongue weight’ of a light weight rig.

Now for a few bits of ‘personal stuff’. Some of this really depends on YOU and YOUR ‘comfort level’. I have seen people in powerboats ‘trying’ to back into a slip . . . some of them have had the boat for years, even up-graded to a BIGGER boat, and STILL CAN’T do it. {this is NOT an ‘editorial comment’ - I guess small sailboats don’t have the same problem because the ‘skipper’ is typically in the stern with his hand on the tiller . . . } Despite Joanne’s telling me to “SHUT UP !!”, I have usually advised them to practice a bit. The same applies here. Find an OPEN AREA; a shopping center parking lot, your local church, etc. {Try asking your ‘local constabulary’}. With NO BOAT on the trailer, lay out some markers and practice BACKING UP, and not just straight. If you have never done this before it will REALLY feel STRANGE. GO SLOW; depending on the type of vehicle/trailer connection at a certain point things happen REAL FAST.

One of the most enjoyable things about trailering a small boat, is the ‘scouting’. Sometimes local, but not always. Supposedly one of the benefits of having a ‘trailer sailer’ is that you can drop it in just about anywhere; “55mph to Windward” is the usual mantra. While some of us may be able to ‘take off’ for the Summer or traverse America {a la Larry brown}, must of us only have weekends or that occasional stolen ‘mental health’ day. So as not to waste the precious good weather ‘stick time’, and spend ‘quality time’ with the family, I use those early Spring or Fall ‘a bit too chilly’ weekends to ‘visit’ the local areas I/we would like to see ‘under sail’. You don’t even need a chart. Contact your local ‘Fish Commission’, ‘Department of Natural Resources’ , or local State Representative’s office. They will probably have a FREE ‘Fishing & Boating Map’, Fisherman’s Guide, or similar booklet/folder. [Note: Don’t forget to do the same for any other states of interest] The ones I have {from Pennsylvania and Maryland} are detailed road maps which incorporate locations of various sites & launch ramps. There are also detailed charts {and/or ‘pictographs’} with details of the ramps & facilities. With these in hand it’s an enjoyable afternoon ‘road trip’. With the proliferation of digital camera’s it’s even cheap to make a record, or use one of the ‘disposable’ ones.

Another reason to visit ‘without encumbrances’ is to NOT have to worry about getting lost . . . it’s a WHOLE LOT EASIER to turn around, or make a sudden turn, or back out of a dead end without the boat & trailer. It’s also a good idea to check the ANGLE & LENGTH of the launch ramps . . . some can be VERY steep; some have sudden drop-offs. For the P19 and my trailer, I found about 12 degrees to be about it. [I had made an ‘inclinometer’, but now you can get one from Harbor Freight for about $5, on sale] . Depending on the trailer, YOUR boat & trailer combination may have difficulties beyond certain angles and lengths. For some owners the short tongue is great for storage, maybe even in a garage. However this may be a problem on a shallow angle ramp . . . you have to back down FURTHER to get the boat to float. On a steep ramp, it’s hard to see the back of the boat. To solve this, some trailers come with an optional ‘extendable’ tongue. I made mine from a ‘4x4'. [I also thought about using a length of HEAVY line, or chain, and letting gravity help]. I also have a couple of lengths of ‘4x4' with ‘eye’ screws and a length of line attached to each. During launch, I would place them about 3 feet lower on the ramp than where I estimated the truck’s back wheels would be at ‘release’, then tie the lines to the trailer. During recovery, I would ‘chock’ the truck’s rear tires and tie the lines to the trailer tongue. In both cases, they would simply drag along while I pulled off the ramp to the parking area. It may have looked stupid, but . . .

Most of the smaller trailers {to about 1200 pound capacity} have the ‘donut size’ {4.80x8} tires. So do most of those ‘utility’ trailers. Unless you are planning to criss-cross the USA at 60+ MPH, I wouldn’t be too concerned. The actual OD of the tire is 17 inches. The next size ‘up’ {4.80x12} is 20 inches . . . only 1-1/2 inches more clearance, and very little difference in axle rotation. IF you are buying ‘new’ and can get your dealer to ‘swap’ wheels for VERY LITTLE money, it’s a nice idea. However, keep in mind that trailer tires usually ‘rot’ out before they ‘wear’ out {UV, water immersion, different rubber formulations, etc. It may be a good idea to wait until it’s time to replace that first set, to ‘up grade’. I was thinking of going with the larger tire on the new P15 trailer . . . then I looked at the folded-up ‘utility’ trailer. Same size wheels/tires = ‘ready at hand’ SPARE !! I would never be using BOTH trailers at the same time.

If you keep your boat at a ‘rental’ slip or mooring, the typical ‘season’ is mid-April to mid-October. With a small ‘trailerable’ it’s more a case of, ‘as long as the ice isn’t too thick’. Because of the ‘stretched season you have to think a bit more than the ‘summer sailor’. I remember one powerboater, sitting in his *huge* ‘Bass Boat’ [150hp . . . for ‘Fast Bass’ ??], he ‘drove’ it onto the trailer, while his buddy in the ‘Mega-Behemoth Pick-Up Truck’ spun the tires in clouds of smoke. I told him to get out, got him, his other buddy and myself to stand on the rear bumper of the truck, and told the driver to S-L-O-W-L-Y pull ahead. This is also why I carry a BROOM and bucket during the Fall . . . WET LEAVES.

By now you should be ready for that first ‘road trip’. A couple more points:

  • REGULARLY check ALL the nuts & bolts - they have got to be TIGHT
  • carry spare BULBS for ALL the lights . . . especially the TAIL & STOP lights
  • AFTER you’ve driven about a block . . . check ALL the lights
  • every once in a while, stop and FEEL the trailer hubs . . . ‘just warm’ is OK - HOT is BAD

That’s enough to get you thinking, hopefully NOT intimidated. If you have a boat, are going to build a boat, or just want to be able to ‘move things about’, a trailer is like a sailor - ‘wonderful handy to have around the house’.

[Before we got the Potter, we had a Capri 14.2 daysailer. We sailed at a local lake, usually on Sunday afternoon. What used to really give me a smile was on the way home, Joanne would have me stop at the local supermarket so she could pick up something to grill for dinner. Wheeling into the parking lot, dropping her off at the door, and then waiting in the lot . . . ‘Capt. Blasé ’ got a lot of ‘big eyes’!!]

Ron Magen