Boat Trailer Launching Video - 'Steps Prior to Launching'
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Your boat trailer is an important part of
your boating equipment. All to often, a trailer does not
receive the attention that it demands and deserves. After
selecting the appropriate trailer for you boat and tow
vehicle, proper maintenance and continual care when hitching
and towing are necessary. If care and maintenance are
neglected, you may be endangering the safety of your boat,
your car, your family, yourself and others.
Selecting the Proper Trailer
Two important needs should be considered in
determining the proper trailer for your boat: the boat's
needs and your needs.
First, the trailer should "fit the boat,"
allowing equal distribution of the hull weight. The trailer
should be long enough to eliminate any overhang of the boat
transom but short enough to accommodate a propulsion unit of
the boat in its fully extended or "down" position. The
trailer should be designed to carry the total weight of the
hull, engine, equipment and extra gear normally carried.
Second, a boat which will always be hoisted
in and out of the water does not need a trailer as elaborate
as the types of trailers used for launching. Shallow
sloping shores or unimproved launch sites may call for a
"tilting," "breakaway," or extending-tongue trailer. A
trailer that meets your boating needs makes launching and
retrieving easier and safer.
Trailer hitches come in a variety of shapes
and sizes. Most boat trailers connect to a ball hitch that
is bolted or welded to the towing vehicle. Clamp-on bumper
hitches are not recommended for heavy loads or continual
towing. The weight a loaded trailer places on the hitch of
the towing vehicle is called the tongue weight. Special
heavy-duty equalizing hitches are recommended for trailer
tongue weights of 250 pounds or greater. Improper
installation of heavy-duty equalizing hitches on trailers
equipped with surge brakes can cause brakes to lock, (follow
instructions carefully). The trailer hitch itself should
match the size of the ball hitch. NEVER use a ball hitch
that is too small.
It is recommended that the coupling hitch on
the trailer have a lock or similar device to prevent it from
vibrating loose. Periodically lubricate the hitch for
longer wear and quieter turns. The trailer must be equipped
with a least one, preferably two, safety chains strong
enough to control the trailer if the hitch should come loose
or break. The chains should be securely attached to the
towing vehicle at a place separate from the ball and
bracket. The chains should be long enough to allow turning
but not long enough to drag on the ground.
Loading the Trailer
The weight of the boat, equipment, and
additional gear should never exceed the manufacturer's rated
weight capacity. Proper distribution of the load is of
Too much weight on the hitch will cause
"tail dragging" of the towing vehicle, impair steering and
raise the beam of your car's headlights into the eyes of
Too little, or negative weight on the hitch
will cause the trailer to sway or "fishtail."
The solution to proper distribution of the
load is to adjust the wheel carriage either forward or
back. If the carriage cannot be adjusted, relocate movable
gear. If this fails to correct the problem, consider
another trailer of a different design or consult a trailer
specialist who may recommend corrective measures.
Under most states laws, it is an infraction
to tow a vessel containing a passenger, except when engaged
in launching or retrieving the vessel.
Extra caution is necessary when towing any
trailer. The heavier the rig, the more time it takes to
accelerate, pass, and stop. A long rig requires a larger
turning radius. Curbs and obstructions should be given wide
clearance. Most boats on trailers obstruct the rear view of
the driver. In this case, a rear-view mirror on each side
of the towing vehicle is required by law. The trailer
boater should be familiar with traffic and highway laws
relating to the towing of trailer. Contact the local
Highway Patrol in you state for further information.
If you are unfamiliar with your trailer or
haven't towed before, spend some time practicing in a place
that is spacious and free of traffic. Take a friend along
and practice accelerating, braking, turning, and backing.
Learning to back a trailer up can be confusing at first. A
helpful hint: while grasping the bottom of the steering
wheel, move your hand in the direction you want the trailer
to go. Place some markers out for spacing and practice
parking, and if possible, simulate a passing situation so
you get an idea of the time and distance required.
Test the brakes before getting on the open
road. Watch the trailer in the rear-view mirror and listen
for unusual noises.
After 5 to 10 miles of towing, stop and
check the trailer, hitch, chain, tires, lights, wheel
bearings and gear in the boat. On a long-distance tow,
repeat this inspection about ever 100 miles.
Launching and Retrieving
Launch facilities are often crowded and
busy. Occupying the ramp for preliminary launching steps is
a discourtesy to waiting boaters. The following tips are
offered to ensure safe launching and retrieving.
Before you leave home make sure accessories
(blower, bilge pump, lights) are in good working condition.
Prepare the boat for launching in an
adjacent parking area (or at the tip of an uncrowded ramp).
Remove all tie-down straps, disconnect trailer wiring from
towing vehicle. Keep winch line connected until just
entering the water. This will prevent the boat from coming
off the trailer in the event of an emergency stop while
launching. Load safety equipment and gear into boat. Check
Don't let the noise and confusion of a busy
ramp rush you. You will make fewer mistakes if you proceed
with a careful and deliberate launch.
Back the trailer to the left if possible.
This will allow better launching visibility.
If you must leave your vehicle on the ramp,
set the parking brake, block the wheels, and set the
transmission in "park" or first gear for manual
If the launching facility has a floating
dock you may wish to secure a line at the bow and at the
stern of the boat and assign someone to stand on the dock
while you "float" the boat off the trailer.
In retrieving your boat, make sure the boat
is properly placed on the trailer. If the boat has an
outboard engine, or an inboard/outboard (I/O) unit, raise it
before placing the boat on the trailer. Pull the trailer up
steadily to prevent spinning the wheels.
Never allow a person to stand in line with
the winch cable when it is loaded or is taut.
Before entering a roadway, make sure lights
are connected and working, the tie-down straps or clamps are
in place, and the lower I/O unit or outboard is in its
trailering position. Double check your hitch and safety
chains. Remove or secure gear inside the boat to prevent
damage from shifting or to prevent lightweight items from
The majority of states law requires a
trailer to have two red taillights on the rear that may be
combined with the stop and turn signals. Trailers over 80
inches wide require clearance light and rear brake lights
visible for 500 feet. A car towing a heavy trailer must
have its headlight beams adjusted to compensate for the
If the lights will be submerged, waterproof
light fixtures should be used. Water promotes contact
corrosion and may cause the lamp to crack and short out the
entire lighting system, so it is a good idea to carry spare
lamps. The wire coupling to the towing should be high
enough to stay dry, or disconnected when the trailer is
Never rely on the trailer hitch for
electrical ground connection. A four-pole connectors
should be used.
Tires should be inflated to the
manufacturer's recommended pressure. Carry a spare tire and
wheel, and a jack that fits the boat trailer.
If the wheel bearing are submerged,
waterproof bearings and caps should be considered. If water
gets into the hub, lubricating grease will wash away and the
bearings will eventually burn out or seize, causing damage
and creating a safety hazard. Waterproofed bearing should
be inspected prior to each boating season and periodically
during the season. Non-waterproofed bearings should be
checked more often.
Carry a spare set of wheel bearings, seals,
Special care should be given when traveling
with small-diameter wheels on unimproved roads.
Trailers over 3,000 pounds gross weight
(combined weight of boat, trailer, and gear) must have a
If a trailer has electric or other power
brakes, the braking system must be operated from the towing
vehicle and the two vehicles must be able to stop within 40
feet from 20 MPH.
Frame and Roller or Pads
Rust should not be allowed to accumulate on
the trailer frame and roller parts. If rust forms, remove
the rust and repaint with an antirust paint. Some trailers
offer galvanized coating to prevent rust. Rollers should
roll freely and should not have cracks or flat spots. Pads
should not have cracks or flattened areas. Roller and pads
can be adjusted both up and down, and forward and backward
to provide the best support. For most hulls, the vital
support points are:
Just under the bow
The line of the keel and the planking on
Where the bottom meets the side and where
interior weights are concentrated
Vehicles are limited in towing capacity.
They are designed to carry people and small loads only.
Towing heavy loads places extra demands on the engine,
transmission, brakes and other systems.
The essential for any vehicle used for
trailer towing are:
Adequate power to merge with traffic and
climb with a load
Heavy-duty engine cooling system
Properly running transmission, possibly
equipped with a transmission cooler
Brakes with premium lighting
Heavy-duty springs or air shocks to
Heavy-duty shock absorbers
Towing "packages" are available through most
automobile dealers and should be considered for towing heavy
boats. A towing package includes such things as non-slip
differential, heavy-duty cooling system, heavy-duty flasher,
oversize battery and alternator, heavy-duty suspension,
special wiring, special rear-axle ratio, and larger ties and
If the boat is stored outside, the drain
plug should be removed and the trailer and boat tilted
slightly to allow any accumulation of water to drain.
If a boat cover is used, it should be
tailored for the boat. Water can "puddle" on an improperly
fitted cover. The weight of puddle water can rip the cover
or allow the cover to slip off, funneling the water inside
the boat. A top drawstring can pull the cover high to
prevent puddling. A bottom drawstring with tie-downs and
weight placed along the bottom will keep the cover from
whipping in the wind during towing. Tires may be covered
during storage to eliminate sun damage but covers should be
removed during wet weather to prevent damage from dampness.
and Don'ts at the Ramp
At times boat ramps may be crowded. Suppose
every time you launched your boat, no one was tied up at
the dock, and each time you retrieved your boat, the ramp
was clear and you waited only momentarily, if at all, for
your turn. Enjoying this situation isn't impossible. It just
takes a little application of the Golden Rule and some
launch ramp smarts when accesses are crowded. Here are six
ideas you can use to make launching and retrieving tolerable
Get to know your favorite boat ramps so you can plan your
launching and retrieving for maximum efficiency. Boaters tie
up boat ramps because they don't realize that many access
sites have specially built areas for launch preparation and
for tie-down after retrieval. These places are called
rigging and derigging areas. If we used these places, more
boaters could launch and retrieve, and a long line at the
ramp itself could be shortened.
Before you launch your boat at an unfamiliar
access, look the place over and decide how you're going to
launch and retrieve for maximum speed and safety. Is there a
dock at which you can get your gear ready immediately after
launching and where you can secure your equipment before
retrieving out of the way of those who are launching and
retrieving? Will the wind or current make maneuvering your
rig for launching and retrieving difficult? If you launch on
a river, will a tide change make you alter your launching
and retrieval scheme?
If a boat ramp site doesn't have rigging and derigging
areas, prepare for launching in a parking space. As soon as
you retrieve your boat and get it on the trailer, attach the
bow hook and make your way slowly to the parking area.
There, away from others trying to launch and retrieve their
boats, work with your equipment and get ready to leave.
Remember that the ramp itself is only for launching and
retrieving, not for preparing your boat and gear.
Before you call it a day and return to the ramp to retrieve
your boat, put your tackle away, prepare mooring lines and
get everything ready that's coming out of the boat for
storage in your tow vehicle. Don't perform these tasks on
the ramp. You won't tie up the ramp this way, and you'll get
home faster. In addition, when you launch the next time,
organizing your gear this way can help you get under way
If ramps have docks, where you can wait for friends or
complete your boating preparations, use them instead of
waiting on the launch ramp. You can also beach your boat on
smooth shorelines at the launch site either to wait for
friends to board or to wait your turn to retrieve your
boat. Make a written checklist for launching and
retrieving. You increase your efficiency by getting your
gear ready for use and by storing items quickly. A routine
governed by a checklist increases your efficiency and lets
you spend the least amount of time at the ramp.
Applying these ideas before you launch can give you and
everyone else at the ramp more time on the water. Crowded
boat ramp sites don't always have to mean long waits and
frayed nerves. It's up to us.