Trailering a Boat: Step-by-Step Guide
Tow Tow Tow Your Boat…
A trailer helps you get the most out of your boating experience. With a boat and trailer in tow, you can put your adventure on the road and explore just about any lake, river, bay, or inlet. Towing a boat is not difficult, but safety should always be a number-one concern. Follow these basic boat-towing tips to get started trailer-boating.
- Tow vehicles
- Driving tips
- Launching and retrieving
Continue reading to catch all Pro Tips.
Your tow vehicle
A safe towing experience begins with the tow vehicle. Even a small boat and trailer can significantly impact vehicle handling and performance.
- GCVW (Gross Combined Vehicle Weight) is critical. You can find this rating in your vehicle owner’s manual. The GCVW is the weight of the vehicle, its passengers, and its fuel and gear PLUS the weight of your boat (including fuel, water, and gear) on its trailer.
Pro Tip: Not every boat company publishes the combined weight of its boat and trailer combinations. The best way to accurately check GCVW is on a public scale at a truck stop or municipal facility.
- Ensure your vehicle is equipped with a hitch rated for the weight of your boat and trailer.
- Check tire pressure before every outing.
Basic trailer checks and maintenance will help ensure a safe tow down the road.
- Towing at speed with low trailer tire pressure can cause a tire to overheat and delaminate. Always check trailer tire pressure.
Pro Tip: Correct pressure can be found on a sticker or tag on the trailer frame. It will usually be much higher than your vehicle tire pressure.
- Check your trailer lights before every departure and at every stop along the way.
- Pressurized hubs protect trailer wheel bearings. Consult the trailer owner’s manual and add grease as required.
- Trailer brakes require periodic maintenance, which will be described in the trailer owner’s manual.
- Ensure your trailer coupler completely covers the ball of the hitch and is snapped shut and secured with a pin.
When towing a boat, your vehicle is heavier and longer than usual. You’ll need to adjust your driving dynamics.
- Your stopping distance will increase, so maintain a greater distance than normal when following other vehicles and begin slowing for turns and stops sooner.
- Pace your speed. Trying to tow at high freeway speeds may tax your tow vehicle, give you less time to react in an emergency, and increase your stopping distance.
- Swing wider in turns to keep your trailer from clipping curbs or obstacles close to the road or a driveway.
- Add wide-angle side mirrors to better view the trailer in turns and when backing and to cover your longer blind spots.
- Think ahead to avoid situations that will require you to back up. When pulling into a gas station or parking lot have an easy exit route in mind.
Launching and retrieving
Time to put your boat in the water and start having fun. A good boat owner takes pride in appearing ship-shape at the ramp and contributing to efficiency.
Park in a designated staging area or out of the way of traffic to prepare your boat.
- Visit the pay station and take care of a launching fee if one is required.
- Install the boat drain plug.
- Check that the key is in the ignition. This would be a good time to bump the key into the “start” position to ensure you don’t have a dead battery.
- Load all your gear into the boat – fishing tackle, coolers, tubes, skis, etc.
- Attach fenders to the dock side of the boat.
- Remove the transom tie-down straps and the outboard motor brace if you use one.
- Attach dock lines to the bow and stern cleats.
Now you are ready to back down the ramp and launch.
- If someone is available to drive the boat off the trailer, that person can put on a PFD, get into the boat, and be ready to start the engine and pull away.
- Back down the ramp until the stern of the boat just begins to float off the trailer.
- Start the engine before releasing the boat from the trailer. This way, if your engine does not start, you can simply drive back up the ramp to troubleshoot.
- Either use dock lines to walk the boat down a dock and away from the launching area or have your driver move the boat out of the way. They may wait on the water while you park and pick you up from the end of the dock or move the boat away from the launch area and tie up.
- Drive up the ramp and park your vehicle and trailer. Time to go boating!
Reloading the boat on the trailer is simply the reverse of launching.
- Drop the vehicle driver and passengers off on a dock. If there’s a courtesy dock or dock away from the launch area, it’s OK to tie up while you wait for the trailer. If not, move the boat away from the ramp area and wait for the trailer to be backed down.
- If there is a line, the driver gets the vehicle in line to take a turn backing down the ramp.
- The boat driver needs to pay attention and be in a position to approach the ramp when the trailer is in the water.
- Load the boat on the trailer. Secure the winch at the bow and secure the safety chain. The boat driver can stay in the boat while you pull up the ramp.
- Drive to the staging area, or away from traffic, to unload coolers and gear from the boat, secure transom straps, check trailer lights, and get ready to hit the road.
Last Pro Tip
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Charles Plueddeman is a self-employed writer and photographer based in Wisconsin. A staff editor and contributor to Boating Magazine since 1986, he is the author of its “Off My Dock” column. In the marine realm he specializes in engine technology and trailerable boats. His editorial work has appeared in many national publications, including Popular Mechanics, Men’s Journal, Playboy, Popular Science, Cycle World, and Harley-Davidson Enthuisast.