Trailering Magazine - Current Articles

The Wild World of WIDE

Yes, you really do need a permit — and BoatUS can help.

Wide Trailering If your boat has a beam that exceeds the standard 8 feet, 6 inches, then you're going to need a wide-load or oversize permit whenever you leave the driveway. If you leave the state en route to a faraway destination, you're going to need a permit for each state through which you are going to pull the boat. Yes, it's a hassle. Yes, it takes lots of time. Yes, BoatU.S. can assist.

BoatU.S. Trailering Club members have the benefit of an agreement with a company that will do all the work for you at a discounted price. Mercury Permits ( also provides wide-load permits for commercial trucks traveling through every state in the country so they can get the job done quickly and you can be on your way with that boat in tow, and best of all, be legal as you travel.

"Getting a permit for a boat wider than 8 feet, 6 inches is relatively easy if you know what you're doing," says Steve Thomas, a partner in Mercury Permits based in Las Vegas. "But every state has its own rules and if your route is taking you through a number of states, you need to comply with each state's requirements. That can be difficult." Thomas notes that two states, Texas and Ohio, are the most problematic. Texas requires a $10,000 surety bond, which is a promise that the boattrailer owner will abide by all state laws when traveling through the state. It costs a few hundred dollars and, Thomas adds with experience, requires a boater to "go through a number of loops" to complete. Ohio requires that a specific form be faxed directly to a state office from the boater's insurance company, another loop that adds time to a permit being approved.

A close runner-up, however, is California, where the state has a permit that is mandatory for wide boats traveling on numbered highways while each county and some cities also require a permit. Thomas continues, "Antioch, on California's Delta, has one guy who's in charge of handing out the permits and he's the same guy in charge of enforcing the local jurisdiction's rule about carrying a permit. He's the poster child for making sure you have the necessary paperwork."

There are a number of cities with restrictions in Virginia that have made Thomas look for alternative routes in order to make the trip easier for a boat owner pulling a wide boat. "Suffolk, Chesapeake, and Newport News all require separate permits," he says, adding, "so if there's a way I can avoid them, that's what we do." In most states, a wide-load permit requires the boater follow a specific route, leaving home at a specific time with a planned arrival at the destination within a certain time frame. "They're all good for a specified period of time," he says, "typically from three to 10 days, with most valid for three to five days. There are a couple of permits that are only good for one day – New York City and the New York Thruway – and these are separate permits from the New York state system."

Only one-third of the states allow travel after sunset so keep this in mind when sitting down to plan a trip. Mercury Permits will provide all the specifics that are part of each state's travel restrictions. Severe weather, however, is an entirely different matter. In many cases, bridges crossing long stretches of water, such as the Golden Gate in San Francisco, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland, the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys, or the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan, close to boat trailers and semi trucks during high winds and/or heavy rain. Other restrictions can include using only specific routes at specific times. "The height of the boat on the trailer can be an issue," Thomas notes. "If you come in higher than 13 feet 6 inches, you're above the legal height. Sometimes, it's the result of a radar arch or the wakeboard boats with the towers, but you need to figure out a way to get it removed. Of course, on a lot of boats, that can't be done so we'll have to find a route that avoids bridges with a clearance lower than 13 feet 6 inches. I find this happens in the northeast most often because so many bridges were already in place before the state put the rule in place. On interstates, you'll usually have no trouble because the clearance is 16 feet." That said, there are exceptions to this, especially in Pennsylvania where some bridges are lower and, as a result, require detours that can add miles to a trip.

The Bottom Line
Most of the time, a boater with an oversized boat in tow isn't going to be stopped by police for an inspection of permits. But Steve Thomas says the economic conditions states and municipalities face I are bringing more crackdowns throughout the country. "Safety is always important," Thomas says, "but money is the reason."

You Need to know
Mercury Permits will need information about your tow vehicle, the trailer, and the boat, as well as the dimensions of the load on the boat trailer and the overall dimensions.

  • Height – if the boat is over 13 feet 6 inches high on the trailer, it will be considered over legal height.

  • Width – this should be the same as the width of the boat itself.

  • Length – measured from the front bumper of the truck to the rear of the boat/trailer

  • Axle spacing – some states require this information even if your load is not overweight; if you don't have this information, we'll let you know if it's necessary. To get the axle-spacing measurements, you'll need to measure from the center of the first axle on the truck to the center of the second axle on the truck; then from the second axle on the truck to the first axle on the trailer; from the first axle on the trailer to the second; from the second trailer axle to the third trailer axle.

A Legislative Special Session For Wide Boat Trailers

North Carolina Governor Mike Easley vetoed a bill in 2008 that would've allowed boats with a beam of 10 feet or less to be trailered in the daytime without a wide-load permit. Both the House and the Senate called a special session to discuss the veto. In just 13 minutes, the North Carolina House overrode the governor's veto, and in less than 30 minutes, the North Carolina Senate did the same. It was the first time in North Carolina history that the legislature overrode a governor's veto.

From The "Don't Need No Permit" Department
Internet message boards are filled with stories from trailer-boat owners who consider the need for a permit a waste of time and have traveled from home to their destination and back for years, until an accident occurs. In many cases these folks weren't the cause of the collision but police investigators asked to see their driver's license, registration, and wide-load permit. The story might have ended with their waiting for a permit to be obtained while the boat and trailer were impounded, but there was one more ending: If they filed a claim, their insurance company asked for the wideload permit required for that state. No permit? No coverage.

A BoatU.S. Benefit!
Trailering Club members get 30 percent off the service fee for oversize permits (you're still responsible for the full cost of each required permit).

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