Boats spend a lot of time in the water, but when boats get onto a trailer the really interesting stuff happens.  

There are far more stories shared about small boat trailering than about small boats on the water.  Once someone has passed examination to drive they are approved to trailer boats. This is quite amazing when you look at the complexity of trailering. Your trailer is only as strong as the weakest link.

  • Can your boat pass you on the I5 at 70 mph? You bet. Improper tongue weight.
  • Can the trailer separate and the boat  slide forward towards the towing vehicle?  Yes, trailer bolts can shear or bolts fail or welds fail.
  • Can the  pin on your trailer receiver go missing mysteriously?
  • Wheels fall off? Oh yes, this can happen even if you are super careful.
  • Bunks or rollers punching through the hull on gravel?

Here are my top 10 tips to trailer a boat as safely as possible and some stories of calamity. Some personal and obtained the hard way, others shared over many stories at Kyuquot Beach House Fishing.

1. Tongue weight I believe that around 10% of the trailer weight should be assigned as tongue weight. One of my boats being trailered from Florida to BC with zero tongue weight, had a particularly spectacular event.. The driver of the tow vehicle felt that the frequent wagging of the trailer (symptom of low or no tongue weight) was best corrected by spiking the brakes to bring the boat (5000 lbs) in line! Might have worked, but in southern Oregon the wag got a lot worse – add in a big brake spike and the tow vehicle got thrown across the I-5 four times,  wiping out each quarter panel against the cement abutment on every impact. The wildly swinging vessel and trailer snapped the trailer reach,  sending the combo running down the highway on its own, peeling off all 4 tires. And then the boat came off the trailer. That was a bit of an adventure and this is the very abbreviated version!

2.  Trailer integrity.Over the years virtually every bit of a trailer has come apart on me.  Being familiar with your trailer is essential. Welds fail, u-bolts break, bolts snap. On one particular trip,  the main post – the one the winch sits on – was affixed in a socket on the reach. Little did I understand that this post could lift from the socket. During a bumpy logging road trip, the post lifted out of the socket and the boat shimmied forward, coming within inches of the tow vehicle. Only when the vessel ground into the socket – and subsequently holing the boat – did the forward movement cease.  At 11 pm. In Woss, BC. It was the Western Forest Products night shift to the rescue. Their hoist made it possible to move the boat back into it’s place as virtually the entire weight of the boat was on the tongue (extreme tongue weight) and a total inability to open the barn doors. Off to the glasser to repair the hole!

3. Receptacle receiver pin (and every other pin!)This can be the weak link! Halfway through a journey I heard a noise and decided a sharp depression on the brakes was in order. Had I had just slowed down,  the boat and trailer wouldn’t have run into the back of my suburban. The receptacle/receiver pin somehow disappeared, allowing the receiver to shimmy out of the receptacle and then drop to the pavement held only by the safety chains!  The walk-around inspection of the critical aspects of the trailer and boat attachments is most important. Now I always make a habit of doing a walk around prior to departure and then again a few miles down the road. Check all pins and carry spares.

4. Bearings, brakes, ubolts and leaf springs. Trailers have very few miles but a ton of wear and tear. Being immersed in saltwater reeks havoc on bearings and brakes. U-bolts fail and leaf springs become separated from the frame. Brakes seize and overheat, bearings fail and wheels fall off. Even with a frequent check of bearing temperature and condition I experienced impromptu bearing failure and a lost wheel. Never thought it would happen to me but it did.

5. Rollers or  bunks. When trailering on rough roads rollers sometimes get pounded through the hull of the boat. On the gravel backroads on the way to some of our favourite west coast fishing spots, boats can buck and heave to the point where the roller pops through the hull of the boat. A broad contact of the bunks on a boat bottom can alleviate pressure points caused by rollers. Rollers can be a very convenient option when loading and launching vessels compared the friction associated with bunks. But, rollers can be the root of some unexpected events. A friend had decided that total removal of all lines and safety chains was appropriate before he backed his boat down the ramp in Kelsey Bay. I was in the boat and was unaware of what he had done to the lines. Quite shocking to get launched onto the ramp 20 feet shy of the water! We hit the ramp at 12 noon and got it into the water at 3!

6. Driving. Do you know how to drive your trailer? Practice makes perfect. Understand all of the parts of your trailer and know how to hook it up safely. Practice a few loops in an empty parking lot unloaded, and loaded,  to understand your turning radius. Practice  backing it up on ramps with and without a boat so that you feel confident when the pressure is on.

7. Tow vehicle. Consider the integrity of your tow vehicle. Is the frame rusted or rotten? Have you checked the maximum tow weight for the vehicle? Is the hitch receiver in good shape?

8. Trailer balls.  Don’t get caught with the wrong size. 1 ⅞ ball on a 2 inch hitch is a no-no. I care a multiple to be prepared to tow 1 ⅞, 2 or 2  5/16. Make sure your clasp is secured on and you have a pin to prevent the hitch from opening in transit.

9. Tires / Lug nuts.  They need to be in good shape, the right size for the trailer and need to be pressurized to handle the weight of the load you are towing. Carry a spare(s). Feel the sidewall at stops to see if heat is being generated by low tire pressure, a sign that a tire may blow. Prior to departure check to see if wheel lug nuts can be loosened if you did need to change a tire. Nothing worse than snapping of studs because lugs are seized on. Make sure you have the right size spare nuts for all the lug nuts on your trailer and vehicle.

10. Secure your load and do a walk around. Stern straps that cinch your vessel to the trailer is most important. Bow as well! It is important is to stop bow bounce. After the bow is properly winched into the cranking post run a line directly down from the bow eye to the reach. Have a buddy hang off the boat bow rail while you tie it down. This will stop that annoying bounce that some boats experience when the trailer doesn’t fit the boat just right

Walk around before and during the trip. Frequent stops and a complete check of all the critical components is my way of towing. Do this off the highway in a safe location. Check: ball, hitch, pins, chains, wiring harness, lights, tire sidewalls and bearing hubs (for signs of heat) , straps securing the load(boat) and shifted items in the boat. Sound like a big job but can be done in less than a minute!

What’s in my toolbox? I always carry a floor jack when trailering. Changing a trailer tire without one is a drag when you have a heavy boat sitting on the trailer. Travel with chocks to secure your trailer from rolling. With double axle trailers some guys carry a ramped block to roll the good tire up onto to deal with the flat. Mind you the single good on one side is carrying all the weight! Carry a decent lug wrench. Make sure you have the right size for all the lug nuts on your trailer and vehicle. I carry a large strong multi-lug wrench. A spare bearing set and grease and a grease gun will come in handy to top up your bearing buddies. If you don’t know about bearing buddies, do some research.

Here is another great resource to make sure you have the rules covered: BC Resources for Safe Towing

See you on the road!