The ability to trailer your boat from one location to another opens up virtually unlimited boating opportunities. Towing a boat, however, is not as simple as many novices perceive it. On the other hand, it's not an overly difficult skill to learn either. The following tips will help ensure that your towing experience is a positive and safe one.

Choose the proper trailer for your boat.

More damage can be done to a boat by the stress of road travel than by normal water operation. A boat hull is designed to be supported evenly by water. When transported on a trailer, your boat should be supported structurally as evenly across the hull as possible. This will allow for even distribution of the weight of the hull, engine and equipment. It should be long enough to support the whole length of the hull but short enough to allow the lower unit of the boat's engine to extend freely.

  • Rollers and bolsters must be kept in good condition to prevent scratching and gouging of the hull.
  • Tie-downs and lower unit supports must be adjusted properly to prevent the boat from bouncing on the trailer. The bow eye on the boat should be secured with either rope, chain or turnbuckle in addition to the winch cable. Additional straps may be required across the beam of the boat.
  • The capacity of the trailer should be greater than the combined weight of the boat, motor, and equipment.
  • The tow vehicle must be capable to handling the weight of the trailer, boat, equipment, as well as weight of the passengers and equipment which will be carried inside the tow vehicle. This may require that the tow vehicle may need to be specially equipped with an:
    • Engine of adequate power.
    • Transmission designed for towing.
    • Larger cooling systems for the engine and transmission.
    • Heavy duty brakes.
    • Load bearing hitch attached to the frame, not the bumper.

    (Check your vehicle owners manual for specific information)

Check Before You Go Out On The Highway

The idea here is to avoid being in transit when you start wondering if your brake lights work, or if you cinched the tie-down straps, or raised the trailer jack, etc. You should know all those things and then some before you even pull out of the driveway. To do this effectively, it's good to have a checklist. A literal checklist written on a tablet or piece of paper that you keep in the tow vehicle's glove box is best, but in the real world, the majority of people are not likely to do that. So, at the very least, go through a mental checklist before taking to the road. Interestingly, it's the experienced tower that sometimes gets overconfident and develops a lackadaisical attitude in this regard. Don't.

Your checklist should include such things as.....

  • The tow ball and coupler are the same size and bolts with washers are tightly secured. (The vibration of road travel can loosen them.)
  • The coupler is completely over the ball and the latching mechanism is locked down.
  • The trailer is loaded evenly from front to rear as well as side to side. Too much weight on the hitch will cause the rear wheels of the tow vehicle to drag and may make steering more difficult.

    Too much weight on the rear of the trailer will cause the trailer to fishtail and may reduce traction or even lift the rear wheels of the tow vehicle off the ground.
  • The safety chains are attached crisscrossing under the coupler to the frame of the tow vehicle.  If the ball were to break, the trailer would follow in a straight line and prevent the coupler from dragging on the road.
  • The lights on the trailer function properly.
  • Check the brakes. On a level parking area roll forward and apply the brakes several times at increasing speeds to determine a safe stopping distance.
  • The side view mirrors are large enough to provide an unobstructed rear view on both sides of the vehicle.
  • Check tires (including spare) and wheel bearings. Improper inflation may cause difficultly on steering.  When trailer wheels are immersed in water, (especially salt water) the bearings should be inspected and greased after each use.
  • Make certain that water from rain or cleaning has been removed from the boat. Water weighs over eight pounds per gallon and can add weight that will shift with the movement of the trailer.

Towing Precautions

Allow Greater Stopping Distance
The added weight of several thousand pounds in motion can dramatically increase the distance it takes you to stop. Granted, most trailers are required by law to come equipped with their own set of brakes. Nonetheless, your tow vehicle's stopping ability still isn't as good as when you drive it alone. If not careful, the boat and trailer can push you too far into an intersection, or into the back of another automobile. You can allow for this by driving slower and giving yourself greater distance in which to stop.
Driving slower not only permits you to stop more quickly and in less distance, but it also provides you more time to react. And with several thousand extra pounds pushing you forward, you need every second you can get. Regarding distance, it's recommended you leave the equivalent of one length of your car/trailer combination for every 10 mph.
Make Sure You Have Adequate Mirrors.
Many tow vehicles today come with side mirrors that provide meager rear visibility. If that is the case with your tow vehicle, then buy aftermarket mirrors to remedy the problem. Small circular convex mirrors that can be attached to your existing mirrors will help eliminate blind spots. However, larger mirrors that extend farther out from the vehicle provide a better view of what's behind you. There are several portable mirrors now available that can be put on and taken off with ease. Some even attach to your existing mirrors. Most RV stores carry a variety to choose from.
Allow More Room
Never forget your overall length has greatly increased. Even if you're towing a small boat, your combined length is likely more that double what it is when not towing. You'll need to compensate for this in more than one way. For instance, regardless of your speed, it will take you at least twice as long to pass another vehicle because your combined rigs are physically twice as long (or longer). That's not even taking into consideration that your added load also affects acceleration. So you'll need to allow more room and, consequently, time when passing vehicles and switching lanes.
The added length also requires being cognizant of not cutting other vehicles off when pulling in front of them. When passing professional towers, you'll notice that they often flash their lights to indicate when you've put enough distance between them and you to safely pull back into their lane. This is a good courtesy to imitate.
Don't be Swayed
Trailer sway is one of the more serious, and intimidating, things you may experience when towing. In worst case scenarios, trailer sway can force the tow vehicle out of control and cause a serious accident. If your trailer begins to sway, or "fish tail" from side to side, the first thing you want to do is slow down and, if necessary, stop, to determine the cause.
Realize that gusts of wind generated by topography (canyons and bridges for instance), or from passing vehicles &151; especially large trucks &151; can cause a temporary sway. So can a quick turn of your vehicle's steering wheel. The key here is to slow down and don't overreact. If the sway stops, proceed cautiously. However, if the swaying persists or is drastic, you need to stop immediately and do some inspecting. Check to see that the hitch is still fastened securely to the tow vehicle and that the hitchball and coupler haven't worked loose. Check that the tire lug nuts are tight and that the tires have adequate air. One of the chief causes of sway, however, is that the load is not situated properly. Too much weight in the rear of the boat &151; whether it's a result of gear, loaded fuel or water tanks &151; can result in too light a tongue weight, which contributes to sway. Rearrange the load and try again. Also make sure the boat is properly situated on the trailer.

Pre-Launching Preparations

For the courtesy of others and to prevent rushing, prepare your boat for launching away from the ramp.
  • Check the boat to ensure that no damage was caused by the trip.
  • Raise the lower unit (remove supports) to proper height for launching so that it will not hit bottom.
  • Remove tie-downs and make sure that the winch is properly attached to the bow eye and locked in position.
  • Put the drain plug in securely.
  • Disconnect the trailer lights to prevent shorting of electrical system or burning out a bulb.
  • Attach a line to the bow and the stern of the boat so that the boat cannot drift away after launching and it can be easily maneuvered to a docking area.
  • Visually inspect the launch ramp for hazards such as a steep drop off, slippery area and sharp objects.

When everything has been double checked, proceed slowly to the ramp remembering that your boat is just resting on the trailer and attached only at the bow. The ideal situation is to have one person in the boat and one observer at the water's edge and in view of the driver's mirror to help guide the driver of the tow vehicle.


  • If at all possible, keep the rear wheels of the tow vehicle out of the water.  This will generally keep the exhaust pipes out of the water. If the exhaust pipes become immersed in the water, the engine may stall.
  • Set the parking brake and place tire chocks behind the rear wheels.
  • Make sure someone else on shore is holding the lines attached to the boat.
  • Lower the motor and prepare to start the engine (after running blowers and checking for fuel leaks).
  • Start the boat motor and make sure that water is passing through the engine cooling system.
  • Release the winch and disconnect the winch line from the bow when the boat operator is ready. At this point, the boat should be able to be launched with a light shove or by backing the boat off the trailer under power. Finish loading your boat at a sufficient distance from the ramp so that others may use it.


The steps for removing your boat from the water are basically the reverse of those taken to launch it. However, keep in mind that certain conditions may exist during retrieval that did not exist during launching. As you approach the ramp, take special care to note such factors as:

  • Change in wind direction and/or velocity.
  • Change in current and/or tide.
  • Increase in boating traffic.
  • Visibility, etc.

First, unload the boat at a dock or mooring if possible. Next, maneuver the boat carefully to the submerged trailer, and raise the lower unit of the engine. Then, winch the boat onto the trailer and secure it. Finally, drive the trailer with the boat aboard carefully out of the ramp to a designated parking area for cleanup, reloading, and an equipment safety check. Practice will make launch and retrieval a simple procedure. The best advise is just, "do it cautiously with safety as your main concern."


If your boat will be sitting on its trailer for quite some time before it is used again, it is important that it be stored properly .To avoid damage from sun and weather, cover the boat with a tarp. To remove weight from the wheels, put cinderblocks or wood beams under the tongue and all four corners of the trailer frame.

These tips don't cover everything there is to know about towing, but they cover some of the most important aspects. The most important thing is to be careful and use common sense. And remember, the more you do it the better you'll become. In the meantime you can begin experiencing the wide world of boating opportunities trailering affords.

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