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Transporting and Trailering

Unless you have a dock where you can leave your boat in the water all the time, you will need to know how to tow your boat with a trailer. Pulling a trailer behind your car or truck requires special skills to keep you, your boat, and everyone else on the road safe.

Before towing the boat for the first time

  • Look in the owner's manual for your boat to find its dry weight. Add several hundred pounds to this number for the weight of the fuel and other equipment you will carry on your boat.
  • Look in the owner's manual for the vehicle you will use to tow your boat, to find out its towing capacity. Does your vehicle have enough power to tow your boat?
  • Check the towing laws for your state for local regulations (see Chapter 7).

If your car has the power to tow your boat, and you can meet all the legal requirements for towing in your state, then the next thing to do is hook your trailer to your car.

Connecting the Trailer to Your Car

  1. Back the car up to the front of the trailer.
  2. Secure the propeller from rotating during driving. This can typically be accomplished by putting the engine in forward gear; if not, a lanyard or small line can be used to secure the propeller. The spinning of the propeller during transport can shorten the life of the gearbox.
  3. Hook the trailer up to the car. Be sure the coupler is completely over the ball and the latching mechanism is locked.
  4. Connect the trailer lights to the car.
  5. Cross the safety chains under the hitch and securely fasten.
  6. Check the connections that hold the boat onto the trailer.
  7. Check the balance.

Too much weight on the hitch will cause the rear of the tow vehicle to hit the ground when going over bumps and may make steering more difficult.

Too much weight on the rear of the trailer will cause the trailer to "fishtail" and may reduce traction or even lift the rear wheels of the tow vehicle off the ground.

Before You Drive Off

Are the brake lights, taillights, and turn signals working?

When you look in the side-view mirrors, can you see both sides of the vehicle and boat?

When you look at the boat and trailer, is it riding level and have you verified that the drain plug has been removed (to drain any trapped bilge water) and nothing is dragging on the ground?

If your boat is not covered, do you see rain water inside the boat? Water weighs approximately eight pounds per gallon and can add weight that will shift with the movement of the trailer. Excessive water inside a boat can cause structural damage to the boat as well.

Driving to the Boat Ramp

The weight of the boat and trailer will make your car handle differently. If possible, practice driving with the boat and trailer in an empty parking lot. When driving with a trailer remember to:

  • Allow more time to stop.
  • Keep more space between your car and the one in front of you.
  • Make turns wider so the trailer won't run over the curb.

Backing Up with a Trailer

When you get to the boat ramp, you will have to know how to back up your car and trailer. To save yourself some embarrassment, practice backing up in that empty parking lot first.

  • Put one hand at the bottom of the steering wheel and move it slightly in the direction you want the trailer to go. This makes backing the trailer up far easier than keeping your hand on the top of the wheel. Try it!
  • Back up slowly.
  • Look behind you and check your mirrors. Also pay attention to what's next to you and in front of you.
  • If things start going wrong, stop. Pull forward until the trailer is straight behind the car, and then try again.

It's easier to back the trailer on a straight line than to back the trailer around a corner.

At the Boat Ramp

Once you get to the parking lot of the boat ramp, prepare your boat for launching before going to the ramp so you don't hold up everyone else.

  1. Raise the outdrive or outboard motor and remove the support bracket so it will not hit bottom.
  2. Remove the tie-downs and be sure the winch is properly attached to the bow eye and locked in position.
  3. Put in the drain plug and be sure it is secure.
  4. Disconnect the trailer wiring.
  5. Attach a line to the bow and the stern of the boat.
  6. Visually inspect the launch ramp for hazards such as a steep drop-off, slippery area, or sharp objects.

Launching the Boat

  1. Drive to the ramp and slowly back the boat and trailer down the ramp. Keep the wheels of the car out of the water.
  2. Set the emergency brake, and shift into Park.
  3. While someone is holding the bow and stern lines, release the winch and disconnect the winch line. Watch for a spinning winch handle.
  4. Push the boat off the trailer and use the bow and stern lines to guide the boat to the dock.
  5. Pull the trailer from the water slowly and return your car and trailer to the parking lot as soon as the boat is launched.

If it won't be easy to guide the boat to the loading dock using the bow and stern lines, you can start the motor as soon as the boat is launched. Before starting the motor:

  1. Connect the fuel tank and check the fluid levels.
  2. Turn on the battery switch (if you have one).
  3. Turn on the blower (if you have an inboard or inboard/outboard motor).
  4. Lower the motor (if you have an outboard or inboard/outboard motor).
  5. Look for water entering the boat.
  6. Sniff the bilge to be sure there are no fuel fumes.
  7. Start the engine.

Once you move your boat to the loading dock, all your passengers can board, and you can load all the equipment.

Retrieving the Boat

Taking your boat out of the water is basically the reverse of putting it in:

  • Unload your passengers and equipment at the dock.
  • Back the trailer into the water the same way you did when you launched the boat.
  • Turn off the boat's motor, if it's still running. If the boat is equipped with an outboard motor, the motor should be tilted up. If the outboard has a power tilting system, there is typically a secondary lever to support the motor in the upright position that will take the load off the power tilting mechanism.
  • Use the bow and stern lines to pull your boat to the ramp.
  • Use the winch to pull the boat onto the trailer, and then lock the winch.
  • Slowly pull the boat and trailer away from the ramp and into the parking lot.
  • Remove the drain plug so that any collected water flows out of the bilge.
  • Once again, secure the boat to the trailer and secure the propeller from spinning

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