Getting Your Boat Out Of The Water: A Step-By-Step Guide

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Boat retrieval is easier than you think if you apply some careful planning and have a helping hand nearby. Here’s a step-by-step guide.

1. Choose a time

First, try to leave your retrieval until high tide as this will be easier on the towing vehicle. If nearby boat ramps are busy (bear in mind this may be peak hour), hang back and wait until there is enough space.

2. Prepare to land

As the shore approaches, rig the lines and fenders and check that you have your towing-vehicle keys on hand. Tilt up the boat’s outboard or sterndrive before it enters shallow water and let momentum carry the boat in.

3. Secure the boat

If pulling into a jetty, it helps to have a crew member who can jump ashore and tie the boat to it. Securing ropes around both the bow and stern cleats on the boat will prevent it from drifting due to wind or tide.

4. Prepare the trailer

Back on shore, pull the trailer’s winch wire or strap out a few feet and hook it to a part of the trailer where it can be easily reached. At the same time, turn the winch handle until it’s in a position where you won’t have to strain to reach it.

5. Hit reverse

Reversing a boat trailer does require skill and patience. If possible, get a passenger to stand outside the vehicle and guide you. Drive at a slow and steady pace – which will help you avoid jackknifing the trailer – and use your side and rear mirrors to monitor the trailer’s path of travel. Don’t worry if you have to put it back into first gear and try again – practice makes perfect!

6. Line up the trailer and boat

Getting the boat onto the trailer can be a delicate operation, but not difficult if you follow these steps:

  • Try to get the trailer as straight as possible at the top of the ramp as visibility may be reduced after this point, making it harder to correct your course.
  • With the engine running, firmly engage your hand brake and place the vehicle in the park position.
  • Have a friend push the boat from the jetty, slowly releasing bow and stern ropes simultaneously to bring the bow of boat into the center of the rollers/guides.
  • When the trailer and boat are aligned, connect the winch or strap to the bow eye and take in the slack until the front of the boat is firm against the trailer’s back roller. After this, your friend is free to throw/pass you the bow and stern lines; these can be placed inside the boat for safe keeping. While you are operating the winch, check that the boat is sliding onto the trailer in a straight line. It should align itself naturally against the trailer’s rollers and pads.
  • Continue to operate the winch until the bow of the boat has made contact with the bow stop. The safety chains can now be connected to secure the boat to the trailer and some slack can be removed from the winch.

Note that the process will differ slightly for drive-on trailers.

7. Get ready for travel

After you have secured the boat, drive back up the ramp to a safe location where you can complete the final steps.

  • Attach your tiedowns and any placards that your boat may require.
  • Check that all the lights are working correctly.
  • Remove the drain plugs at this point to allow excess water to escape during the drive home.
  • Stow away any loose items such as fishing rods/tackle that may become a hazard on the trip home.

Your boat has now been retrieved and you are ready for the trip home. On arrival back at home, it is always good practice to give your boat and trailer a spray down with clean fresh water to prevent any corrosion that may occur.

Looking for more boat-towing advice? Read our tips on how to safely and easily turn a boat trailer.


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