An Outdoor View: Chaos at the boat ramp

Let’s talk about one of the most hazardous areas for small boats, their owners and passengers, the launch ramp.

For various reasons, boats, trailers and vehicles sometimes find their way fully immersed as a result of an attempted boat launch. At a launch ramp on the lower Kenai River, I once saw a captain go down with his ship, steadfastly staying at the wheel of his pickup until the water reached his shoulders before getting out and swimming ashore. It just wasn’t his day. His boat, still attached by its bow to the trailer winch, floated high for a few minutes, but then began settling by the stern. He’d forgotten to install the drain plug.

Hang around boat ramps long enough and you’ll see someone back a boat and trailer into the water and then have to stand and watch while the boat floats down the river, looking lonely and unwanted. It happened to me once. Luckily, a nearby boater saw my predicament and took pity. If no one is nearby in a boat, this method of launching can present difficulties.

Quite often you’ll see someone carefully load everything and everyone aboard, shove off from shore, then discover that the motor won’t start. This sometimes happens at Bing’s Landing, just upstream of the Naptowne Rapids, a place many boaters won’t go, even with a motor that’s running. From personal experience, I strongly recommend not pushing off from shore until the motor is running. That said, going through those rapids without power does give you an exciting story to tell your grand-children, if you survive.

Another source of excitement is the “premature launch”: The trailered boat gets halfway to the water before sliding off the trailer onto the concrete ramp, propeller first.

All of these accidents are embarrassing, and some are expensive. They happen when people are careless, when they’re in a hurry, when they’re distracted and when someone offers to help.

Everyone has a “first-time” launch. These are never pretty, but they do offer comic relief. At the other end of the scale, ignorance, discourtesy and a lack of common sense can trigger ramp rage among boaters waiting to launch.

At the peak of the sockeye season, any launch on the Kenai River is a test of endurance. At Bing’s Landing, a gentleman whose IQ couldn’t have been much more than river temperature backed his 40-foot motorhome down the ramp until his boat trailer jackknifed. Ten minutes later, he had it straightened out, but it was still positioned so that no one else could use the ramp. He then proceeded to oh-so-carefully load his boat with fishing and camping gear.

By this time, steam was hissing from the ears of several of us who were waiting to launch, but this guy was oblivious to it. Finally, after dressing his family in warm coats and life jackets and getting them aboard, he backed his trailer into the water and launched his boat. As his motorhome cleared the ramp, several of us cheered and applauded, but he didn’t seem to notice. He probably thought it was a local custom.

People who fish on and around boat ramps don’t make things any easier for boaters. I once had to get out of my vehicle and wade out into the river to tell a man that I had to launch a boat where he was standing. He was so focused on fishing that he would’ve stood there until I backed right over him. The boat backing toward him wasn’t an adequate clue.

At the Izaak Walton boat ramp, in Sterling, you launch in the Moose River, maybe 50 yards from where it flows into the Kenai. When the sockeyes are in, anglers line both banks of the Moose and cast toward the center. Navigating from the boat ramp to the Kenai takes real courage.

With the late run of sockeyes about to arrive, the number of boat launches will soar in the next few days. I urge boat owners to be certain that they, their boats and their vehicles are adequately insured.

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

More in Life

Will Morrow (courtesy)
Once bitten

Just keep moving. For some people, it might be a mantra for… Continue reading

Joan Brown Dodd, left, and Doug Dodd pose for a photo at the Homer News on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
‘Hero Unaware’ based on author’s compilation of father’s war correspondence.

Letters home span the entire length of World War II from a Navy corpsman’s perspective.

Mindful ramen. (Photo by Tressa Dale/For the Clarion)
Take guilt off menu with mindful ramen

I do a lot of preaching about healthy eating, but I have… Continue reading

Bonnie Marie Playle (file)
July Musings

July is the seventh month, and is called “Dog Days” because it’s… Continue reading

2007 photo by Clark Fair 
Sometimes called “Murder House” in the years after the killing, this dilapidated Quonset hut was the scene of the crime.
A killing close to home

By Clark Fair For the Peninsula Clarion We all hope we live… Continue reading

The stage for "Grounded" is seen inside of the Kenai Performers’ black box theatre on Monday, March 15 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Presenting Little Mermaid

Kenai Performers youth drama camp takes center stage

This rich Parmesan risotto makes a creamy base for mushrooms and kale. Photographed July 10, 2021, in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Kale salad? Not so much

A cream risotto makes an indulgent base for the nutritional green

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: The generations … my how they flow by

It has been over 20 years since we had a 1-year-old in the house for any extended period of time.

This orange Julius swaps out the traditional egg whites with sweetened condensed milk, for a tangy and safe summer treat. Photographed July 4, 2021, in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Adding some orange to the red, white and blue

A quintessentially American drink cools off any Fourth of July celebration.

Nick Varney (courtesy)
Flying fish and lead. Oh my!

Homer can become rather rowdy at times.

Pottery is on display on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, at the Kenai Art Center, which is reopening on Thursday for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in Kenai, Alaska. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
‘The more we get together’

Kenai Art Center celebrates reopening with work from Potters’ Guild

Containing onions, carrots, shitake mushrooms and noodles Japchae is a stir-fried Korean vegetable and noodle dish that is delectable hot, cold and everywhere in between. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Noodles made with a loving hand

Japchae is a stir-fried Korean vegetable and noodle dish that is delectable hot, cold and everywhere in between