Your Boat Trailer
Your boat trailer
is an important part of your boating equipment.
All too often, a trailer does not receive the
attention that it demands and deserves. After
selecting the appropriate trailer for you boat
and tow vehicle, proper maintenance and
continual care when hitching and towing are
necessary. If care and maintenance are
neglected, you may be endangering the safety of
your boat, your car, your family, yourself and
Selecting the Proper Trailer
needs should be considered in determining the
proper trailer for your boat: the boat's needs
and your needs.
trailer should "fit the boat," allowing equal
distribution of the hull weight. The trailer
should be long enough to eliminate any overhang
of the boat transom but short enough to
accommodate a propulsion unit of the boat in its
fully extended or "down" position. The trailer
should be designed to carry the total weight of
the hull, engine, equipment and extra gear
Second, a boat
which will always be hoisted in and out of the
water does not need a trailer as elaborate as
the types of trailers used for launching.
Shallow sloping shores or unimproved launch
sites may call for a "tilting," "breakaway," or
extending-tongue trailer. A trailer that meets
your boating needs makes launching and
retrieving easier and safer.
come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most
boat trailers connect to a ball hitch that is
bolted or welded to the towing vehicle.
Clamp-on bumper hitches are not recommended for
heavy loads or continual towing. The weight a
loaded trailer places on the hitch of the towing
vehicle is called the tongue weight. Special
heavy-duty equalizing hitches are recommended
for trailer tongue weights of 250 pounds or
greater. Improper installation of heavy-duty
equalizing hitches on trailers equipped with
surge brakes can cause brakes to lock, (follow
instructions carefully). The trailer hitch
itself should match the size of the ball hitch.
NEVER use a ball hitch that is too small.
It is recommended
that the coupling hitch on the trailer have a
lock or similar device to prevent it from
vibrating loose. Periodically lubricate the
hitch for longer wear and quieter turns. The
trailer must be equipped with a least one,
preferably two, safety chains strong enough to
control the trailer if the hitch should come
loose or break. The chains should be securely
attached to the towing vehicle at a place
separate from the ball and bracket. The chains
should be long enough to allow turning but not
long enough to drag on the ground.
Loading the Trailer
The weight of the
boat, equipment, and additional gear should
never exceed the manufacturer's rated weight
capacity. Proper distribution of the load is of
Too much weight
on the hitch will cause "tail dragging" of the
towing vehicle, impair steering and raise the
beam of your car's headlights into the eyes of
Too little, or
negative, weight on the hitch will cause the
trailer to sway or "fishtail."
The solution to
proper distribution of the load is to adjust the
wheel carriage either forward or back. If the
carriage cannot be adjusted, relocate movable
gear. If this fails to correct the problem,
consider another trailer of a different design
or consult a trailer specialist who may
recommend corrective measures.
Under most states
laws, it is an infraction to tow a vessel
containing a passenger, except when engaged in
launching or retrieving the vessel.
Extra caution is
necessary when towing any trailer. The heavier
the rig, the more time it takes to accelerate,
pass, and stop. A long rig requires a larger
turning radius. Curbs and obstructions should
be given wide clearance. Most boats on trailers
obstruct the rear view of the driver. In this
case, a rear-view mirror on each side of the
towing vehicle is required by law. The trailer
boater should be familiar with traffic and
highway laws relating to the towing of trailer.
Contact the local Highway Patrol in you state
for further information.
If you are
unfamiliar with your trailer or haven't towed
before, spend some time practicing in a place
that is spacious and free of traffic. Take a
friend along and practice accelerating, braking,
turning, and backing. Learning to back a
trailer up can be confusing at first. A helpful
hint: while grasping the bottom of the steering
wheel, move your hand in the direction you want
the trailer to go. Place some markers out for
spacing and practice parking, and if possible,
simulate a passing situation so you get an idea
of the time and distance required.
Test the brakes
before getting on the open road. Watch the
trailer in the rear-view mirror and listen for
After 5 to 10
miles of towing, stop and check the trailer,
hitch, chain, tires, lights, wheel bearings and
gear in the boat. On a long-distance tow,
repeat this inspection about ever 100 miles.
Launching and Retrieving
are often crowded and busy. Occupying the ramp
for preliminary launching steps is a discourtesy
to waiting boaters. The following tips are
offered to ensure safe launching and retrieving.
Before you leave
home make sure accessories (blower, bilge pump,
lights) are in good working condition.
Prepare the boat
for launching in an adjacent parking area (or at
the tip of an uncrowded ramp). Remove all
tie-down straps, disconnect trailer wiring from
towing vehicle. Keep winch line connected until
just entering the water. This will prevent the
boat from coming off the trailer in the event of
an emergency stop while launching. Load safety
equipment and gear into boat. Check drain
Don't let the
noise and confusion of a busy ramp rush you.
You will make fewer mistakes if you proceed with
a careful and deliberate launch.
Back the trailer
to the left if possible. This will allow better
If you must leave
your vehicle on the ramp, set the parking brake,
block the wheels, and set the transmission in
"park" or first gear for manual transmissions.
If the launching
facility has a floating dock you may wish to
secure a line at the bow and at the stern of the
boat and assign someone to stand on the dock
while you "float" the boat off the trailer.
your boat, make sure the boat is properly placed
on the trailer. If the boat has an outboard
engine, or an inboard/outboard (I/O) unit, raise
it before placing the boat on the trailer. Pull
the trailer up steadily to prevent spinning the
Never allow a
person to stand in line with the winch cable
when it is loaded or is taut.
Before entering a
roadway, make sure lights are connected and
working, the tie-down straps or clamps are in
place, and the lower I/O unit or outboard is in
its trailering position. Double check your
hitch and safety chains. Remove or secure gear
inside the boat to prevent damage from shifting
or to prevent lightweight items from blowing
The majority of
states law requires a trailer to have two red
taillights on the rear that may be combined with
the stop and turn signals. Trailers over 80
inches wide require clearance light and rear
brake lights visible for 500 feet. A car towing
a heavy trailer must have its headlight beams
adjusted to compensate for the upward tilt.
If the lights
will be submerged, waterproof light fixtures
should be used. Water promotes contact
corrosion and may cause the lamp to crack and
short out the entire lighting system, so it is a
good idea to carry spare lamps. The wire
coupling to the towing should be high enough to
stay dry, or disconnected when the trailer is
Never rely on the
trailer hitch for electrical ground
connection. A four-pole connectors should be
Tires should be
inflated to the manufacturer's recommended
pressure. Carry a spare tire and wheel, and a
jack that fits the boat trailer.
If the wheel
bearing are submerged, waterproof bearings and
caps should be considered. If water gets into
the hub, lubricating grease will wash away and
the bearings will eventually burn out or seize,
causing damage and creating a safety hazard.
Waterproofed bearing should be inspected prior
to each boating season and periodically during
the season. Non-waterproofed bearings should be
checked more often.
Carry a spare set
of wheel bearings, seals, and grease.
should be given when traveling with
small-diameter wheels on unimproved roads.
3,000 pounds gross weight (combined weight of
boat, trailer, and gear) must have a braking
If a trailer has
electric or other power brakes, the braking
system must be operated from the towing vehicle
and the two vehicles must be able to stop within
40 feet from 20 MPH.
Frame and Roller or Pads
Rust should not
be allowed to accumulate on the trailer frame
and roller parts. If rust forms, remove the
rust and repaint with an antirust paint. Some
trailers offer galvanized coating to prevent
rust. Rollers should roll freely and should not
have cracks or flat spots. Pads should not have
cracks or flattened areas. Roller and pads can
be adjusted both up and down, and forward and
backward to provide the best support. For most
hulls, the vital support points are:
Just under the
The line of the
keel and the planking on each side
Where the bottom
meets the side and where interior weights are
limited in towing capacity. They are designed
to carry people and small loads only. Towing
heavy loads places extra demands on the engine,
transmission, brakes and other systems.
The essential for
any vehicle used for trailer towing are:
Adequate power to
merge with traffic and climb with a load
transmission, possibly equipped with a
springs or air shocks to strengthen suspension
are available through most automobile dealers
and should be considered for towing heavy
boats. A towing package includes such things as
non-slip differential, heavy-duty cooling
system, heavy-duty flasher, oversize battery and
alternator, heavy-duty suspension, special
wiring, special rear-axle ratio, and larger ties
If the boat is
stored outside, the drain plug should be removed
and the trailer and boat tilted slightly to
allow any accumulation of water to drain.
If a boat cover
is used, it should be tailored for the boat.
Water can "puddle" on an improperly fitted
cover. The weight of puddle water can rip the
cover or allow the cover to slip off, funneling
the water inside the boat. A top drawstring can
pull the cover high to prevent puddling. A
bottom drawstring with tie-downs and weight
placed along the bottom will keep the cover from
whipping in the wind during towing. Tires may
be covered during storage to eliminate sun
damage but covers should be removed during wet
weather to prevent damage from dampness.
Do's and Don'ts at the Ramp
At times boat
ramps may be crowded. Suppose every time you
launched your boat, no one was tied up at the
dock, and each time you retrieved your boat, the
ramp was clear and you waited only momentarily,
if at all, for your turn. Enjoying this
situation isn't impossible. It just takes a
little application of the Golden Rule and some
launch ramp smarts when accesses are crowded.
Here are six ideas you can use to make launching
and retrieving tolerable for everyone.
Get to know your favorite boat ramps so you can
plan your launching and retrieving for maximum
efficiency. Boaters tie up boat ramps because
they don't realize that many access sites have
specially built areas for launch preparation and
for tie-down after retrieval. These places are
called rigging and derigging areas. If we used
these places, more boaters could launch and
retrieve, and a long line at the ramp itself
could be shortened.
Before you launch
your boat at an unfamiliar access, look the
place over and decide how you're going to launch
and retrieve for maximum speed and safety. Is
there a dock at which you can get your gear
ready immediately after launching and where you
can secure your equipment before retrieving out
of the way of those who are launching and
retrieving? Will the wind or current make
maneuvering your rig for launching and
retrieving difficult? If you launch on a river,
will a tide change make you alter your launching
and retrieval scheme?
If a boat ramp site doesn't have rigging and
derigging areas, prepare for launching in a
parking space. As soon as you retrieve your boat
and get it on the trailer, attach the bow hook
and make your way slowly to the parking area.
There, away from others trying to launch and
retrieve their boats, work with your equipment
and get ready to leave. Remember that the ramp
itself is only for launching and retrieving, not
for preparing your boat and gear.
Before you call it a day and return to the ramp
to retrieve your boat, put your tackle away,
prepare mooring lines and get everything ready
that's coming out of the boat for storage in
your tow vehicle. Don't perform these tasks on
the ramp. You won't tie up the ramp this way,
and you'll get home faster. In addition, when
you launch the next time, organizing your gear
this way can help you get under way faster.
If ramps have docks, where you can wait for
friends or complete your boating preparations,
use them instead of waiting on the launch ramp.
You can also beach your boat on smooth
shorelines at the launch site either to wait for
friends to board or to wait your turn to
retrieve your boat. Make a written checklist
for launching and retrieving. You increase your
efficiency by getting your gear ready for use
and by storing items quickly. A routine governed
by a checklist increases your efficiency and
lets you spend the least amount of time at the
Applying these ideas before you launch can give
you and everyone else at the ramp more time on
the water. Crowded boat ramp sites don't always
have to mean long waits and frayed nerves. It's
up to us.