It’s a matter of trailering

Published 3:47 pm Tuesday, April 21, 2020

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Choosing the right trailer for your vessel is a matter of safety. Here are the things you want to consider when choosing and using your boat trailer.

Choose the right trailer and vehicle to tow your vessel. Be sure your boat trailer has current state registration and license plates and working lights. 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.

Before towing

Be sure the tow ball and coupler are the same size and that all bolts with washers are tightly secured. 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. “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 (GTW). 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 all gear in the vessel and weight balance the gear evenly side-to-side and front-to-back. Secure the vessel to the trailer, add additional tie-down straps and safety lines, in case one fails. Never trust the bow winch alone to hold your vessel onto the trailer. Put the engine in the raised position and secure it. Check the safety chains between the trailer and towing vessel, crisscrossing them under the trailer tongue. Inspect and check the tires and make sure you have at least one spare tire. Tighten the lug nuts/bolts on all wheels and grease wheel bearings. Examine all tie downs and straps, lines, safety chains and hitch for signs of wear. Replace or adjust as needed.

Launching your vessel

Preparation for launching your vessel from a trailer should happen away from the boat ramp. Transfer all equipment and supplies to your vessel. Disconnect trailer lights from 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. And add a line/rope to the vessels bow to use to control the vessel during launching.

Back the trailered vessel slowly 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. Set your parking brake on the towing vehicle. Lower your engine and start the engine, thus if there are any issues with your engine you can easily retrieve all. Once the engine is warmed up, back the trailer further into the water until the vessel floats. Undo the winch line and slowly back your boat off the trailer.

Retrieving your vessel

Retrieving your vessel is easy as long as you have backed the trailer into the water so that approximately two-thirds of the rollers or bunks are submerged into the water. Set the parking brake on the vehicle. Move the vessel onto the trailer far enough to attach 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 just in case it snaps or you lose control of the winch. Shut off the engine and raise the engine or outdrives. Pull the vessel out of the water. Away from the ramp, so as not to block others, remove and dispose of all weeds from trailer and vessel, remove the drain plug and drain bilge and live well there at the location. Secure the vessel as discussed above in preparing to tow and follow the same procedure for trailering home.

In the next couple of weeks, we hope to write articles to support your time on the water. From preparing your trailer and boats, to how to do your own vessel safety check, plus additional articles. But most important, we want to hear from you. Please email your questions to

Capt. David Silberstein is a vessel examination staff officer with USCG Auxiliary, Flotilla 20-06, in Washington.