How To: Trailering Your Boat on Cape Cod

Since I trailer my boat about 150 days a year from my home base on Cape Cod to Montauk, Harkers Island, and many locations in Florida, dealing with boat ramps and their idiosyncrasies has become a second way of life for me. Here are a few tips and things to consider when trailering around Cape Cod.

Evaluating New Ramps

Whenever I visit a new spot, one of my first tasks is locating and scoping out the local boat ramps. Beyond the basics such as directions, parking, condition of the ramp, and fees, I always concern myself with determining which ramps are best in terms of getting to where I want to fish and which offer protection from the wind and seas when there is inclement weather. It’s surprising how you can minimize days lost on the water due to the weather if you spend enough time determining what each ramp offers in terms of access to “fishy” water no matter what Mother Nature sends your way.

I also like to get a read on how busy a ramp is so I know what time I should be there to ensure that I get a spot to park my vehicle and trailer. Many spots, particularly here in the Northeast, get far more traffic during the summer, especially on weekends, but there are some ramps that see increased pressure during certain fishing seasons. For the most part, I have tried to mention these details in covering the ramps here on Cape Cod.

Cape Cod Ramps can be Tide Dependent

For folks who are unfamiliar with Cape Cod and our ramps, you will see the term “tidal” used in the description or notes for a number of ramps and wonder what that is all about. The tidal range on the Cape varies widely depending on whether you are launching on the south side of the Cape or up in Cape Cod Bay and the outer Cape, as well as whether the ramp you are using is close to open water or up inside a river, bay, or estuary. Certain areas of the Cape have a 9 to 11-foot tidal range, which can increase to 12+ feet during full and new moon periods, limiting the time that a ramp can be used. In backwaters there are ramps that have minimal water depth even at high tide, making them unusable during low tide.

Ramp Loading & Offloading Techniques

If you are used to “power loading” your boat (using your engine to run up on your trailer), this practice is forbidden under state law. That said, while there are some towns on the Cape where this practice is strictly forbidden and fines will be assessed, in other towns officials tend to look the other way as long as it is practiced “gently.” In other words, if a boater uses his or her boat’s power to ease onto the trailer, many facilities consider this acceptable; on the other hand, racing engines at full power in order to get a boat onto a trailer that hasn’t been backed into the water far enough is a no-no. Many ramps that have been built on the Cape have very short cement pads that extend into the water and the practice of power loading often results in the scouring out of the area at the end of the cement, producing a substantial drop-off.

Most ramps on the Cape are marked with signs that indicate where the end of the ramp is and you would be advised to pay attention to them in determining whether you can launch your boat at a given ramp or even at what stage of the tide that is possible. On at least one occasion, I have seen someone pulling a trailer out of the water missing an axle after the owner backed in too far, beyond the end of the ramp and into a hole that had formed at the end of the pad.

Roller trailers are
Roller trailers are a good choice when ramp length is short.

Due to short ramp pads and construction, as well as some that are extremely steep, you will find far more roller trailers in use on the Cape than in areas where it is possible to use a bunk or float-on trailer that needs to be backed completely into the water to take advantage of their designs. Personally, I use float-on style trailers with no problem at the ramps I use on the Cape, but I have learned through experience that at some facilities it’s tough to launch at certain stages of the tide.

Ramp Rules Vary by Town

Finally, be advised that there is no consistency from town-to-town on the Cape regarding ramp usage, parking, fees, and other rules, so familiarity with how each town manages its ramps is always a good idea. We hope that this guide helps you along during your visit, but please know that towns often change rules from season-to-season or even in season if a unique situation arises. As much as we can, we will update information as it becomes known to us, but a phone call to the local harbormaster’s office isn’t a bad idea.

Many towns have restrictions and rules for what is known as “in season,” which can run from May 1 to Columbus Day, but again, each municipality is different.

For the purpose of this article, I have focused on the larger and more accessible facilities on the Cape. Many towns have smaller, out-of-the-way ramps that are well-known to the locals, but in reality they are usually poorly maintained and often of dirt construction, with no floats and very limited parking, if any at all, and they are often referred to as “ways to the water,” a pretty good sign that they aren’t ideal for anything but shallow water skiffs.

Looking for a list of ramps on Cape Cod? Check out our interactive Cape Cod Ramp Map