How To Launch A Pontoon Boat

How To Launch A Pontoon Boat | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

January 5, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Pontoon Boats can be launched without incident by following safety steps.
  • Boaters should make sure that all equipment is in working order.
  • Be sure to tie your pontoon to the dock to keep it from floating away once it is in the water.
  • Be sure to unplug trailer lights from the tow vehicle before backing into the water.

You just purchased a pontoon boat and are about to take it to the water for the first time, but how exactly do you launch a pontoon boat?

Before you and your family can enjoy a day in the sun, you need to get your pontoon boat into the water by following these simple steps:

  • Find the Right Place to Launch
  • Remove Straps and Tie-downs
  • Add Impact Fenders
  • Align and Slowly Back the Tow vehicle and trailer
  • Unhook the Winch and Secure the Boat
  • Pull the Trailer Out of the Water

With the explosion of pontoon boats scurrying about America’s waterways, many families are discovering the versatility and functionality of a pontoon boat. But as wonderful as these flat-decked crafts are, owners are responsible for operating their watercraft safely and securely. That diligence begins even before you get the boat into the water. Launching a boat can be frustrating if you aren’t careful because the last thing you want is to injure someone or cause damage to a new boat. So, let’s begin our guide by explaining how to safely launch your pontoon from the trailer to the water without creating problems. We’ll review procedures and provide helpful safety tips along the way.


Table of contents

How Do You Launch a Pontoon Boat?

Assuming your pontoon boat is secured to your trailer correctly, you will need to follow the steps below to effectively get your pontoon off its perch and into the water.

Find The Right Place To Launch

If you are new to your area or a first-time boat launcher, it pays to do some homework before you get to the point of launch. A quick scouting mission to the boat ramp ahead of time can help you determine in the ramp is in good shape, well-maintained, and has adequate parking (you need someplace to park your tow vehicle while you are on the water). A call to your local Parks and Recreation Service can also assist in providing this information.

Some marinas and parks charge a fee for launching your boat, so you want to know about it ahead of time. It is always best to check the ramp in the middle of the week (when the ramp is less busy) to avoid getting in the way of other boaters. Look for breaks in the concrete, the incline of the ramp, and other factors to get a read on the situation. Find another place close to launch your boat if something bothers you.

Remove the Straps and Tie-Downs.

On the launch day, you will tow your pontoon on the trailer to the place you selected to launch. You should do a couple of things to prepare your pontoon before you back the trailer/boat into the water.

First, remove any straps or tie-downs holding the boat to the trailer. The pontoon must be able to float a bit as it sits on the water, and if it is still connected to the trailer, it won’t be able to do that. Stow the straps away so that you will have them for later when the day is done, and you need to ferry your pontoon home again on the trailer.

Another essential thing to remember is to unplug the trailer’s lights from the tow vehicle so as not to short out the electrical components when the pontoon hits the water. The last thing you want is to be pulled over or cause an accident because your trailer has no brake lights.

Add Impact Fenders and Tow Line

A boat fender, or boat bumper, is an excellent idea. These cushions help keep your pontoon from impacting a nearby dock or other obstruction (not to mention someone else’s boat). Pontoon bumpers are specially designed to fit between the deck and the tubes of a pontoon and can protect the investment you’ve made by keeping scrapes, dings, and dents away.

The best time to secure them is when the boat is out of the water, still sitting on the trailer.

At this point, it is a good idea to secure a tow line from the front of the pontoon to the trailer and ensure it has plenty of slack. This line is designed to keep the pontoon from floating too far as you back the trailer and tow vehicle into the water. You may also want to loosen the winch a bit (you will back it off and have to unhook it later). If you are having trouble seeing the back of the pontoon, this is a great time to have a buddy spot the point and signal you when the pontoon is in the right place.

Align and Slowly Back Your Vehicle Down

Get back into the tow vehicle and align it so you can slowly back the unit down the ramp. Be cautious as you reverse the truck and trailer, moving slowly, so you have time to correct it. Back the trailer down into the water until you see the back end of the pontoon floating in the water.

Once the pontoon begins to float in the water, put the tow vehicle in park but leave it running. (You do not want the truck or SUV to roll back into the water, (this is very bad).

Unhook the Winch, Back the Boat Off the Trailer

Unhook the winch, and board the pontoon boat. Carefully lower the propeller into the water. Bump the boat’s engine into reverse just a bit to pull it off the trailer, being mindful of the length of the tow line. (This is an excellent time to hand the other end of the towline to a buddy who can walk the boat down the dock so that the boat doesn’t float away while you are parking the tow vehicle and trailer). If you are by yourself, pull your pontoon to the edge of the dock, secure the boat and walk back to your tow vehicle.

Pull the Trailer Out of the Water

You must go to your tow vehicle and pull the trailer out of the water. Find a good parking spot for the truck and trailer where you will not be in the way of other boaters.

What are some Important Safety Considerations to Remember?

There are some helpful safety hints that we will share with you.

Ensure that all Equipment is Sound

Ensure that all equipment on your pontoon is in good working order. Ropes, tie-downs, and straps should not show signs of fraying or weakness. Your winch needs to be in good working order and not rusted or moving in only one direction. Make sure your winch is working before getting to the lake.

Be Mindful of Other Boaters

Boat etiquette is definitely in play at the boat ramp. You want to efficiently get your boat in and out of the water, so you don’t hold up the line. The last thing you want to have to happen is a confrontation with another boater who is just trying to get out and get to their fishing spot before someone else does.

If you are backing your vehicle down the ramp while someone else is trying to get their boat out of the water, it is always a good idea to communicate. If you aren’t in the process, allow the other boater to get their boat out before you launch. Most boaters are tired or (intoxicated) from being on the water, so it always pays to play nice.

How To Launch A Pontoon Boat
Jacob Collier

Jacob Collier

Born into a family of sailing enthusiasts, words like “ballast” and “jibing” were often a part of dinner conversations. These days Jacob sails a Hallberg-Rassy 44, having covered almost 6000 NM. While he’s made several voyages, his favorite one is the trip from California to Hawaii as it was his first fully independent voyage.

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