Trailering Tips From The Pros

Enjoy these eureka moments shared with us by some very experienced boaters.

Stamp Out Invasives

Prevent the spread of nuisance water plants and other species, such as zebra mussels, from an infested lake or river to a clean one with three easy steps using the mantra Clean, Drain, Dry.

Decontamination sprayPhoto: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

1. CLEAN: At the top of the boat ramp, inspect your rig for any plants or mud clinging to the boat, motor, bunks, or trailer, and remove them immediately.

2. DRAIN: Pop out the drain plug and empty your live well, if you have one. The same goes for anchor lockers or other compartments that might hold water. Leave all hatches and lids open, as possible.

3: DRY: Ideally, you need to give your boat and all gear, including tow ropes, skis, and tubes, five days to completely dry before launching into another body of water. If this isn't possible, wash everything with hot water that's at least 140 F, or dip everything in a 100-percent vinegar bath for 20 minutes or a detergent bath (2 cups dish detergent to 2.5 gallons of water) for 40 minutes.

— Dan Armitage

Small Explorer Vessel Recommended For All

Some sort of dinghy should be aboard any boat used for "cruising," if only out to a beach for the day. This could be an inflatable kayak or standup paddleboard. It not only adds safety but is great for playing and exploring.

— Tom Neale

An Ounce of Prevention

Most boats have various types of fuses that act as electrical breakers for everything from the main engine, generator, water pump, and thrusters to bilge pumps and more. A fuse burns out, acting as a sacrificial lamb, so whatever is connected to it is not damaged. The problem behind a blown fuse may have been because of moisture, too much of a load, or even corrosion. Correcting the cause of the failure is the first step before replacing the blown fuse.

The important final step is to replace the fuse, but it won't do much good unless you have a stash of replacements on board. The reason for having a stockpile is that when you need a spare fuse, you'll most likely not be anywhere close to where you can get what you need, or if you are, they may not have the desired amp or style of fuse in stock.

Make it a practice to carry multiple spares of every type of fuse your boat uses. You'll be surprised at the variety required just on your own boat. Keep them in a resealable plastic bag or container to keep them dry and fresh until the untimely event occurs.

— Jim Favors

Easy Launch

I sometimes find myself dropping my boat in the water on my own. To make it easier, I made a long continuous bow/stern line that I find much easier to handle than two separate lines. The line is cheapo — no need to spend much because this is its only use. Just make sure it's comfortable in the hand and doesn't have too much stretch.

Trailer launching illustration Steps 1-3

Trailer launching illustration Step 4Click on image to enlarge. (Illustrations: ©2016 Mirto Art Studio)

The line needs to be about double the length of your boat so you can hang on to it as you push the boat off the trailer. Attach one end of the line to a bow cleat and the other to a stern cleat during prep; drop all the excess on the bow, where you can grab it when you start to push the boat off the trailer. Then just walk the boat back, tie it up (using the continuous line or proper lines), park the tow vehicle, and you're off.

— Elliot Mitchell

The No-Drill Zone

There are many accessories for trailers — from load guides to tongue walkway ramps — designed to make launching easier. If you decide to install one or more of these, never drill through the frame of your trailer. Either use bolt-on accessories or have them welded on by a pro. Drilling holes in your trailer frame compromises strength and, in the case of a galvanized trailer, exposes unprotected surfaces to water. If you have an aluminum trailer, make sure the metal accessories you intend to add are compatible with aluminum and won't result in corrosion issues.

— John Adey

Rust Fighter

Buy a can of CorrosionX and apply it liberally anywhere you have a good place for rust to breed: bolts, anywhere that two metals meet and can hold water between them, spring perches, and so on. It's miracle stuff that stands up to saltwater dunking and weather.

— S. Nut

Thwart Would-Be Thieves

Don't make things easy for a trailer thief. If you're at a motel miles from home, park in the open under the lights, or ask if you can park directly in front of the office. Lock your ball into the receiver and your hitch onto the trailer arm. Buy a simple through-pin, the kind that just barely fits through the hitch bar. The bars have a bend on one end; the other end is straight. Some have predrilled holes. If yours doesn't, buy a trailer-hitch lock (about $15 or $20). Keep the key on your car key ring so you always have it. Most thieves "hit and run." Getting out there with a bolt cutter means too much exposure; they'll move on.

— Peter Paul

It's Not Too Late To Drain The Oils

Before storing your boat for the winter, drain the engine oil and gear lubricant and refill with fresh lube. If there's water in either, it will sit on the bearings, gears, and shafts over winter and rust them or cause freeze damage. Either way, a little bit of water can make for expensive repairs come spring. Even if you can't do the needed repairs before your winter layup, refilling with fresh lube saves money in the long run.

— John Tiger

Quick Connections

Many items must be installed at launch time, so why not make them as easy to install as possible? Use clevis-style pins for such gear as bimini tops to reduce your setup time and get to the water more quickly. Depth/fishfinders should all be fitted with thumbscrews and quick-connect electrical connections. I'm not a fan of metal hooks for docklines, however. These can easily get "sideways" in the bow or stern eyes and cause the clasp to fail, possibly releasing the hook when you need it most. Stick to cleats and standard line on these.

— J.A.

Tongue Extension

Trailer extensionPhoto: Stan Richards

Many sailboats require deeper water for launching, so some trailers have a tongue that slides out of the trailer frame, extending your launch depth by 10 horizontal feet or more. This tongue is not used during towing; it's installed and used just for launching. Don't despair if your trailer doesn't have one, though. Find a good local welder who understands all the issues involved and have him or her make a tongue extension for you. Once it's completed, carry it by adding a trailer ball (for the coupler end) and a coupler for the ball end to the side of the trailer for quick and easy storage. Don't install these by drilling holes in the trailer frame and bolting them through the frame. Instead, add them using compatible U-bolts of more-than-adequate strength.

— J.A.

Storing Your Drive

Hydraulic rams on your outboard or inboard/outboard motor and trim tabs should be stored in the fully retracted position. This keeps the clean, shiny rams inside the hydraulic cylinder protected from the elements. Doing so can present a problem, though, when trying to store your boat at an angle so water does not collect and drain out of the bilge plug. Be aware that when you use the tongue jack to raise the angle of the boat, you could be pushing the skeg into your parking area. The solution is to put blocks under the trailer tires to offer more clearance.

— J.A.

Taking a Tongue Weight

The weight of the trailer tongue on the hitch has a significant impact on the way the trailer handles down the road. When there's too much weight on the tongue, the tow vehicle is overloaded at its rear end with the trailer and boat weight, and the trailer tends to fishtail. When there's too little weight on the tongue, the trailer tends to "lift" the back of the vehicle, producing a very uncomfortable ride as well as putting a huge amount of strain on the hitch attachment.

Tongue weight scale illustrationMath explained: To calculate the tongue weight of your trailer, set up a bathroom scale as below. Note the reading on the scale and multiply it by four. Illustration: Marcus Floro

The best handling results when about 10 percent of the combined boat/trailer weight is on the tongue. For example, a standard 18-foot inboard/sterndrive bowrider may weigh 2,200 pounds, and its single-axle trailer may weigh 625 pounds. That's 2,825 pounds, with a tongue weight of approximately 280 pounds. This is optimal for towing as well as for the effective use of standard tongue jacks and your ability to manually move the boat around. This is generally also enough weight to enable you to board the boat from the stern without it popping up off the tongue jack at the front.

How do you measure this? With smaller boats, use a bathroom scale rated for the task. Take bigger boats to a salvage yard where truck scales are available. Call ahead to find out if they'll allow you to disconnect your vehicle and measure the weight on the tongue. While there, you might as well get a total weight on the boat/trailer combination for future reference.

— J.A.

Receiver Ball-Mount Height

A critical alignment is the degree to which a boat/trailer combination is level with the tow vehicle. This affects tongue weight, equipment stress, handling, and other factors. There are a number of choices when it comes to ball mounts: straight, 2-inch drop/rise, and so on. Before purchasing your ball mount, park your boat/trailer on a level surface, then use a level and a tongue jack to establish a truly level boat. Using a tape measure, measure to the bottom of the coupler. Use this measurement to determine the elevation of the ball mount you need to have your boat relatively level when it's coupled to the towing vehicle. A commonly published rule of thumb is 2 inches over or under level.

— J.A.

If The Winch Strap Breaks

Using a winch strapPhoto: Billy Black

If the winch strap breaks while you're loading your boat (perhaps as a victim of chafe where it attaches at that rusty hook eyelet), tie it to the hook (if it's undamaged) or directly to the bow eye using a bowline or similarly strong knot. If the remainder of the webbing is unusable due to condition or length, a towline, trailer-securing strap, or length of nylon rope will also work in a pinch. The best way to handle this issue is to carry a spare strap of the correct size and strength.

— Frank Lanier

That Sinking Feeling

If you keep your boat and trailer on an asphalt driveway, lower the jack stand onto a board or cinder block. Otherwise, when it's extremely hot and the asphalt softens in the sun during the dog days of summer, your trailer jack may sink in and create a divot in the driveway!

— Lenny Rudow

Bug Repellent

In many areas, towing along the highway during the predawn hours can lead to a boat windshield covered in bug splatters. Prevent the gummy mess by wrapping your boat's windshield in plastic wrap before setting out. When you arrive at the boat ramp, simply peel off the plastic wrap for instant debugging. 

— L.R.

— Published: Fall 2016


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