Trip Planning & Preparation

Transporting & Trailering

Transporting & Trailering

Boat being trailered by car

Most recreational boats in the U.S. are trailered to and from the water. It is imperative that boaters make themselves aware of and follow trailering requirements and safety procedures. Neglecting a trailer’s maintenance can result in damage to the boat or towing vehicle and can create a hazard for other boats and vehicles.

Mastery of the following trailering skills can help boaters to avoid accidents and reduce conflicts on boat ramps:

  • Towing preparation
  • Pulling a trailer and road handling factors
  • Launching a boat
  • Retrieving a boat from the water

Safe Towing Preparation

There are several procedures which a boater must perform before towing a boat on any trip, no matter the distance. By taking the following precautions before towing, boat operators can avoid accidents and the creation of hazards for other boaters and vehicles:

  • Ensure that all bolts with washers are tightly secured and that the tow ball and coupler are the same size. The coupler should completely cover the ball. The latching mechanism should be locked.
  • Check that all safety chains are attached.
  • Make sure that tires are inflated properly (including the spare) and that the brakes are functioning properly
  • Adjust side mirrors so that they provide an unobstructed view on both sides of the towing vehicle.
  • Secure all equipment inside the boat and tie-down any boat cover so that it will not blow away or tear when towing.

Pulling a Trailer and Road Handling Factors

Boaters must fully understand the ins-and-outs of pulling a trailer and the effects that the weight of the boat may have on their vehicle’s road handling abilities.

Remember that a boat hull is designed for even support on the water, not on the roads. When being transported by trailer, a boat should be supported as evenly as possible across the hull to allow for even distribution of its weight. The trailer should be long enough to support the full length of the hull, but short enough to allow the boat engine to extend freely (while in the full “up” secured position).

Balance the load evenly from side-to-side and from front to rear. If too much of the boat’s weight is concentrated on the hitch, the rear wheels of the tow vehicle may drag and make steering difficult or impossible. Too much weight on the back of the trailer may cause the trailer to fishtail.

Legal Requirements for Trailering

Boat trailers are legally required to be registered and have current license plates, as well as working lights. Watercraft that are more than 8.5 feet wide may also require a special permit from the state’s Department of Transportation before being used on the highway.

Launching a Boat

As the towing vehicle nears the launching ramp, the following actions should be completed (away from the ramp area):

  • Engine supports and tie-downs should be removed and the winch should be properly attached to the bow eye in the locked position.
  • The drain plug should be installed.
  • Dock lines, fenders and boat hooks should be made ready. A line should be attached to the bow and stern so the boat can be easily maneuvered in the docking area and not float away.
  • Trailer lights should be disconnected to prevent shorting the electrical system.

As the operator approaches the launch ramp, he should visually inspect the ramp for hazards, which may include sharp objects, slippery areas or a steep drop-off. With one person positioned at the water’s edge to help guide the driver, the tow vehicle should slowly back to the ramp. Remember that the boat is simply resting on the trailer and only attached at the bow.

After double-checking that the drain plug has been installed properly, back the rear of the trailer into the water. The trailer’s rear wheels and the boat’s exhaust pipes should be kept out of the water, to avoid stalling.

Once in launching position, the driver should set the towing vehicle’s parking brake and place chocks behind the rear tires to prevent movement. All boat systems should be inspected, as well as the pumps, lights, blower and bilge. Once completed, the motor should be lowered and started, making sure that water is passing through the engine cooling system.

With one person standing on-shore and holding the lines attached to the boat, the winch should be released and the winch line should be disconnected from the bow. The boat can be launched with a light push or by backing off the trailer under power.

Retrieving a Boat from the Water

As an operator approaches the takeout ramp, he should inspect the shoreline for changes in current, tide, and wind direction or velocity. Any increase in boating traffic should also be taken into account, as that could make boat retrieval more difficult. When all is clear, the boat should be maneuvered carefully to the submerged trailer and the lower unit of the engine should be raised.

Once on the trailer, the boat should be winched onto the trailer and secured. The trailer, with the boat aboard, can then be moved from the ramp to a designated parking area to be cleaned, reloaded and prepared for towing. The drain plug should also be removed.

By washing the trailer and boat and flushing the engine with fresh water, boaters can prevent the transfer or spread of invasive species. Some launch areas include special washing stations that must be used. Local marine patrol agencies can provide information regarding the special washing station locations and their usage requirements.