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Wednesday, November 01, 2023

How to Properly Use Trim Tabs on a Boat

Trim tabs are essential for optimal boat performance, efficiency, and safety. Learn how to use them properly to improve your boating experience.

Trim tabs provide your boat with a ton of versatility and control on the open water. They enable you to make direct corrections, so when your boat reacts, you still maintain the direction you intended.

With so many different reasons to get out on the water, having the proper performance safety is crucial to new adventures. Learning how to properly use trim tabs on a boat enhances your control and affects your overall ride and efficiency. Having a power trim system is perfect for all bodies of water, and this article will help you understand the best way to adjust trim tabs for your boat’s speed and direction.

How Trim Tabs Work

Think of adjustable trim tabs as tiny wings attached to a boat’s transom. The point of these little helpers is to give you a hydrodynamic lift at your stern so you can quickly make adjustments to the boat’s angle in the water.

As trim tabs are deflected downwards, your stern will lift and the bow lower. On the other end, as your trim tabs are retracted, the stern will dip, and the bow rise. This is kind of like a teeter-totter that will help you reach the desired running attitude for maximum steering control.

How to Best use Trim Tabs

There are a number of ways to best use stern lifting with your trim tabs. A few of the most common issues you’ll encounter include:

When Planing

The point of planning is to give your boat the least resistance when gliding on top of the water. As your boat accelerates, your bow will rise a little until it reaches the optimal plane point. Try applying short bursts of trim downwards to give you a little extra oomph so you can achieve that plane point quicker.

If you have too much planing going on, simply reduce your acceleration and trim. You can tell when you’ve reached a good attitude when the bow spray moves forward, and you get a little rooster tail down the length.

To Fix Listing

Listing is a serious issue when you have a lot of passengers on the boat. You want a comfortable ride with optimal performance that moves your boat forward. If you have uneven weight distribution, your boat will “list” from one side or the other.

To fix this, lower the port bow trim tab to raise that side and level out the boat as the boat leans to the starboard side. The reverse works if the boat is listing toward the port. Try to use the trim tabs in short bursts to correct listing so you don’t tilt too far – especially in rough sea conditions.

Stay on Plane at Lower Speeds

Planing offers a lot of fuel efficiency because of the reduced friction. However, you may not want to have the boat throttle all the way up to find your plane point. As your boat slows, it will settle the stern point. When you’re at these slower speeds, deploy your trim tabs a little bit to get that extra lift at the stern. This will help you maintain planing, even at lower speeds.

Stop Porpoising

You’ll likely see a lot of boats porpoising in rough waters. When a driver goes over the harsh waves, the front of the boat will dip accordingly. The same is true on calm waters, and makes for a very uncomfortable ride.

Try to adjust the trip tabs lower to keep the bow down. You want to reduce bow spray in small increments and ensure a smoother ride that prevents any porpoising from getting in the way of your relaxation.

When in Choppy Waters

Similar to porpoising, your goal is to stop the bow from rising up and down repeatedly. You’ll want to lower your trim tabs to restrict the bow from going too high. This will help with excessive spray and a calmer ride, even in sea conditions that are getting a little out of hand. As always, get to safer waters if you feel unsure about the integrity of your ride in bad weather.

When in Reverse

Here is a point many people never consider. When our boat is in reverse, you can mess with control, fuel consumption, and water flow by keeping your trim tabs down. You need to fully retract/raise them out of the way to avoid any drag. Your boat trim tabs should be well out of the way of your backward motion.

Benefits of Proper Trim Tab Use

Over-trimming can be avoided when you use short bursts of your trim tabs. Take your time to get to know how these work and fine-tune your control. Over time, you’ll experience many benefits to trim tabs like:

Performance: Achieve a quicker plane, reduce bow rise, and ensure maximum speed, all while keeping complete control over the attitude and direction of your vessel. 

Efficiency: Optimize fuel economy, reduce fuel consumption, and decrease engine labor. Using your trim tabs properly will help you extend the lifespan of your boat because you’ll put way less wear and tear on your engine. 

Safety: Enhance steering and handling, ensure maximum steering response (even when in choppy waters), and minimize stress on the boat structure. Don’t forget your crew and passengers as well. They’ll appreciate the extra work you’re employing when you use trim. 

Adding Some Personalization

Consider investing in automatic tab retractors. With these inexpensive add-ons, you can avoid damage to your boat as they will automatically retract when you’re loading, being hoisted, or in reverse. Most work by retracting whenever the engine is turned off. 

Or you can invest in trim indicators for your boat. Instead of guessing where your trim tabs are in the water, these indicators will give you the heads up if they are up, down, or anywhere in between. 


Understanding and effectively using trim tabs can significantly improve your boating experience. Take your time to learn how these work in the water by practicing in a calm lake. That should give you plenty of room to build up the muscle memory to retract when reversing or raise/lower the trim tabs as needed. 

You really should get some automatic retractors. They are a massive benefit whenever you transport your boat and don’t want extra damage or repairs. 


Should boat trim tabs be up or down?

Where your trim tabs (get indicators!) are on your boat will be in relation to the conditions. For most, they should be retracted before you’re in the water.

Where should trim tabs be mounted on a boat?

Trim tabs should be mounted on the boat's transom, with the edge of the tab close to but not touching the plane of the boat's hull. Your indicators will give you more precise information as you ride.

Will trim tabs help in rough water?

Yes, trim tabs can help in rough water by adjusting the boat's attitude. When you use your trim tabs according to how your boat reacts, you’ll be able to reduce bow spray (which your passengers will appreciate), lower wave impact, and get a much more enjoyable ride.

What do you do first when using trim tabs?

Always begin with your trim tabs fully retracted. Whenever you accelerate, use short bursts of the trim tabs to correct listing, porpoising, planing, or any other desired effect.

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