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How To Load The Boat On Your Trailer

After a great day on the water, now is not the time to mess up.

Waiting to load the boat on the trailer

Take note of the tide! If it's been more than a few hours since you left the dock, chances are the water level at the ramp has changed, and you'll have to adjust how far down the ramp you go. (Photos: Jason Arnold)

1. Drop And Go

Deposit the driver of the tow vehicle at the end of the dock to go retrieve the truck and trailer. Idle out away from the ramp or, if you won't be impeding others, pull alongside at the far end of the dock. Meanwhile, attach one line to a bow cleat and one to the stern; the latter is especially important if there is wind or current.

2. Evacuate

When you see your towing rig pulling into position to back down the ramp, get everyone off the boat and onto the dock except the operator. Leave the gear aboard; you'll unload it later. Have crewmembers on the dock hold the lines to keep the boat in position just beyond the reach of the trailer. Signal the vehicle driver when the trailer has backed far enough down the ramp for loading. The driver should put the vehicle in park, engage the parking brake, and leave the engine running.


When backing in, pay close attention to the end of the ramp. If you see the trailer tires drop off the end, pull forward before loading the boat or the whole rig will get stuck.

3. Drag Or Drive

Many boats can be floated most of the way onto the trailer without much effort. But if your boat is large or susceptible to being pushed about by crosswinds, you may have more control if you slowly drive it onto the trailer. Do not apply the throttle to "power load," as this practice washes away the material under the end of the ramp, which can lead to its deterioration.

Dragging boat into dock slowly

On calm days, it's often easier to pull the boat onto the trailer using the bow line rather than driving it on.

4. Winch It On

At this point, either you or the driver must get into position on the trailer tongue to attach the winch strap or cable to the bow eye of the boat, then crank the boat fully onto the trailer. When the bow is snug against the winch post, attach the safety chain.

Connecting the winch strap to the boat

Try to make sure the winch strap is free of twists when you connect it.

5. Pull Up Slowly

Raise the outboard or sterndrive if necessary, and have the driver pull slowly up the ramp. Get off the boat and follow the tow vehicle to the loading zone.

Cranking the boat onto the trailer

Don't overload the strap when cranking the boat into place. If it's drum tight, have the driver back in a bit farther to relieve some of the tension.

6. Unload and Drain

Pull the plug and drain any livewells and bait containers. To minimize the risk of transferring invasive species, all water in the boat must end up back in the same body of water from which it came. Pull all plugs first, after leaving the water, so there's plenty of time for the boat to drain while you load your gear into the tow vehicle, attach transom tie-downs, lower any bimini or antennas, and do everything else that needs to happen before the boat can hit the highway. Don't forget to plug in the trailer lights!

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Michael Vatalaro

Contributor, BoatUS Magazine

Michael Vatalaro is the former executive editor of BoatUS Magazine. He has a Pursuit center console, which he uses in the Chesapeake Bay.