There is a clear consensus among truck campers about how to safely launch a boat with a loaded camper. The repeated formula is (1) take your time, (2) use your mirrors, and (3) have a spotter.
We give this same exact advice to folks learning how to load and unload a truck camper. Angela and I have loaded dozens of truck campers hundreds of times and wouldn’t even consider loading or unloading without time, mirrors, and a spotter.
Another wide piece of advice shared by multiple readers is to practice backing up before reaching the boat ramp. One idea would be to hook up your boat and take it to a local school or corporate parking lot on the weekend. Then you can practice backing up with your mirrors and spotter without fear of hitting anything or drowning your rig.
At least half of the responses report using a backup camera for increased visibility. Others add a front hitch so they can put a boat in the water with a direct view. These are both excellent suggestions for your pre-launch research.
In addition to asking how truck camper owners launch their boats, we conducted a poll to see how many unload their campers before launching their boats. Here are the results.
As you can see, more than three-quarters of truck camper owners launch their boats with their campers loaded. That’s impressive! Now let’s find out exactly how they do it.
This week’s Question of the Week was, “How do you see around a loaded truck camper when launching a boat?”
“Having been raised on a farm backing wagons and trailers, I’m fairly quick at boat ramps. I do find it easier to have the dock on the truck’s driver side for the best visibility. I will do that unless wind or traffic dictates otherwise.” – Bob Claycomb, 2007 Dodge 2500, 2019 Northstar Laredo, 2001 Alumacraft Trophysport 175
“Use the mirrors. Our boat is big enough that if I slightly see the trailer on one side or the other, then it’s not going straight. We keep the process slow and we don’t get into trouble. Of course a spotter is a must!
We also have a 12-foot aluminum boat and a trailer with a quad. It’s much narrower than our big boat and much harder to back up without a spotter. By the time you see the trailer in the mirrors it’s time to stop, go ahead, and straighten out. Again a spotter is a must, but I certainly wouldn’t unload the camper just to launch the boat.” – Brian Lecompte, 2013 Ram 3500, 1999 Bigfoot, 2008 22.5 Crownline with Tandem Axle EZ Loader Trailer
“I mounted an Optix camera on the back of my camper over the entry door. This works great unless I’m in bright sunlight where the image washes out.
The camera image feeds into the MFD in my truck. I think I’ve solved the wash out problem by making a sun shield to cover the camera and by covering the area on the back wall that reflects light back onto the camera lens.” – Steve Timmings, 2003 Ford F350, 2013 Four Wheel Hawk SC, 2011 Devlin Pelicano 18
“Get the trailer straight behind you and use your mirrors. I put my hand at the bottom of steering wheel for the direction of the trailer.” – George Collett, 2017 Ram 3500, 2018 Northern Lite 10-2EX CDSE, 2005 Cobalt 226
“We added a hitch to the front of the truck. We can push the boat in without worrying about getting the camper wet. With the hitch weight in the front of the truck, it’s also easier to get out of the water. And the front hitch gives us a place for the bike rack that doesn’t interfere with the boat trailer.” – Nanette Fliesser, 2013 Chevy Silverado, 2014 Host Mammoth, 2017 Lund Crossover 1775
“We are lucky. We can see the trailer’s wheels and even the boat itself in each mirror when our mirrors are extended all the way out.
The biggest boat launching tip I have is to take your time. The places we launch are not too busy so we just take our time and be sure the spotter is able to be seen and heard.
I am also lucky that my wife will back the empty trailer in the water. It’s waiting for me to drive the boat over to the landing. I can also drive the boat away and she drives the rig out.” – Dan Entringer, 2017 Ford F250, 2017 Travel Lite 770R, 2006 Lund Explorer 1700
“If I can’t see the boat in the mirrors I know it’s straight. I will use a spotter with a radio whenever possible.” – Gerald Peddy, 1997 Ford F350, 2002 Lance 1130, 2001 Vip 2450 Baystealth
“Try to get a ramp with a dock next to it. That makes line-handling much easier for both launching and retrieving.
Be sure to remove stern tie-downs. Install the transom plug and don’t release the safety chain and strap/cable before backing into the water, especially with a roller trailer!
Remember that fenders/bumpers will probably hang up on vertical guide-ons if attached before the boat is launched or retrieved. This can be done, but someone should be prepared to move them so they don’t cause a problem.” – Nick Rukavina, 2015 Ford F350, 2015 Northstar Arrow 8.5, 2015 C-Dory Cruiser
“We have been really lucky lately picking lakes and campgrounds where we can get the owner or manager to launch for a reasonable amount ($10/15). That saves a whole lot a headaches. In fact the campground we were pickerel fishing from last spring won’t let you launch. They do it for you as part of the fee.
Otherwise we would leave the camper on and have that “failure to communicate thing” going on in spades! Mostly it would be me saying, “We are getting a back-up camera!” – Judi Curtis, 2002 Ford F250, 2003 Bigfoot 15C9, 2013 Legend 16-foot Extreme
“When approaching the ramp, pull forward enough to get your truck and boat trailer as straight as possible before backing down the ramp. Make sure you can see both sides of your trailer in your side mirrors and make small adjustments to the steering when backing. If you lose sight of the trailer in one of your side mirrors, then pull forward until you regain sight in both mirrors and slowly back down again.
Also, having a backup camera is an awesome tool if it’s light out when launching. Before backing down the ramp, I manually adjust my backup camera to the furthest up position. This gives me a pretty good view in addition to my side mirrors.
Lastly, practice backing up your rig before showing up to a crowded ramp. This is a much easier task when you have had a little practice!” – Devon Pearsall, 2017 Ford F350, 2014 Lance 950S, 2016 North River Seahawk
“I found the easiest and simplest way to launch my Zodiac was to install a Curt front hitch on my RAM. Pushing a boat down the ramp is far easier than zig-zaging back and forth while backing. I considered a rear camera, but looking out the front window is easier than looking at a 6-inch screen while backing.
I used this same method when I had my Montgomery sailboat (TCM Lifestyle story, June 26, 2015) and it made all the difference in the world when launching in a timely manner.” – Roger Odahl, 2008 Dodge Ram 3500, Eagle Cap 950, 1992 Zodiac 10′ raft w/Yamaha 4hp
“I have a high mounted backup camera and I trust my mirrors.” – Edward Osborn, 2007 Chevy Silerado, 2012 Four Wheel Raven, 2001 Bennington Pontoon
“Use your mirrors and have a spotter if possible.” – Dave Miller, 2015 Ford F350, 2003 Bigfoot 10.6E, 19′ Hewescraft
“My wife and I have extraordinarily good communications with hand gestures (not fingers – LOL). Over the course of 14-years of owning truck campers and pulling boats, we’ve gotten very efficient at backing down ramps, even when they’re crowded. The total length of our camper and boat is 61-feet so understanding our pivot point is important.” – Ralph Penton, 2007 Ford F350, 2017 Host Mammoth, 2011 27-foot Duckworth Navigator
“Don’t do it! Unload the camper and save yourself the headaches.” – Joe Hill, 2008 Ford F350, 2001 Lance 850, 2009 Four Winns F204
“I have had lots of problems launching my boat because the launching places we go to are badly built. It’s too flat, has too much of a rise, it’s gravel or has soft sand.
So I made a extendable tongue for my trailer that’s used when I launch the boat. I can extend it 14-feet longer than the original tongue.
Now I can easily launch my boat everywhere.
In a few seconds I extend the tongue of my trailer the number of feet I need.” – Marco Rivard, 2003 Ram 3500, 1993 Coachmen Shasta 11.5SD, 1996 Princecraft Superpro 179
“I have a back-up camera on my camper, so I can see the boat clearly.
I release all the items (tie=downs and nose hook) holding the boat to the trailer. I attach a 50-foot yellow line on the front nose ring on the boat. The other end of the line I attach to one of the back cross members on the trailer. The line part feeds out on top of the boat fender on the side where I tied the line to the trailer.
Looking at my backup camera, I back slowly into the water. Once the boat is afloat, I pull the trailer out of the water, stop the truck, and collect the rope tied to the trailer.
Then I walk over to the dock feeding out the line and pull the boat over to the dock and tie it to the dock. Once that’s done, I park the truck and trailer at the designated area. Caution: watch the wind!” – Clifford Cizan, 2010 Ram 3500, 2013 Arctic Fox 1150, 2016 Tracker V175
“Use your mirrors. My boat trailer is almost as wide as the camper, so a little back and forth gets me down the ramp just fine.” – Jerry Dinnocenzo, 2017 Ford F-250, 2017 Lance 850, 1990 Strados Fish and Ski
“I use the mirrors on the truck. With the camper still on, I back down the ramp watching both mirrors as I go down the boat the ramp. I make sure I’m as straight on the ramp as I can be before starting. Then I follow the edge of the ramp or the edge of the dock on one side. I can also follow the center line or seam in the concrete if it’s a multiple lane ramp.
The key I’ve found is to go slow as you move down the ramp. The faster you go, the quicker the boat trailer will move from side to side. That makes corrections more difficult and you will chase the trailer down and likely get jackknifed on the ramp.
So get centered at the top of the ramp, watch down the sides with the mirrors, and don’t go too fast. With practice, you will feel as comfortable launching with the camper as without it.” – Dave Riddle, 2015 Chevrolet 3500, 2017 Host Mammoth, 2010 Northwest Jet 22-foot Signature Series
“Extended mirrors and the grace of God.” – Jeremy Harder, 2013 Ford F-150, 2013 Palomino Real Lite, 2016 Vanguard raft
“I’ve had quite a bit of experience launching boats and watercraft since I owned a Sea-Doo dealership for 20-years. Patience and careful use of the mirrors will get you there. Sometimes you have to get out and look behind to make sure you’re on the right trajectory.” – Wayne Petrie, 2012 Ford F-250, 2012 Northstar 850 SC, Various
“We always unload the camper.” – Bill Richcreek, 2013 F-350, Lance 855S, 2017 Tracker 18’
“I have a rear facing camera and flags on the boat trailer.” – Eric Anderson, 2001 Dodge 3500, 2013 Arctic Fox 990, Pontoon boat
“Use your extended mirrors.” – Rick Christensen, 2002 GMC 3500, 2013 Eagle Cap 1165, 2001 Custom Weld 21′ Storm White Water Jet Boat
“I have installed a backup camera on the back of the camper. That helps a lot. With my old camper I was able to open the back door and look through the camper. I haven’t tried that with this one.
If you don’t have a backup camera, extend the side mirrors as far as possible and learn to back up using them.” – Bob Billington, 2013 Chevy 3500, 2007 Lance 1181, Tracker 17.5 Deep V
“I use my mirrors.” – Robert Williams, 2012 GMC 3500 HD, 1994 Fleetwood Caribou, 1976 Gulfstream
“That’s what mirrors are for. I learned to back up with mirrors before I had a driver’s license.” – Doug Core, Lance 2016 1172, 2002 Ranger 191 Cayman
“I not only launch my boat with the camper on the truck, I spot my quad trailer and unload my quads too. Two Christmases ago, my wonderful wife got me a Furrion wireless backup and observation camera. She also got me a mount for the back of the camper plus the dash mount inside the truck.
I have the backup camera on all the time when driving. It has night vision as well so it’s great for night driving. The camera makes it a snap to launch the boat or spot the quads. There are no wires because it’s wireless. I wouldn’t be without it.” – Daryl Davis, 1997 Ford F350, 2015 Palomino SS1500, 2010 Bass Tracker
“Plan ahead and always have a helper.” – Tim Nugent, 2005 Ford F350, 2011 Palomino, Xpress Boat
“I unload my camper every time!” – Rod Fosback, 1999 Ford F350, 2008 SnowRiver 108 DS, 2007 Boulton 20′ Sea Skiff with Offshore bracket
“We usually go to a lake that has a person who can launch the boat for us. Otherwise the camper would get soaked from being in the lake while launching the boat. We have also taken two trucks.” – Ken and Leona Atamaniuk, 2012 Ram 3500, 2016 Lance 855s, 2013 Bass Tracker Por guide V16
“I take my camper off.” – John Zysk, 2015 Lance 650, 2011 Sea Ray 185 sport
“Most of the time we launch after we unload our camper at the campsite. As we all know, when the camper is loaded it is hard to see what is going on anytime you backup. To help I installed a backup camera under the step which displays on the truck’s display.
The camera gives me a pretty good view behind the camper. I can see the boat and where it’s headed. I also installed a rear facing camera above the camper door. It is connected to an external GPS unit that can be turned on at anytime.
In addition I installed a front hitch which allows me to see clearly any time I launch. With this combination, launching a boat, backing up to connect the trailer, or just seeing what’s going behind me is much easier.” – Dave Edge, 2017 Ford 350, 2016 Northern Lite 9 6 Q Classic, 1999 Lund
“I use my mirrors. If I see the end of the boat on one side, I adjust accordingly to get it back on track. I typically have someone (usually my wife) let me know how far back to go into the water with the boat.” – Michael Walker, 2016 GMC 3500, 2017 Northern Lite 10-2 EX, 2013 20′ Duckworth
“I use the mirrors on my truck. Line up the boat with the truck. If you can’t see the boat, you are assured it’s directly behind you. If the corner of the boat pops into view on either side when backing, it’s time to straighten the rig out again. Knowing where the pivot point is located on the truck is a big help.
I also pull my folk’s 30-foot Jayco trailer behind my camper rig and have to back that into the camping spots all the time. Add a hill and curve in the campground and it gets more fun and challenging.
I must have been ten years old when my grandfather taught me how to back a rig onto the machinery out in the field when harvesting on the farm. We couldn’t see the draw bar on the tractor back then either.” – Richard Osman, 2004 GMC 3500, 2000 Lance 1030, 2000 Glastron Ski and Fish and a 1984 168 VVS Glastron James Bond 007 Edition
“I installed a front hitch, which when traveling carries our spare tire. When we launch the boat, the spare comes off, and the hitch from the back is installed. I simply drive the boat forward into the lake or river. It is simple and safer.” – Ted Webster, 2005 Dodge 3500, 2006 Arctic Fox 990, 1993 Lowe Rover 15′
“My husband put a ball on the front bumper of his truck. He drops the boat from the back of the truck, turns the truck around, rehitches to the front of the truck and then pushes the boat forward into the water.” – Connie Westbrook, 2002 Chevy 3500, 1997 Lance Squire 5000, Various
“You need to know how to use your mirrors.” – Paul Abdullah, 2008 Silverado 2500, 2007 Apache, J/24, Thistle
“We have a wireless camera on the camper.” – David Kaiser, 2016 GMC 3500, 2005 Lance 885, 2016 Ranger 621VS
“I utilize a front hitch. I latch up to the trailer on the front of the pick-up and drive it right down the launch ramp. There is a camera on the rear of the camper, so I can see easily to back up and park it. I retrieve the boat the same way; just drive the trailer straight down the ramp, pull the boat, back out. Then I get into an open area, chock up the boat/trailer, re-connect to the rear of the truck/camper, and away we go!” – Steven Franz, 2007 GMC 3500, 2014 Lance 1191, 1991 Glassport 17.5 bowrider
To see lots of truck, camper and boat combinations, check out Truck Campers Go Boating Part 1 and Part 2.