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How To Safely Trailer Your Boat

Trailering a boat safely is not rocket science, but the consequences of not doing it correctly can be dire. Particularly if you don’t tow a boat properly, it can lead to tipping, unattached cargo, and cause severe damage to the car, such as suspension, transmission, and brakes.

To avoid any mistakes when towing your vessel, you can get these three things right:

  • Using proper towing equipment in good condition

  • Loading and unloading the boat with diligence

  • Necessary trailering techniques

Let’s take a look at these three areas in more detail so you can bring your boat from one place to another hassle-free.

The Equipment

Your vehicle needs to have sufficient towing capacity to avoid any potential damage because of an overload. It’s vital to know the weight of your boat so that you can work out which trailer capacity is suitable. Seven classifications indicate how well the trailer can support the boat when it is fully loaded with gear and fuel (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating):

Class 1: 0-6,000 lbs.

Class 2: 6,001-10,000 lbs.

Class 3: 10,001-14,000 lbs.

Class 4: 14,001-16,000 lbs.

Class 5: 16,001-19,500 lbs.

Class 6: 19,501-26,000 lbs.

Class 7: 26,001-33,000 lbs.

The trailer will need to meet state regulations with a license plate, tires, hubs, and trailer lights⁠—all in good condition and road-ready. Keep in mind that the trailer’s tongue weight should range between 10-15% of the total boat + trailer weight. Any number outside these specifications risks safety, and can lead to boat or car damage.

Loading and Unloading at the Boat Launch

Your boat needs to have all the necessary gear and safety equipment to be taken out on the water. Before launching the boat, install the drain plug and remove the trailer towing straps at the back of the boat. If you walk the boat off the trailer into the water, prepare the mooring line(s) correctly.

When launching the boat into the water, back your vehicle slowly down the ramp until the stern begins to float. This is an indicator that the boat can be started since the engine’s cooling system will pick up water. Now, to get the boat off of the trailer, remove the bow strap and start the boat’s engine, put the boat in reverse, and gradually back it off the trailer. If the boat is not moving off the trailer, check whether you have removed all the straps, and if you have, the vehicle will need to be backed down the ramp further.

When you're ready to call it a day and are ready to head back to the boat ramp, you can begin loading, which is the reverse of launching. To retrieve the boat from the water, back the trailer down the ramp until about eight inches of the bunk is showing. This is just a guideline⁠—the ramp’s angle will determine how deep the trailer needs to be. For instance, a ramp with a shallow launch angle may only have a 6-inch difference in depth between the front and the back of the trailer, so the whole trailer will need to be adjusted.

If the trailer is at the correct depth, the boat will automatically center on the bunks. Some people choose to take the boat in and out of the water solo, but the most efficient way to get a boat back on the trailer is to have one person on the winch and another person in the driver’s seat of the boat. The boat driver gently powers the boat onto the trailer while the other person winches the strap tightly.

Driving Carefully With Your Boat

Driving with a trailer requires some practice as you need to get used to the movements and weight distribution. Some might believe that the larger the trailer, the more difficult it is to handle, but this is false. The larger the trailer, the better the trailer tracks due to the longer wheelbase. Larger trailers are also easier to back up because they require more input to change direction. However, whether big or small, one thing is for sure: Pulling a boat will require your full attention.

Some essential tips to keep in mind when driving:

  • Due to the heavy weight, it can be challenging to slow down when towing. More weight means a much longer stopping distance. Make sure to keep a considerable distance between yourself and the vehicle in front of you.

  • Take wider turns to avoid hitting curbs and other obstacles. A good trick in tight scenarios is to make sure your trailer tire is next to the barrier you wish to avoid BEFORE making the turn.

  • Drive slowly and carefully.

  • If your trailer has them, check whether your trailer brakes are working. The best way to do this is to back up your trailer with the wiring harness disconnected. Boat trailer brakes work on a piston from the trailer’s tongue, whereas modern trailers have an electronic reverse lockout. Older trailers will have a pin that needs to be inserted to lock out the brakes.

Although towing your boat seems daunting at first, semi-tractor-truck drivers do it every day. Once you are comfortable trailering a boat, you won't even recognize it is back there. Take your time, fasten your boat’s seatbelt, and get out on the water!

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