Study Topics
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Boat Transport & Trailering    
Part I: Selecting a Trailer

With a modern boat, the choice of a trailer is often
left to the dealer, which means bunkers or rollers will
be positioned properly to provide maximum support. It is a no muss, no fuss deal for the buyer. He or she has to rely on the trailer dealer, however, and dealers have been known to unload inventory that may not be entirely suited to your needs. In this case, it helps to know what your needs will be and what options are available to meet those needs.

Trailer Size
After spending a small fortune to buy the boat of your dreams, it may be tempting to skimp a little on the trailer. Don’t. A trailer that is too small is more than just an inconvenience, it’s dangerous. Federal law requires that a trailer display its GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating), which is the total weight the trailer is rated to carry, including the boat, engine, gasoline (six pounds per gallon), water (eight pounds per gallon) and gear.

Some experts suggest that as a margin of safety the total weight of the boat and gear be no more than 85% of the trailer’s GVWR. Don’t confuse the GVWR with the GAWR, which is the load carrying capacity of an axle -
its Gross Axle Weight Rating. On single axle trailers,
the GVWR and the GAWR are the same. For tandem-axle trailers, the GVWR is equal to twice the GAWR.

Single vs. Tandem-Axle
While they cost more and require more upkeep, boat owners who have traded-up to tandem axle trailers almost always report that they are pleased with the results, especially with larger boats. For one thing, tandem trailers handle better, with better tracking and less tendency to fishtail. The extra wheels also mean a much smoother ride and safer handling in the event of
a blowout. The size of the tires—larger is better—also contributes to the smoothness of the ride. It is usually easier to find replacements for larger tires, although
you shouldn’t make the mistake of substituting an automobile tire for a trailer tire. Trailer tires have thicker sidewalls.
Submersible or Float-on Trailers vs.
Roll-Off Trailers

Submersible trailers, which allow the boat to float free when the trailer is submerged, have the advantage of being easier to use, at least for beginners. The disadvantage is that submersible trailers require more upkeep and a steeper ramp for launching. Some trailers tilt to create a steeper launch angle but are usually unwieldy for all but the smallest boats.

Roll-off trailers may be easier to maintain, but they are also more expensive-about 20% more. And for the inexperienced trailer owner, roll-off trailers can be more difficult to use. A skipper in Michigan who said he had used a submersible trailer several times still managed
to do several hundred dollars worth of damage to his
new boat when it rolled too quickly off his new trailer and bashed onto the concrete ramp in shallow water. As a general rule, rollers make launching and retrieving easier, while pads provide better support for the boat. Many trailers now use a combination of pads (at chines) and rollers (at keels) to optimum advantage.

Paint vs. Galvanized
Many manufacturers offer a choice of a galvanized steel
or painted steel trailers. The painted trailers are fine for freshwater but are vulnerable to corrosion in saltwater. Galvanized trailers cost slightly more, but require less maintenance, especially if they will be dunked
in saltwater.

Painted trailers are sometimes painted to match the
boat, which is nice. With galvanized trailers, one expert suggests painting it with bright colors, especially colors that clash, so that it will be easy to identify. Not a bad idea. The BoatU.S. Marine Insurance claim files have shown that a boat on a trailer is far more likely to be stolen. If you were a crook, which trailer would you steal: one that looks like every other trailer on the road or one that looks like a painted circus wagon?
Trailer Brakes
In many states, trailers with a GVWR of 1,500 pounds
or more are required to have brakes on all wheels.
Most automobile manufacturers suggest trailer
brakes be used with even lighter weights.

There are two basic types of brakes on trailers: surge brakes and electrically-activated brakes. Most trailers have surge brakes, which are activated after the automobile’s brakes have slowed the trailer. Surge brakes are frequently wrecked by dunking, although newer models have flushing devices that offer some protection. Electric brakes, which are connected to the automobile’s brakes, are also vulnerable to dunking.

Trailer Hitches
Trailer hitches are rated in four classes according to
the weight (GVWR) they will be pulling: Class I has a maximum capacity rating of 2,000 pounds; Class II
has a maximum rating of 3,500 pounds; Class III has
a maximum capacity rating of 5,000 pounds; and Class IV has a maximum rating of 10,000 pounds. The weight of your boat, trailer, and gear should never exceed
this capacity.

Another Consideration: The Tow Vehicle
A tow vehicle's engine, transmission, cooling system, tires, and rear springs are all stressed by the
additional weight of a boat and trailer. Considering
that the average price of a new tow vehicle starts at about $20,000, it behooves the trailer boat owner to
be mindful of the vehicle’s towing capacity and to
select a vehicle with a towing capacity that is at least several hundred pounds greater than the weight you intend to pull.

Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations
when an automobile or truck is used for towing a boat. Don’t assume a big car can be used to haul a big boat.
A Cadillac Seville with a hefty 4.6 liter V-8, for example, has a rated towing capacity of only 1,000 pounds, which is the same towing capacity as a tiny Ford Escort.

And while horsepower is certainly important, more horsepower does not always produce more torque.
The latter is a measure of how much weight an engine
can move. An automatic transmission is more desirable for towing than a manual transmission, since the added weight is tough on a clutch.

Auto manufacturers publish a recommended towing weight, which, depending on the type of construction,
is usually about half the weight of the car. Although the
car will be able to haul more weight, exceeding the recommended towing weight will make the trailer difficult to control and cause the car to get old before its time.

Since you’ll have passengers, luggage, etc., in addition
to the boat, manufacturers now use a gross combined weight rating (GCWR), which is the total weight of the
car, trailer, boat, passengers, and gear that a car can safely accommodate.

Many automobile manufacturers offer optional beefed-up towing packages. The additional cost on a new car is nominal, and is certainly worth the money if you plan on towing a boat. If you're not going to buy a new car anytime soon, and your present car is too feeble to tow the family boat and trailer, you may be able to bring it up to snuff by beefing up the spring coils with air bags, adding a larger radiator and water pump, etc. This will be considerably more expensive than ordering the same components on
a new car, but it can be done by most car dealers.