Tips for Trailering or Towing a Boat

On the Road with your BoatTowing your boat? Build your confidence with practice

If you’re one of the many trailer boaters out there, you know that sometimes the trip from the garage to the launch ramp can be as challenging as a full day on the water. But with a little practice and some preparation, you can master the fine art of towing & trailering and spend less time behind the wheel and more time on the water.

Make a checklist. Of all the things that can ruin a boater’s day, there are two that are easy to avoid: failing to replace your drain plug, and not strapping your boat to the trailer properly. And the best way to eliminate those scenarios is to have a simple checklist. Not a fan of paper checklists? Use the "notes" function on your smart phone. While you’re at it, make sure the lug nuts are tight on your trailer wheels and your tires are inflated. Check that the runaway chains are crisscrossed and attached to your tow vehicle. Finally, secure the outdrive or motor in the upright trailering position.

Remember to turn wide. It’s easy to forget when you’re cruising along that you have an extra 26 feet of trailer and boat behind you. Whipping into an available gas station, grocery store parking space or fast-food drive through without considering your "wide load" is asking for trouble. Your trailer has a tighter turning radius than your tow vehicle. Period. If you’re barely clearing that curb with your truck, your trailer won’t.

Compensate for weight. Let’s see…trailer, boat, full tank of fuel, three packed coolers, carload of passengers… You get the idea. You will not exactly see the typical performance out of your tow vehicle that you’re used to. That’s okay. That will translate into a full day of fun when you get the to river, but how about exercising a little patience on the journey? Pay particular attention when you’re merging into traffic and when stopping.

Make sure you can stop. Okay, so once you’ve got that much-heavier-than-usual payload up to speed, consider how much longer it will take to come to a stop. You’ve got thousands of extra pounds and the laws of physics working against you. And don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by having trailer brakes. Assume they will fail. They probably won’t, but at least you will give yourself ample room to stop. It is a harrowing feeling to be pushed into another vehicle or out into the middle of a busy intersection when you misjudge the stopping distance. One of the side effects of slamming on the brakes is that it can lead to jackknifing or cause dangerous trailer sway. Gradually apply pump brakes to bring the heavy load under control.

Hands on the bottom of the wheel. If you grew up around boat ramps, you’ve no doubt heard this great bit of trailering advice. When you’re backing up, place your hands on the bottom of the steering wheel. Then, move your hand in the direction you want the trailer to go. It’s that simple. Aim toward the passenger side of your tow vehicle and the trailer will go right (from your perspective). Face forward and let your mirrors be your guide. This tip will have you up and down ramp to launch or retrieve like a pro.

The most important things to remember are to slow down, don’t panic and use common sense. Trailering a boat can be the perfect solution for your boating lifestyle. These tips can make sure you spend more time enjoying your time on the water.