How to trailer a boat
Learning how to trailer a boat can be intimidating. You’ll gain confidence quickly by learning the nuances of how your tow vehicle and boat trailer react separately and together.
As you practice, ask yourself the following questions:
- What effect does your trailer have on your tow vehicle’s acceleration, braking and steering?
- What line do the trailer’s wheels take as you round a corner?
- How do the tow vehicle and trailer react going over bumps and dips in the road or to a sudden gust of wind?
- Does the trailer respond quickly to changes in steering while you’re backing up?
- How sharply can you turn before the trailer tongue puts a crease in your tow vehicle’s rear bumper or bodywork?
Initially, trailering a boat is anything but intuitive. With practice, however, you’ll develop a feel for all these factors, and just like driving a vehicle without a tow, towing will become intuitive.
Develop a pre-tow routine
Like a good pilot, a driver who plans to tow a boat trailer needs to know that everything is in order before starting the engine. This involves using a systematic pre-tow routine and checklist every time you hook the trailer to the hitch. The more systematically you approach this task, the less likely you’ll be to miss something.
The procedure has three stages: 1) Check the tow vehicle, 2) check the trailer and boat, and 3) connect your tow vehicle to the trailer. This takes less than 10 minutes to complete, but it can eliminate most trailer problems on the highway.
How to trailer a boat safely using a pre-tow checklist
Stage 1: Tow vehicle check
- Tire treads OK
- Tire pressure appropriate for towing*
- Hoses checked for leaks
- Fan belt tight
- Battery cable connections tight
- Lights and turn signals working
Stage 2: Trailer check
- Transom straps tight
- Outboard or outdrive up and locked
- Trailer tire inflation and condition OK
- Lug nuts tight
- Springs and hangers OK
- Winch strap or cable tight; bow against stop; bow tie-downs tight
- Safety gear secured in boat
Stage 3: Tow vehicle and trailer connection
- Hitch and ball sizes match
- Ball tight and lubricated
- Trailer set on hitch; coupler latched
- Locking pin in coupler
- Wheel chocks removed
- Trailer and tow vehicle parallel and level
- Safety chains correctly installed (crossed, with hooks aligned in proper direction)
- Breakaway cable attached
- Tongue jack up and locked
- Electrical connection made and checked
- Brakes checked
- Mirrors adjusted
*Be sure tires are inflated to the pressure indicated on the doorjamb or in the owner’s manual. Don’t inflate the tires to the pressure indicated on the sidewalls: This is the tire’s maximum pressure, not the recommended pressure for your tow vehicle.
Do a complete run-through of your checklist to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
Check the brakes as soon as you begin to move the rig and before you’re in traffic. You should be able to feel the trailer brakes engage when you apply the tow vehicle’s brakes. You’ll feel a momentary light jerk followed by the tow vehicle slowing down with a little less nosedive than it does when there’s no trailer behind. This basic tow vehicle check shouldn’t take long to finish. If you find anything wrong during this check, fix it before you set out. –Bruce W. Smith from “The Complete Guide to Trailering Your Boat,” a United States Power Squadrons Guide
Become a better boater
Learn the basics so you can boat with confidence and have more fun on the water. Take America’s Boating Course today.