LITTLE ROCK — Daylight saving time has kicked into gear, and more people are getting out to the lake to enjoy a day of fun in the sun. Added traffic can mean longer wait times at boat ramps to get your day started and wrap things up at the end of your trip. Here are a few tips to help everyone out and keep the line running smoothly at your favorite fishing and boating destination.
Work while you wait
Don’t wait until you’ve backed down the ramp to transfer your gear from the tow vehicle to the boat or unstrap the boat from the trailer. Pull to the side and get your gear ready there. If you’re waiting for the ramp, go ahead and make good use of that time to prepare ahead.
Save the chatter
Don’t make others wait while you’re having a discussion with your fishing buddy on where to go, unless you want those behind you offering some colorful suggestions.
Don’t forget the plug
Always make sure the boat’s drain plug is where it’s supposed to be, when launching the boat and after you’re done for the day. Leaving the plug out can put the boat under the surface fairly quickly, and many boats only have access to the plug location from outside the vessel, so getting that plug in place after launching can be a wet mess.
Removing the plug at the ramp at the end of your day can help prevent another kind of wet mess. Giant salvinia, zebra mussel larvae and many other aquatic nuisance species can be spread in the water that can be held in the bilge area and livewells. To protect Arkansas waters, the AGFC enacted a regulation in 2021 requiring all boaters to remove all drain plugs, including those in livewells, before leaving the boat ramp at the conclusion of their outing. Check out www.agfc.com/invasivespecies for more information on how to prevent the spread of these nuisance species.
Practice when it’s slow
Don’t wait until a weekend during peak boating season to practice backing the trailer and launching your boat. Go to a boat ramp that doesn’t see much traffic one afternoon and take your time while few people are around. Not only will you get better at backing the vehicle, you’ll be able to develop a routine that will give you confidence that you haven’t left something behind.
Take it easy
When people are waiting, it can be easy to panic and go too fast backing the boat. Remember the adage, “Slow is smooth; smooth is fast.” Take your time and make small adjustments. If you begin to get off track, take a moment and give it another shot. Backing a trailer isn’t easy when you first start out. And if you’re one of the people waiting in line that sees a person struggling, be patient and let them figure it out without honking or hurrying them up. That can cause an even bigger mess if they panic and get sideways on the ramp.
Life jackets at the ready
Make sure you have enough life jackets for the people on your boat before you get to the ramp. State law requires all boats under 16 feet long to have one U.S. Coast Guard Approved wearable personal floatation device on board for every passenger. Boats 16 feet and longer also require an additional throwable PFD. Children under 13 must be wearing their life jacket at all times while aboard a boat, unless they are within the enclosed area of a houseboat, cruiser or party barge and the boat is not under way. Go ahead and put on the life jacket before hopping into the boat at the ramp as well and lead by example.
Don’t get too deep
One of the most common mistakes new boaters make when loading the boat at the end of the day is to put the trailer too far into the water. You want the bottom of the boat to contact the trailer when it reaches the halfway point. It can then slide up the bunks straight. If the trailer is too deep, the bunks won’t guide the boat and it will slide from one side to the other when you try to pull the trailer from the water. Once you find the sweet spot, make a note of where the water level touches the wheels or another part of the trailer so you can get it right every time.
Park in the right place
If you’re hauling a trailer, park in the long spaces designated for your rig. If you’re using a kayak, canoe or meeting someone with the boat and are driving a car or truck that doesn’t have a trailer behind it, try to find a parking space that isn’t reserved for trailering vehicles.
Don’t let your boat be a drag
Unhook the boat from the winch after the vessel is in the water, not before. Also make sure to hook the winch up before leaving the water at the end of the day. It’s rare, but boats can slide off the trailer bunks if they’re not secured on a steep ramp. Secure the trailer tie-down straps and transfer gear back to the tow vehicle in the parking lot, not on the ramp.
The tips above are just a few things anglers and boaters can learn through the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Boating Education Program. Anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1986, and of legal age to operate a motorboat or sailboat, must have successfully completed an approved boating education course and carry proof while operating a motorboat or sailboat on Arkansas waters. To operate a motorboat powered by an engine of 10 horsepower or more, a person must be 12 or older, or be under the direct supervision of a person at least 18. To operate a personal watercraft, a person must be 16 or older, or be 12-15 years old and under the direct supervision of someone at least 18. People younger than 12 may only operate a personal watercraft while under the direct supervision of someone at least 21.
Visit www.agfc.com/boatered for more information about Boater Education in Arkansas and how to take a class near you to be certified.