How to trailer your boat safely

Bill Allen


Many trailering accidents could be eliminated by selecting the proper tow vehicle, trailer and hitch for your boat; performing routine maintenance; and practicing before taking out a trailered boat for the first time.


Choose the proper trailer for your boat. The stresses of road travel can cause more damage to a boat than normal operation on the water. During transport, the trailer should provide structural support across the boat’s hull.

The trailer should be long enough to support the whole length of the hull but short enough to allow the lower unit of the boat’s engine to extend freely.

Keep the rollers and bolsters in good condition to prevent scratching and gouging the hull. The trailer’s capacity should be greater than the combined weight of the boat, motor, equipment, fuel load, and whatever else you’re hauling.

If you are going to operate in salt water, use a trailer fabricated to resist saltwater corrosion for a long time. Painted carbon steel trailers are not in this category.

Tow vehicle

The tow vehicle must be capable of handling not only the weight of the trailer, boat, equipment and load, but also the weight of passengers and load carried by the vehicle. The trailer towing weight specified by most vehicle manufacturers says this in fine print but not in their brief brochure. Depending upon the distance, terrain and manufacturer’s requirements to achieve a specific load-carrying capacity, the vehicle may need to be specially equipped with one or more of the following:

  • optional larger-than-standard engine to provide adequate power
  • transmission designed for towing
  • larger optional cooling systems for engine and transmission
  • heavy-duty brakes
  • load-equalizing hitch; no bumper hitches

Connecting the trailer to the tow vehicle

The tow ball and coupler should be the same size. Tightly secure bolts with lock washers or self-locking nuts. Check the coupler and the ball nut frequently when travelling because the vibration of road travel can loosen them.

Attach the safety chains by crisscrossing them under the coupler to the frame of the tow vehicle. That way, if the ball breaks or the coupler comes loose, the trailer is more likely to follow your vehicle in a straight line and not drag on the road.

Checking equipment and accessories

Before travelling, check the following items:

  • trailer lights
  • trailer brakes
  • trailer tires (including the spare)
  • even loading; the trailer should be loaded evenly from front to rear as well as side to side. Too much weight on the hitch may cause the rear of the tow vehicle to drag or become difficult to steer. Too much weight on the rear of the trailer may cause it to fishtail. It could also reduce traction or lift the rear wheels of the vehicle off the ground.

Before operating on the highway, practice turning and backing your loaded trailer on a level, uncongested parking area.

On the highway

  • Allow more time to brake for slowing or stopping and more time for passing.
  • Remember the turning radius of a vehicle and trailer is much greater than a vehicle alone. Therefore, give curbs and other obstacles a wide berth when turning corners.
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