Small Mistakes, Big Costs

I was at a boat ramp the other day and saw a boat off the trailer sitting directly on the ramp. Probably the only thing grimmer than seeing a boat that should be in the water perched on the ramp, has to be the sound of fiberglass hitting concrete. Ouch.

In preparation for the launch, the owner unhooked the tow strap and chain, and proceeded to back down the ramp. He had a buddy behind the console waiting for the boat to hit the water. Like all of us, he’d trim down the outboard, pump the gas ball a few times, and fire it up. Then he’d back the boat off the trailer and tie up while his pal parked the truck and trailer. Easy breezy lemon squeezy, just like we all do.

These were experienced boaters, not ones prone to making rookie mistakes. But the issue lay in the half tank of gas and the steepness of the ramp. When the boat crested the top of the ramp, the gas sloshed towards the stern and the boat, sitting on Teflon skids, rocketed off the trailer. If they filled the tank prior to backing down or launched on a less-steep ramp, they’d have had no problem. The boat was big enough to require a crane to lift it back on and that cost about a grand.

The devil is in the details my friends, and big problems can come from small mistakes. I’m not exactly sure of why this sailboat spent the night underwater, but it had to have been a minor error. Plugs that are left out, bilges that aren’t turned on, batteries that run down, who knows what. Sometimes the fix is as simple as emptying a dinghy after a rain so that it doesn’t sink. Or cleaning out the drain on a self-bailing boat. Keeping your trailer hubs lubed, checking trailer lights so the jockey on the highway behind you going Mach 2 doesn’t power clean your outboard when you slow down.

A few years ago I found an unmanned boat drifting in the bay. It had a current registration from a few states away. I towed it in and found a family waiting on the dock. There were lots of hands waving around, and when they saw their boat it all stopped. Long story short, the family was on vacation and had an epic day of fishing. They tied off on a transient mooring and paddled ashore to have dinner and to check in to their hotel room for the night. A poorly tied knot was the culprit, and I appreciated the beers they bought me afterwards.

For a refresher on covering some of the basics check out this overview on the Take Me Fishing website. There is a tremendous amount of useful information that will help boaters focus on getting on the water without any stress or strain. It’ll prompt you that a stictch in time won’t just save nine; it’ll save your boat if not your lives.

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Tom Keer

Tom Keer

Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program.  Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.  When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters.  His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011.  Visit him at or at