9 Interstate Trailering Tips

By Dan Armitage

photo of an SUV towing a boat

A prime benefit of owning a trailerable boat is its portability; anywhere your tow vehicle can go, so can your boat and trailer. Many trailerboaters take advantage of their rigs' "free range" capability a few times each year, towing their boats beyond the local launch ramp and onto the open road to distant waters and to enjoy on-water fun with friends or family. If you have not done much long-distance towing, there are some factors to keep in mind when trailering on the interstate highways that may not come into play during your usual runs to the home ramp and back

1. The Air Back There

The biggest difference between towing a boat on local roads and hitting the open highway for any distance is the speed and distance at which the rig will be traveling. Quite literally, that pace affects where your rubber meets the road. The higher speeds create higher heat for your trailer's tires and bearings to handle. A pre-trip inspection and replacement of suspect tires and bearings is important before any long-distance haul — as are regular checkups en route, and having replacements available in the form of spare tires, wheels, and bearings. One of the most important things you can do before a long-distance haul is to check the air pressure in your trailer and tow vehicle's tires. Do this when they are cold, and bring the pressure within the recommended guidelines listed in the trailer and the vehicle service manuals.

2. Hand On Hub

Once on the road, experienced trailer towers pull over to stretch their legs every couple of hours while performing a walk-around inspection of their rig, inspecting safety chains, looking for loose straps, and checking for overheating by placing their hands on the tires and hubs. Any surface too hot to hold a palm against may be overheating and deserve further attention.

3. Got You Covered?

Highway speeds can also compromise boat covers and canopies that may stand up to briefer, lower-speed runs to area launch ramps but fail when buffeted about over a long haul. It is really important that you make sure any cover you leave on a towed boat is designed for over-the-road use and the abuse it will be expected to withstand. Boat covers intended for use at highway speeds have a series of heavy-duty straps that wrap around the craft to snug the top tightly in place, using adjustable buckles. Regular walk-around inspections during the drive should include checking and tightening all cover straps, which can loosen with exposure to wind and water.

4. Support Your Bimini? — Take It Down

Bimini tops should be collapsed and their covers folded and encased in the boot, secured to the lowest point possible, either against the top of the windshield or along the gunwale. The support braces that hold Biminis semi-erect while folded in the boot are designed for use at boating speeds not highway speeds. Even properly covered and secured, Bimini tops, their hold-down straps, and their attachment points on the boat should be inspected regularly during any over-the-road trip.

5. Equipment

Electric trolling and auxiliary motors should be removed and securely stowed whenever possible before an extended towing trip. Aftermarket supports and locks are available for both if they are to remain attached to the deck or transom. Likewise, electronics such as fishfinders, VHF radios, and GPS receivers should be mounted on quick-release bases that allow the units to be easily removed for over-the-road towing and general security. Anchors should be removed from the bow and secured in chocks made for this purpose; you can imagine the damage even a 15-pound anchor can wreak when left loose to bang around on a deck or inside a compartment.

6. Don't Lose It

On the other hand, lighter accessories such as personal flotation devices, seat cushions, coolers and lids, and even deck carpeting that may work loose must be secured or stashed where they will not be vulnerable to blowing out of a boat that may be going twice as fast — and for much longer duration — than when the craft is on the water.

7. It's Not Always A Breeze

Winds can also affect the handling of trailered boats and tow vehicles. You'll notice many tractor-trailer rigs pulled over and parked at rest and truck stops along the highway during periods of high wind as the operators wait out the weather that threatens their high-profile rigs. Natural breezes and the draft created by large vehicles when passing can temporarily cause the trailer to sway, unnerving unsuspecting drivers.

Large-volume vehicles such as tractor-trailers and motor homes develop a high-pressure wave of air in front of them and low-pressure area to their rear as they move down the highway. The effect varies depending on the shape of the truck and conditions, but when a truck approaches to pass you on the left, your trailer and then your tow vehicle will be pushed to your right by the truck?s ?bow wave.? As the truck passes, the low-pressure zone it creates will then pull your rig back to the left. To compensate for the pressure variables, you need to be prepared to steer slightly left and then right to counter the effect — or at least brace yourself for a temporary buffet.

8. Overnight

Interstate travel with your trailer may also include a few things to consider when the trailer isn't moving at all. If you intend to get a hotel room, you should consider where you can safely park the tow vehicle and trailer. Because so many boat trailers are parked overnight in motel/hotel parking lots in Florida, a number of venues have set aside spaces that can accommodate the required extra length (a few Radisson Hotels do this; do your research before making the trip).

Some Trailering Club members tell me they let the desk clerk know about the rig parked outside and ask if (1) someone can periodically check on it during the night, and (2) there's a bright light in front of the building where the trailer and tow vehicle can be parked. This may also entail disconnecting the trailer if you want to drive to dinner nearby, which brings in a few other preventive measures to consider. Try to park the trailer with the tongue facing away from the parking lot so that a thief can?t just pull up, hook the trailer, and be on their way. Invest in a wheel lock or a hitch lock so any thief can't move the trailer from its parking space. One Trailering Club member says he's devised a lock using a golf ball in the trailer coupler, which prevents any thief from being able to attach the trailer to a tow vehicle. Hotel parking lots are not the place to leave electronics onboard your boat. That's an invitation to anyone looking for some easy pickings.

9. How Wide?

If you're going to be crossing one or more state lines, have a general understanding of the rule regarding allowable width. Most states allow a boat trailer to be 8'6" wide, and anything with more of a beam requires an extra-wide permit.

Online forums always have someone bragging how they towed a boat with a 10-foot beam from Point A to Point B without a permit and without ever being checked for a permit. That's fine if you don't have an accident, but if something does go wrong, the police or your insurance company will ask for the wide-load permit because it's required in the state. The result could be the insurance carrier refusing to pay while the cops start writing tickets, or worse, a lawsuit. 

BoatUS members can get discounts on wide-load permits at www.Mercurypermits.net/BoatUS. Being prepared is the secret behind safe, incident-free long-distance towing.

This article was published in the Spring 2012 issue of Trailering Magazine.

Invasive species bannerInvasive Species: Careful ...

Don't Drag An Invader Home

It's our job as boaters to prevent the spread of nuisance water plants and other species such as zebra mussels from an infested lake or river to a clean one. Fortunately, it is easy to take a few moments and add a few simple steps to your boat cleaning routine that will greatly reduce the chances of spreading invasive species. The mantra is "Clean. Drain. Dry."

CLEAN: At the top of the boat ramp after loading your boat, inspect your rig for any plants or mud clinging to the boat, motor, bunks, or trailer. Remove any plant life or mud right then and there.

DRAIN: You probably popped the drain plug out at the top of the ramp, but if not, do so now. If you have a live well, empty it. Same goes for anchor lockers or any other com-partment that might hold water. As you clean your boat, leave hatches open.

DRY: Two things are deadly to invaders such as zebra mussels: heat, and desiccation (drying out). If you have access to hot water (140+ degrees F) where you wash your boat, great. If not, you’ll want to make sure your boat and all your gear such as tow ropes, skis, tubes, and wakeboards have a good long time to completely dry. Five days is recommended if you boat on a body of water with a known invasive species problem. An alternative is to dip your gear into either a 100-percent vinegar bath for 20 minutes, or a five-percent detergent bath for 40 minutes (2 cups of dishwater detergent to 2.5 gallons of water).

To read more about the race against invasives, see, "The Arms Race Against Invasives".

Shadow Boxing

A trick I use when trailering a boat on the highway during daylight hours is to take advantage of my rig's shadow whenever possible.

When sunlight creates a shadow of my boat and trailer on the road surface while underway, I use it and the shadow of vehicles that I have passed to give me an additional visual clue about our proximity to each other. Only after I have seen my rig's shadow pass that of the other vehicle's do I begin my merge back into the travel lane.

I have also been alerted to a loose Bimini that had come un-snapped from its stowed position and would have been lost had I not seen the Sunbrella's flapping shadow.


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