How to Get a Boat Launched in Shallow Water Using an Extension Hitch

Updated April 17, 2017

Some boat ramps have very steep inclines leading into shallow shorelines. While backing your vehicle with the boat on the trailer down the ramp, you may suddenly find that you have run out of dry land to launch the boat. Your vehicle could end up with its rear wheels submerged and your tailpipe blowing bubbles underwater. If you have a sailboat with a fixed keel or a deep V profile motorboat, you could still run out of room before the boat displaces enough water to float. A trailer hitch extension allows more clearance between the tow vehicle and the boat, providing an easier and drier launch.

Back your boat toward the ramp in a straight line but do not go down the ramp. Keep your boat on the high, entry level side of the ramp. When backing up, make slight incremental turns of the wheel to guide the trailer.

Shift your tow vehicle into park or neutral. Apply the emergency brake. Instruct your passengers to wait dockside while you and a helper prep for launch. Make certain that you have installed the bilge drain plug in the transom. Chock the wheels of the trailer in the front and back.

Release the hitch mechanism by turning the knob out or use a box-end wrench if your hitch ball has this securing device. The ball must release from the fork mechanism. Remove the bolts and nuts on the trailer's safety chains with a socket. Stow the safety chains.

Crank the trailer's wheel jack, if so equipped, so the trailer's tongue rises above the hitching ball and the trailer has support. Place a floor jack under the trailer and lift it up for clearance if your trailer has no wheel jack. Pull the tow vehicle forward to clear the trailer tongue. Locate the telescoping extension hitch mounted under the frame of the trailer's tongue. Release the keeper pin on the extension and pull the extension bar out to its maximum length.

Adjust the extension bar back and forth to find the correct hole placement. Insert the keeper pin into the hole of the extension to lock it in place. Climb into your tow vehicle and back it up very slowly toward the extension hitch while your assistant guides you with commands. Position the tow vehicle's hitching ball directly under the extension's female hitch socket.

Shut off the tow vehicle. Lower the trailer with the wheel jack until the extension hitch fits squarely over the hitching ball. Tighten the hitch mechanism. Use the floor jack to lower the trailer if not equipped with a wheel jack. Remove the trailer wheel chocks. Start the tow vehicle and drive a few feet forward then backward to test the extension connection. When ready, back the vehicle straight down the ramp and wait for the trailer wheels to submerge.

Depress the mechanism on the bow eye crank and release the bow hook from the boat's hull. Hop on board the boat and have your assistant (or two) push the boat into the water. Start the engine and proceed to the dock.

Things You'll Need

  • Floor jack (if applicable)
  • Wheel chocks
  • Box-end wrenches (if applicable)
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About the Author

Chris Stevenson has been writing since 1988. His automotive vocation has spanned more than 35 years and he authored the auto repair manual "Auto Repair Shams and Scams" in 1990. Stevenson holds a P.D.S Toyota certificate, ASE brake certification, Clean Air Act certification and a California smog license.