Leier: Perfecting the art of boat backing requires repetition
West Fargo - I have always found it interesting how some skills in life stay with us no matter how many years of rust we allow to accumulate.
Things like riding a bike or driving a manual transmission vehicle, or perhaps water skiing, tying a hook on a line or filleting a fish, are once-used physical or mental practices that come back to us when needed.
When I began my work as a game warden, backing up a boat on a trailer wasn’t something that settled in my comfort zone. While my formative years on Lake LaMoure included countless hours on the water, it was usually my dad who put the boat in the water in spring and took it out after Labor Day.
The work of a game warden requires pulling various boats and other motorized vehicles and equipment on trailers, and through repetition I almost came to enjoy backing into tight spots and around corners. It became a personal challenge to use just the mirrors, and without any assistance, see how well I could hit the proverbial target.Backing in and out, and loading and unloading multiple times on some days, became routine. Almost like riding a bike. Wind, waves, gravel, single-laned ramps and even investigations needing access to places without suitable ramps, like launching a jet ski on the Sheyenne River, were necessary skills.But even now I realize how daunting and intimidating this routine can be to a weekend boater in a crowded ramp area even under ideal conditions. I can quickly appreciate the driver backing the trailer wondering if they need to turn left or right, sharp or wide.What I never have understood are the other boaters waiting in line watching and laughing, yet not offering a hand to someone who is having trouble.Now, I’m not advocating evicting a driver and taking over. But there are plenty of opportunities to help and the fact is we’re all in this together. The struggling boater wants to expedite the entrance or exit, and those waiting are losing valuable time they could better enjoy on the water or on the road while the boat and operator are working to accomplish the same.A few simple reminders will help ensure a fluent transition when launching and loading a boat.Don’t pull onto the ramp until your boat is ready to launch.Prepare for launching in the parking area. Remove covers, load equipment, remove tie downs, attach lines and put in drain plug, before backing onto the ramp.When ready, pull into line to launch. Wait your turn. Be courteous.It takes at least two people to efficiently and courteously launch a boat: one to handle the boat, and one to take care of the tow vehicle.Don’t block the loading area with your boat until your tow vehicle is ready to load. Wait until you are clear of the launch area to unload gear.As soon as your trailer is in the water, load and secure your boat to the trailer.Remove boat and trailer from the water as quickly as possible.Get clear of the ramp. Pull into the parking area to finish securing your boat and unload gear.One last reminder. The busiest Saturday in the middle of summer is probably not the best choice of times to teach boat backing and launching. Off hours in a parking lot and slow times at the ramp provide great opportunities to learn and practice. Once you’ve got it down, I can attest it’s one of those skills you’ll never lose and will always come in handy.