There is a reason that ordinary, calm and stable people become raving lunatics at launch ramps. My friend down the street, who reads UFO Today, tells me it’s because boat launch ramps collect the beams of a full moon, and suspend them in the atmosphere above the ramp area, to be sucked into the lungs of unsuspecting boaters who then go berserk. I believe him.

If, on a hot and sunny weekend day, you’re starved for entertainment, or would simply like to pick up some material for that horror novel you’ve been promising to write, then pack up the family, a cooler and a couple of folding chairs, and head for the nearest launch ramp. Park your car at a safe distance from the action, and find a shady spot beneath a sprawling maple. Situate the family where they have a good, unobstructed view of the ramp, and get set for the educational experience of a lifetime. In fact, before you even get your chaise lounge unfolded, your kids may already have increased their vocabulary of cusswords at least tenfold.

For you “wannabe” trailer boaters, I will give you the benefit of Commander Bob research on the subject. The term “launch ramp” is derived from the Phoenician word “panic,” which, loosely translated means “Helen, if we don’t get this @@##$$%% boat in the water, start the %%$$## motor and get away from this ##&&%% ramp in the next 30 seconds, we’re gonna be dead meat!”

I ride a bicycle in the summertime for exercise. Usually, I ride my bike to the City Park, where there is a modern six-ramp boat launch facility. I park my bike under a tree, sit with my back resting against the trunk, put the shaft of one of those long grassy things between my teeth and watch the drama unfold.

Man and wife and two kids with brand new boat. For some reason — probably the moondust hanging in the air above the ramp — “he” delegates the job of backing the boat into the water to “she,” and then verbally insults her driving skills all the way to the water’s edge. Kids excited beyond belief at the prospect of first ride in new boat. They add to mayhem. Wife heartbeat rate exceeds 180. Rear wheels, back bumper and tailpipe now submerged. Man and kids pushing frantically to disengage boat from trailer. Boat will not disengage from trailer because towing strap is still securely fastened from one side of trailer, over both gunwales, and down to the other side of the trailer. Effort to dislodge boat from trailer interrupted only briefly by scratching of head.
Two fishermen. One backs car toward ramp at relatively high speed. Other yells at him to go slower. Driver interprets request as emergency and slams on brakes. Thinking it has reached the water, boat departs trailer, slamming with some authority onto concrete. More head-scratching (probably a scalp irritation from the moondust).

Steep ramp. Elderly man and middle-aged son launch runabout. Elderly man parks car at top of ramp and sets handbrake with all the strength he can muster. Strength mustered not adequate. Boat pulls away from ramp. Moments later, occupants of boat and I watch helplessly as car and trailer roll down the ramp and slip silently into water with only antenna remaining above surface, imitating snorkel. Tow truck called while others postpone launch and contribute more cusswords to educational aspect of boating.

I really did witness all three of these events, although to be fair, I had to wait a few years between each act of the play. And to be really honest, I launched a small boat with the plug out?not once, but twice. And as long as I’m being cathartic, I’ll admit to locking my tow vehicle on the launch ramp once with the key in the ignition and engine running during a thunderstorm when a zillion wet and angry fishermen were trying to use the ramp to get off the water.

Many boaters at a busy launch ramp do feel a slight sense of panic, whether they admit it, or whether they even realize it. Will I make a fool out of myself? Will I remember to put everything on board, or will I forget Billy and not be able to get back in through the crowd to pick him up? Will I remember to disconnect the trailer lights, or will I blow out the bulbs? Am I on the right side of the pier so I can use the wind to my advantage? Will I be able to back the trailer easily, or will I zigzag all the way down the ramp? Is that other guy trying to launch next to me getting too close? Is it my turn to put my boat in, or is it that guy’s turn to get his boat out? Is the plug in? What if the engine doesn’t start?

The boater who is cool and confident about using a launch ramp, as opposed to the one who finds the experience a living hell, has learned several simple lessons:

1. Patience. Slow down each step of the launching process, and take time to think about what comes next.
2. Patience. If you’re not familiar with the area or the ramp, watch a couple of launches before you back in. Get a feel for the wind, current, and water depth.

3. Patience. Back the boat to the water slowly, and if you feel uncomfortable with what’s happening, stop smoothly, set the handbrake, get out and take a look around.

I guess you get the idea. The key to boat launching at a ramp is patience. As you gain experience and get a little practice, you’ll soon see that launching your boat is just another fun part of a day on the water.