Boat insurance

Boaters: 5 steps to avoid sinking your tow vehicle

Tuesday, June 6, 2017by  Jon Osterberg

sunken-truck-at-boat-launch-Lakewood-Police.jpgWhen a pickup truck sank into American Lake while launching a boat last week, many scoffed at the news reports and wondered, "How can that even happen?"

It happens more often than you think.

The Tacoma News Tribune attributed the May 28 dunking to a navigation problem. Lakewood Police Officer Chris Lawler said in a June 7 email that the truck and trailer slid backwards into the water after the driver got out to retrieve his boat.

Boaters told Boat Ed in a 2013 survey that when they've seen tow vehicles end up underwater, it's typically because the driver failed to set the parking brake.

Not always, though. A woman sank her minivan into the Columbia River in Vancouver six years ago by inadvertently backing too far with the van's hatchback open. The river quickly swamped the back of the vehicle and sucked it down.

launching-trailer-boat-at-ramp.jpgI own a trailer boat and have avoided a launch disaster so far. But I can see where it's possible to steer your trailer off the side of a submerged concrete ramp. Unless you're adept at guiding a trailer in reverse, all it takes is to jackknife it just slightly to one side.

We've launched many times at Lake Chelan State Park, where the pristine water is clear enough to actually see your immersed tires. That's not the case in murkier lakes, rivers, and salt water, and it's critical to always know exactly where your tires are in relation to the ramp edge.

Here are steps you can take to avoid problems when launching a trailer boat at a ramp.

  1. sunken-truck-at-boat-launch-full-frame-Lakewood-Police.jpgBefore you back up, ensure you've disconnected the tie-down straps, winch line, and the safety chain on the bow.

  2. Roll down your windows all the way. If the vehicle slips into the water, you'll want a clear escape path.

  3. Make all passengers (especially kids) and pets exit the vehicle.

  4. Disconnect your seat belt, in case you need a quick escape.

  5. Slowly back down, and when you reach your launch position, set the parking brake. For added safety, you also could chock your front wheels.

If the worst happens and your tow vehicle gets wet, know that once the electronics and motor are submerged, your vehicle may well be a total loss. Water can wreck everything from computer systems to air-bag controllers to lights and accessories. Learn more in PEMCO's tips, "Don't get soaked buying a flood-damaged car."

Updated June 7. Top, bottom photos courtesy Lakewood Police.

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