Tips for Trailering, Launching, and Retrieving Your Boat

By Staff Writer


Palm Harbor, FL -- If you've never trailered a boat, there are several things you need to consider. First is the towing capacity of your car, truck or SUV. This information can typically be found in your vehicle's owner's manual.


Weighing In

Your boat's owner's manual will list the "dry weight" of your boat. That's the weight of the boat, less fuel and gear. Make sure when you're assessing your vehicle's towing capacity that you add several hundred pounds to the dry weight of the boat to account for those extras.


Muscle Power

As the weight, length and width (beam) of a given boat increase, so does the power needed to launch and retrieve it. A small boat may be easy for one person to handle at the ramp but larger boats, generally those more than 25 feet, may require additional hands. Don't be afraid to ask for help at the ramp if you need it. Trailer boaters are always happy to help.


Consult Your State Laws

Trailering laws vary from state to state and often are based on weight and beam. Click Here to see what your state laws are as it relates to towing.


Basic Trailering Checklist

Never tow your boat trailer before you check to be sure: 

·         Coupler, hitch and hitch ball are of the same size

·         Coupler and safety chains are safely secured to hitch of tow vehicle

·         All fasteners are properly tightened

·         Boat is securely tied down to trailer (winch line is not a tie down)

·         Wheel lug nuts are properly tightened

·         Wheel bearings are properly adjusted and maintained

·         Load is within maximum load carrying capacity

·         Tires are properly inflated

·         All trailer lighting is working properly

·         Trailer brakes are properly adjusted and working (if trailer is so equipped)

·         Be sure to check local and state requirements regarding brakes and any additional equipment that may be required


Boat Trailer Maintenance

Trailer hubs and lights get dunked twice every time you launch and retrieve your boat. You need to pamper them as you would your boat- this is an essential element of boat trailer maintenance. Do an occasional inspection by popping off the cap with a screwdriver. If the bearings are dry, add grease. It's simple. Conduct routine maintenance by having a friend or family member occasionally stand behind your trailer and make sure the brake lights, taillights and turn signals are in good working order. As with your boat, a thorough freshwater wash down of your trailer after each use will extend the life of your hubs and lights. It's also a great boat maintenance idea to invest in a spare wheel, just in case.


When you arrive at the launch ramp, you're understandably eager to get your boat in the water. Before you just stick it in the water willy-nilly, you should know some of the basics of launching and retrieving your boat.


Launching Your Boat

When you arrive at the ramp area, park your truck and trailer in a spot well away from the ramp itself. Load all of your gear and prepare the boat for launch. Some ramps even have "staging areas" specifically for these tasks, which keeps people from clogging up the launch ramp with activities that already should have been done.


In the staging area, after you have loaded everything you need into the boat, remove the tie-down straps at the rear of the boat and be sure the drain plug is in. REMEMBER TO MAKE SURE THE DRAIN PLUG IS IN. Leave the bow strap attached. Why? Some ramps are steep enough and some trailer bunks slick enough that you can end up dumping your boat onto the pavement instead of into the water. And if you do that, people will think you're really stupid; and they'd be right.


Back the trailer into the water far enough so that the tops of the fenders are just above the waterline. Usually, this is enough to float the boat off the bunks and make backing it off just a matter of shifting into reverse. Some trailers differ—you might need to back in farther or less—but this is a good place to start. Now you should be able to remove the bow strap without getting your feet wet, back the boat off of the trailer, then pull the trailer out and park. Most parking lots at launch ramps have enough space for maneuvering, but look around to be sure you have enough room to get out later.


You are now ready to enjoy a day on the water.


Retrieving Your Boat


After your day on the water is through, it's time to retrieve your boat. In many ways, the process is easier. Boat trailers are easier to back when you don't have the boat blocking your view, normally the big rush at the ramp is in the morning. And once you secure the boat to the trailer, you just need to pull it straight ahead to leave the ramp.


It is common to see wind pick up and the weather change in late afternoon. Keep in mind that conditions at the ramp may be different from when you started. This is especially true at launch ramps outside of marinas or unprotected by breakwaters.


The process of removing your boat from the water is the reverse of what you did to launch it. Areas of special concern are ensuring your outdrive or outboard motor is raised, the trailer winch is securely fastened to the boat and taking care to make certain the boat is resting properly on the trailer. Pull the boat out of the water slowly. Many launch ramps have a sharp break in grade right at the top of the ramp that can cause trouble if you are going too fast.


Try to park your boat trailer away from the launch ramp to finish preparing the boat for travel. Attach tie-down straps, remove the drain plug, and check safety equipment. Safety chains should be secure, taillights working, and loose items stowed.


Retrieval Steps


  • Drive the boat carefully onto the submerged trailer, and raise the lower unit of the engine.
  • Back the trailer down the ramp so that the fenders are almost fully submerged. This varies by trailer but usually provides enough water to float the boat directly onto the bunks.
  • Carefully drift the boat onto the trailer while raising the lower unit so it doesn't touch bottom.
  • Winch the boat onto the trailer and secure it with the safety chain.
  • Once the boat is secured to the trailer, verify the trim is fully elevated and drive out of the ramp to the wash down area for cleanup, unloading and an equipment safety check.
  • Remove the drain plug to allow water to drain from the boat.
  • Attach the tie-down straps to the stern, verify the winch strap and chain are secure, and all loose items inside the boat have been secured.
  • Verify trailer hitch is securely attached to the vehicle, safety chains are in place, and all trailer lights are working.

You are now ready to hit the road and start planning for next weekend!