Helpful Boat Towing Tips

Learning proper boat towing techniques is a necessity for any individual who does in fact trailer their boat as opposed to keeping it on a lift or at a storage facility that offers “in and out” service for their customers.

While there is no “official” data available at the current time from the government or insurance companies on the exact number of accidents specifically, that occur while a vehicle is pulling a boat, it is widely speculated that the number is on the rise for several reasons:

  • Rise in the number of individuals purchasing boats and boat trailers
  • Increased use of trailer companies using low-cost imports to build trailers that unfortunately have been associated with a decrease in quality, particularly in the area of boat trailers leaf springs and suspensions
  • Improper or inadequate maintenance of boat trailers by the owner
  • Inadequate boat towing knowledge by boat trailers owners on the proper way to hook up the boat trailer to the vehicle, trailer a boat, launch a boat (backing up a boat trailer) and retrieve a boat

In addition to being dangerous, employing improper boat towing techniques, particularly when launching and retrieval, is extremely poor boating etiquette and can be considerably annoying and aggravating to knowledgeable and studied boaters. Also, with the constant maneuvering and positioning of the boat while trying to retrieve the trailer causes more pollutants to enter into the air and water, which has a negative impact on the environment and ecosystem rivers, lakes and oceans.

If you’re an experienced boater, chances are you know what I’m talking about.  If you’re a newbie, just give it time.  As you gain experience and knowledge, your turn will eventually come one day as you patiently wait for the inept driver as they make their fourth attempt at backing the boat trailer down the ramp or trying to retrieve it back onto the trailer.

All this being said, let's look at some boat towing tips on the proper way to hook up, trailer, launch, retrieve and travel a distance with a boat trailer.

Hooking Up The Trailer to Your Tow Vehicle

  • If you have an SUV, most of the hatches can be lifted up. Before you begin to back up to the boat, open and lift the hatch up. This will give you an enormous advantage in backing up to the trailer by enabling you to see much better where you are backing up in relation to the trailer.
  • Once the vehicle is properly backed up to the boat trailer hitch, put the emergency brake on in your vehicle.
  • Begin to crank the boat trailer jack down onto the coupler ball on the vehicle. Once the trailer hitch is all the way down on the vehicle coupler ball, continue to crank the trailer jack as far as it will go up.
  • Tighten down the trailer to the coupler ball either by turning the trailer hitch or locking it down, depending on which type of trailer hitch you have. It’s a good practice at this time to put a master lock through the trailer hitch. This is often forgotten and many a boater has come back to the ramp and found their trailer gone. Therefore, do this immediately after your attached and secured to your trailer.
  • Attach the safety chains from the trailer to the vehicle making sure to cross them over one another.
  • If your trailer has brakes, hook up the S-hook on the brake cable from the trailer to the hitch onto the vehicle.
  • Lastly connect the electrical connector from the boat trailer to the vehicle in whatever connection is on your vehicle hitch.
  • Make sure the trailer winch is locked down tight on the boat bow eye.
  • Shut your SUV hatch. At this time you are hooked up and ready to go, however it is suggested to take a few more minutes to prepare for launching either at home, which is strongly suggested or at the boat ramp.

Pre-Launch Tips

  • The key to boat towing and safely launching your boat is preparation. This is not only a safety issue but an enormous courtesy to fellow boaters at the ramp. Again, most of these tips can be and should be addressed before leaving home with your boat; however, some must wait until arriving at the ramp.
  • Put the drain plug in the boat. Check your fuel level. Check your oil level. Put the boat key into the boat. (Do this at home)
  • Raise your outboard or outdrive motor to prevent it from striking the road and ramp. (Do this at home)
  • Make sure you have all safety equipment in your boat. Flotation devices, life jackets, radio, fire extinguisher, flares, and anchor. Attach dock lines to the bow and both sides of the boat. (Do this at home)
  • At the ramp, remove any tie-downs you may have on your boat. Some areas, like the Florida Keys requires boat tie-downs on all boat trailers, however they are often optional. Basically, it depends on the distance you are traveling with the boat trailer and your security with your trailer and winch.
  • I actually find it easier to launch my boat off the trailer by myself, however many find it easier with a friend. Both require similar procedures, however with a friend, they can guide you down the launch and hold a guideline from the boat to help get it off the trailer into the water; or they can actually be in the boat and drive it off the trailer.
  • If your trailer is such that your electrical attachment is going to be submerged or get wet during launch, remember to detach the electrical connection so you don’t short out your vehicle and/or trailer lights and electrical system.

Boat Towing: Ready to Launch

  • Open the hatch of your SUV, if applicable. This once again enables greater visibility for the driver.
  • Back the boat trailer down the ramp.
  • Keep the rear wheels of the tow vehicle out of the water (this will prevent the possibility of the vehicle stalling). The trailer should be midway down into the water.
  • Set the vehicle in park and engage the emergency brake.
  • If launching by yourself, retrieve the dock line from the bow of the boat, loosen the winch, unhook the winch and attach the knotted end of the dock line from the bow to the trailer winch hook.
  • Get back into your boat towing vehicle and drive forward a bit, then reverse a bit and hit the brakes hard. This will release the boat from the trailer. With the bow line attached to the trailer hitch, you just get the bow line from the hitch, swing the boat around and attach a side dock line to the cleat on the dock.
  • Shut your hatch and park vehicle and trailer.
  • If you have a friend helping you launch, they can actually get into the boat, drop the motor a bit, crank it up and drive it right off the trailer. Otherwise they can use the guide line attached to the boat to pull it off the trailer. The other individual can go and park the vehicle and trailer.

Retrieving The Boat Onto The Trailer

  • The steps for removing your boat from the water are basically the reverse of those taken to launch it.
  • Moore your boat to the dock and tie a boat line to a dock cleat.
  • Retrieve vehicle and boat trailer.
  • Maneuver the boat to the submerged trailer, raising the motor as you go.
  • If driving onto the trailer, engage the motor in a forward motion against the trailer winch, lean over the bow of the boat, and attach the trailer winch to the bow cleat on the boat and secure it tightly.
  • Turn the motor off, raise or trim it all the way up to the upright position and pull the boat trailer out of the water.
  • Once out of the water, remove the drain plug from the boat.

Boat Towing Over Long Distances

  • Use tie-downs on the back of the boat attaching them to the trailer.
  • Have your boat trailer serviced prior to trip (ball bearings, tires, etc.)
  • Practice your boat towing skills on shorter rides, and even around your neighborhood before attempting a long trip. Like anything else, the more experience you have, the more comfortable you’ll be.
  • Know that it’s possible your boat can be wider than your vehicle. Pay attention to the sides of the road so that the boat trailer wheels do not leave the pavement.
  • Understand that you will have to make wide turns to compensate for the length of your boat trailer behind your vehicle.
  • Make sure everything in the boat is securely tied down.
  • Check your trailer blinkers, brake lights and that trailer lights are on when your vehicle headlights are on.

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