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Monday, September 04, 2023

Dock Your Doubts: How to Choose the Perfect Trailer for Your Boat

Choosing the Ideal Boat Trailer for Your Needs - Ensure safe and cost-effective boat transportation by selecting the right trailer size, weight, brakes, materials, and more.

So you've just purchased a brand-new boat and are thrilled to get onto open water and watch your kiddos flop around on a recently inflated inner tube. Sounds like a great afternoon, right? The only problem is, how do you get your recent nautical acquisition from point A to point B without damaging it all up?

Finding quality-made boat trailers goes a long way in ensuring you maximize your time on a nearby lake, pond, river, or the open ocean. Even more important, though, is ensuring it meets your unique requirements. You don't want to be hauling a tiny sunfish single rig on a giant trailer meant for a four-engine trawler.

The goal should be to find the right boat trailer – an affordable, durable, reliable, and easy-to-use trailer that will keep your waterway party going all day long.

Benefits of Boat Trailers

First and foremost, boat trailers are made to make life more convenient. You should be able to drop your trailer onto your tow vehicle and get away from the humdrum of 9-5 jobs for some much-needed boating, any time of day or night. However, that convenience factor isn't the only reason to invest in a premium boat trailer. Other benefits include:

Lowering Costs: Anyone who owns a boat knows it comes with fees, licensing, maintenance, and all kinds of accessories that drive prices up. Instead of using a boat hauling service, a boat trailer means you can do the work yourself and save a few bucks.

More Control: Do you suddenly have an open weekend because your aunt is heading to Florida instead of visiting your house? With a boat trailer at home, you can decide to hit the waves anytime you want.

Added Protection: Transportation of any boat comes with risks. A deep scratch from a rock or road debris can lead to disaster on the water. Having your boat trailer at home ensures your boat is better protected.

Easier Maintenance: A boat trailer lifts your floating palace, so you can view all aspects of the hull and railings for maintenance and safety checks. It also means you can spray it down to avoid cross-water contamination from invasive plants.

Critical Factors for Choosing a Boat Trailer

All right, you're now convinced a boat trailer is for your family. Great! But where do you begin when it comes to selecting the best-fit trailer? Start with price. Before we get into a list of specifics, always set a budget that outlines what you can afford. You don't want to be in a situation where a salesperson is trying to upsell you beyond your budgetary constraints. After that, look to:

1 – What Size Trailer Do You Need?

You are going to want to get down the precise boat length and boat weight you need to haul. Most manufacturing labels or ownership manuals will have this info, but you'll need to factor in other things like the engine weight, how much fuel you're carrying, excess water, and those fun accessories your family insists on. The more weight, the larger the trailer!

2 – What is the Tongue Weight?

The general rule of thumb is to shoot for a boat trailer that is between 10% and 15% of the total boat weight of your boat when it is on your trailer. Anything heavier will end up swaying a bit too much in heavy winds or when you drive down that poorly maintained local roadway to the docks.

3 – How Many Axles Are Required?

If you live in an area with road tolls, you know axles make a difference! Most boat trailers are designed for Sunday afternoon small boats you can tow a single rider behind or for fishing. Those are likely to only need a single axle and will fit a weight of around 3,000-3,500 total pounds.

If you have a larger boat, you'll need to up the ante with a proper trailer. Start with double axles that are on a "single point of contact" with the road (axle next to axle).

If you need extended trailers where axles are at the front and back of the vehicle, then you're hauling a serious boat with four or more engines. In any case, always check the pressure to avoid tire wear, a flat tire, and ensure a smooth ride.

4 – What About Brakes?

For all those drivers who have never had a trailer – BRAKES MATTER! You will need to take more time to stop because of the added weight. If you are working with two or more axles on your boat trailer, see if you cannot grab some additional trailer brakes and ensure your brake lights are functioning correctly. That will help with sudden stops or reliable maneuverability in crowded marinas for your trailered boat.

5 – What Type of Boat Trailer Materials are You Using?

In general, you use painted steel for freshwater and galvanized steel trailers or aluminum trailers for saltwater. The more steel trailers you have, the more durable they will be. However, steel trailers tend to rust quicker and need more frequent paint jobs. Aluminum is versatile and works well with strength-to-weight ratios but shouldn't be used for larger boats beyond that 3,500-pound threshold.

6 – Can Your Hitch Handle It?

A boat trailer rests on the hitch at the back of your vehicle. Some hitches are attached to the bumper (not a great idea), and others are on a frame-mounted receiver hitch. Let's be clear, if you're using a bumper hitch, you should avoid any trailer larger than a 1” – 1 7/8” hitch. Anything bigger (like the standard 2” hitch) should be mounted with the structure and weight distribution of your entire car/truck/SUV frame.

7 – What About Tires & Lights?

Tires matter with a boat trailer because of how they handle the weight load on turns. You want radial tires because they have a better grip and decent sidewall flex that doesn't risk the overall structural integrity of the tire itself.

As for lighting, get some LEDs. These will be more durable and better for when you are putting in/pulling out in the early morning hours for fishing or late afternoon after a decent water-skiing trip. No matter what - safety check your trailer lights every time you use it for transportation.

8 – Right Boat Trailer Suspension

It doesn’t matter if you’re loading up a pontoon boat or using a float on trailer. The gross vehicle weight rating of your boat will take a toll on your vehicle’s wheel suspension. If you want a more even wheel suspension, you’re going to choose between a torsion-bar system or a leaf spring system. 

Spring axles tend to be more common because they cost less. A torsion-bar system is designed for lower riding height, which is better for easier water insertion but will be more expensive.

Other Considerations

Beyond pricing and those basics on our list, you should look at load guides for getting in or out of the water, as well as a decent tongue jack. Both of these will make your life a lot easier whenever you are enjoying your boating activities.

Should a Boat Sit on Rollers or Bunks?

Boats rest on supportive devices inside the trailer to avoid damage to the hull, as well as keep the vessel secure while you're moving on the road. In most cases, you'll find bunk trailers on a trailer that may or may not be carpeted. This is a "friction-based" system that works well for supporting your boat in an area or ramp that you are used to. They don't require a lot of maintenance and are easy to replace.

If you love to work with shallow water or rocky situations where you cannot necessarily submerge your boat trailer, then stick to roller trailers. This allows a smooth entrance into the water, but also means you're going to need a lot more support if your haul is going a long distance.

Tips for Boat Towing Safety

No matter what kind of boat trailer you use for your upcoming trip, you need to be safe while on and off the road. A boat trailer that is loose or slipping on the highway can be massively dangerous for you, your equipment, and every other driver nearby. If you're towing a boat and a trailer, be sure to:

Complete regular vehicle checkups by looking at all the rigging, supports, and connections around your boat and your vehicle (including lights).

Use wide turns whenever you are on the road. You want that extra space to ensure no one is too close to your "cutting" point.

Give yourself space when you brake. If you can, use the car’s engine before touching the brakes at all. That will take less toll on your vehicle and strain on the trailer supports.

Never, never, ever slam on the brakes unless you have no other option!

Get used to navigating with your side mirrors. Even with smaller boats, a trailer makes using your rearview a lot more challenging.

Finally, practice every chance you get.

Pro Tip: If you can, go to an employee parking lot and practice turns and backing up. When you're backing up, place your driving hand on the bottom of the steering wheel and point your finger in the direction you want the rear of your trailer to go. Turn the wheel in that direction, and that will help you get to where you want to go easier.

Wrapping it Up

There is no 100% "one-size-fits-all" boat trailer for every situation. Just like picking out the best hot sauce for your over-easy eggs, it comes down to what works best for your unique needs. Take your time and do your research. A bit of upfront work on your end will save you a bunch of money, time, and stress down the road. Hopefully, this guide has helped you find the perfect trailer for your boat and set you on the path to countless enjoyable boating adventures.

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