Chapter 2: Before You Get Underway
Trailering Your Vessel
Choose the Right Trailer and Vehicle To Tow Your Vessel
The trailer and towing vehicle should be designed to fit your vessel.
- Use the size of your vessel to determine the dimensions of the trailer needed. Today, most trailerable boats are sold as a package with a trailer of the appropriate size.
- Look at the load capacity of the trailer stated by the trailer's manufacturer. If the combined weight of your vessel and its engine is more than 90% of the recommended load capacity, buy the next larger trailer. This is because your gear (fuel, life jackets, anchors, lines, etc.) will increase the overall weight by at least 10%.
- Check the owner's manual of your towing vehicle to ensure that your vehicle is rated to tow the combined weight of your vessel, engine, and trailer.
The towing hitch must be appropriate for the loaded trailer.
- The coupler– The part of the trailer that attaches to the ball hitch on a towing vehicle on a trailer connects to a ball hitch on the towing vehicle. A frame-mounted hitch on the towing vehicle is better than a bumper-mounted hitch. If you are using a bumper-mounted hitch, do not exceed the weight rating of the bumper.
- Make sure the size stamped on the ball hitch on the towing vehicle is the
same size that is stamped on the trailer's coupler. If the ball hitch is too small, a bump in the road could cause the coupler to lift off the hitch.
- "Tongue weight" is the amount of the loaded trailer's weight that presses down on the towing hitch. The tongue weight should be about 10% of the combined weight of the vessel and trailer ("gross trailer weight" or GTW). If the tongue weight is too light, the trailer will tend to swing from side-to-side (or "fishtail"). If the tongue weight is too heavy, the rear wheels of the towing vehicle will be weighted down, making it difficult to steer.
Two strong safety chains should be crisscrossed to support the trailer's coupler if it becomes disconnected from the towing vehicle. The chains should be strong enough to hold the combined weight of the vessel, engine, and trailer.
Before Leaving Home
Secure the vessel on the trailer and the gear within the vessel.
- Secure all gear in the vessel firmly to keep it from shifting. Arrange the gear so that its weight is balanced side-to-side and front-to-back.
- Secure the vessel to the trailer with several tie-down straps and/or safety lines to prevent the vessel from shifting. Use extra tie-down straps in case one fails. Never trust the bow winch alone to hold your vessel onto the trailer.
- Put the engine or drive unit in the raised position and secure it.
- Attach the safety chains between the trailer and the towing vehicle,
crisscrossing them under the trailer tongue.
Inspect and maintain trailering equipment.
- Check the pressure of all tires on the towing vehicle and the trailer. Make sure you have a spare tire in good condition for both the vehicle and the trailer.
- Tighten the lug nuts/bolts on the wheels of both the towing vehicle and the trailer, and grease wheel bearings.
- Make sure that all lights and brakes on the towing vehicle and the trailer work properly.
- Examine tie-down straps, lines, winch, safety chains, and hitch for signs of wear. Replace or adjust as necessary.
Crisscross the safety chains under the trailer's coupler
when attaching them to the towing vehicle.
Tighten lug nuts on trailer wheels before departing
On the Road With a Trailer
- Drive at moderate speeds and avoid sudden maneuvers.
- On long trips, pull over every hour or so to check the towing vehicle, trailer, tires, trailer coupling, and gear in the vessel.
Allow for the added length and weight of the trailer.
- Make wider turns at corners and curves.
- Allow extra time and distance for stopping and for passing other vehicles. Steer wider on corners to clear curbs.
Launching Your Vessel from a Trailer
Prepare to launch well away from the boat ramp so that you don't block ramp traffic.
- Transfer all equipment and supplies to the vessel.
- Disconnect trailer lights from the towing vehicle.
- Remove all tie-down straps before backing down the ramp but leave the trailer winch line securely attached to the vessel.
- Make sure the vessel's drain plug is in place.
- Tie a rope to the vessel's bow to use to control the vessel if necessary during launching.
Back the trailered vessel into the water far enough so that the lower unit of the engine can be lowered and submerged while the vessel is still on the trailer.
- As an added precaution, always set the parking brake on the towing vehicle.
- Lower the engine or outdrive, and start the engine. If your vessel is still on the trailer and you have engine trouble, you can retrieve the vessel easily.
- Once the engine is warmed up, back the trailer further into the water until the vessel floats. Undo the winch line, put the vessel's engine in reverse, and back slowly off the trailer.
Retrieving Your Vessel
Back the trailer into the water so that approximately two-thirds of the rollers or bunks– Wooden supports on which the vessel rests while on the trailer are submerged in the water. Set the parking brake of the towing vehicle, and put it in park (or first gear if you have a manual transmission).
- Move the vessel onto the trailer far enough to attach the winch line to the bow eye of the vessel. Finish pulling the vessel onto the trailer by cranking the winch. Stay out of the way of the direct line of the winch cable in case it snaps or you lose control of the winch. Do not load a vessel using engine power because this can cause damage (see diagram below).
- Shut off the engine, and raise the engine or outdrive.
- Pull the vessel out of the water.
Prepare for the drive home well away from the boat ramp so that you don't block ramp traffic.
- While still at the ramp area, remove and dispose of all weeds from the vessel and trailer, remove the drain plug to release bilge water, and drain any live wells. This will help prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance plants and animals. Chapter 4 has the legal requirements for your state.
- Secure the vessel on the trailer and the gear within the vessel, following the same instructions listed above under "Before Leaving Home."
Not Power Load Your Boat
Propeller wash can erode the sediment just beyond the ramp surface, creating a large hole. The eroded sediment is deposited behind the propeller, creating a mound. Trailer tires can get stuck in these holes, and boats can run aground on the mound.
Courtesy on the Boat Ramp
Boat ramp traffic jams can be prevented if everyone practices common courtesy at the ramp. Be sure you observe these simple courtesies.
- Prepare your vessel for launching or for the drive home well away from the ramp.
- Use at least two experienced people to launch and retrieve the vessel—one to drive the towing vehicle and one to operate the vessel.
- Never block a ramp with an unattended vessel or vehicle. Move the vessel away from the launch lane immediately after removing it from the trailer. Return briefly to pick up the vehicle driver once he or she has parked the vehicle and is back at the ramp.
- When retrieving, do not pull your vessel into a launch lane until the towing vehicle is at the ramp. The line is formed by vehicles with trailers, not by vessels in the water. Drop off the vehicle driver, and wait offshore and clear of the ramp until he or she arrives with the trailer.