Boat Trailering Safety Tips and Checklist
Trailering Boats Safely
Safe boating begins with safe trailering. How many times have you seen an abandoned boat and trailer on the side of the road? Chances are good the boat owner didn't properly check his or her trailer, or didn't secure the boat correctly. Luckily, you can easily avoid embarrassment and damaging your property by selecting the correct trailer and following a basic safety checklist.
Marine Trailer Lights
Boat trailers are at least partially submerged when you launch a boat. While all trailer lights can survive a light rain, submersion is a different story. Non-marine trailer lights will fail after getting water in them. Marine trailer lights are designed to experience submersion and will not fail you after a dip in the lake.
Choosing the Correct Boat Trailer
Boat trailers are not one size fits all. You must carefully fit your boat to the correct trailer and fit the trailer to your towing vehicle.
- Make sure the weight of your boat, its full fuel tank, and any additional gear is less than 90% of the trailer's maximum load weight. Many boaters choose a trailer based only on the boat's weight, but it must carry a boat with all needed gear and a full tank of fuel.
- Make sure the towing vehicle and trailer have compatible hitches and brake light/turn signal couplers, if needed. Sometimes people use a ball hitch on their vehicle that is too small. The cup portion of the hitch fits over a too-small ball, but it does not latch securely in place, which can cause the trailer to come free.
- Pay attention to the trailer's tongue weight. Add the weight of the fueled boat and the trailer together. Only 7%-10% of this weight should rest on the tongue. If the tongue weight is insufficient, the trailer will sway dangerously during towing. If the tongue weight is too great, the trailer may drag on the ground.
- Check your state's trailer licensing requirements. Many states do not require trailers under a certain weight, typically about 2,500 lbs, to be registered. Also, check your state's trailer light and brake requirements. In most states, trailers that weigh less than 3,000 lbs, including the boat's weight, do not require brakes. Registration, brake, and light requirements are usually set by the state's Department of Motor Vehicles, so just check with your local DMV for more information.
Check your Trailer before DepartureClick thumbnail to view full-size
Gunwale tie downs are a quick and easy way to hold a smaller boat to its trailer. Investing in a specially-designed gunwale tie down makes strapping your boat in far easier, especially if you are tying it down alone.
Pre-Departure Trailer Checklist
Before setting out on the road, do a quick trailer walk-around to make sure it is safe and in good condition.
- Ensure all tires are properly inflated. Also, get down and look at your tires. Sometimes they can appear inflated, but a closer examination reveals cracking and dry rot that can cause problems on the road.
- Make sure brake lights and turn signals work properly.
- Make sure you use two safety chains to connect the trailer and towing vehicle in case the trailer slips its hitch. Both chains need to be in good repair and rust-free. Either chain should be capable of holding the entire weight of the boat and trailer. Be particularly careful if you use plastic-encapsulated chains. If water gets inside the plastic coating, the chain can rust and you won't be able to tell easily.
- Secure everything in the boat by placing it the boat's built-in storage or tying it down. Even objects you think are heavy can bounce out of a boat when it is trailered.
- If you are trailering a sailboat, make sure the mast is stepped, or removed, and secured to the boat's hull.
- Make sure winch cables and clips are rust-free.
- Properly secure the boat to the trailer. You must keep the boat from sliding back and from popping up if you hit a bump. Boats and trailers are set up differently, so you need to figure out what works best for you. Generally, you need two aft straps and to straps somewhere forward of the boat's midpoint. Smaller boats can use a long gunwale strap across the boat's midsection, as shown in the video.
- If you have an outboard motor, tilt it up to prevent it from hitting the ground while you drive.
- Run through a required safety equipment gear check to make sure you have everything you need, such as PFDs, your registration documentation, and fire extinguishers, before you leave.
Have you ever experienced a boat trailer accident?
Having your boat pop off its trailer is not a fun way to start the day, nor is losing your trailer on the road when the whole trailer pops off. You can avoid these common boat trailer mishaps by always checking your trailer, cables, chains, belongings, and boat tie-downs before getting on the road. It takes a few extra minutes, but it is time well spent and can keep you from ruining your day or damaging your property.