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How to Load a Powerboat on a Trailer

Updated on August 14, 2013

Boat Ramps and Trailer Hitches Are Not Your Enemy

Loading a boat onto a boat ramp should be a simple task. You back your trailer down the ramp into the water to enable the person on the boat to pull the boat onto the trailer. Easy, no? Well, maybe. Trailer hitches are engineered to make the job easy, and a hitch that works well can be the difference between an uneventful retrieval and a disaster. But there's more to it than a good hitch. Knowing how to load a boat onto a trailer is as important as knowing how to dock a boat.

Not all boat ramps are created equal, and some can be a nightmare. This article addresses the problem of loading a boat onto a trailer under both favorable and unfavorable conditions. If you can anchor a boat, you can load a boat onto a trailer. Just follow a few steps and use common sense.

The Steps to a Successful Retrieval

1. How many people should be involved? Three or more is ideal. One person drives the vehicle towing the trailer. The second spots the trailer in the water to make sure it's positioned to accept the boat. The third drives the boat onto the ramp. If only you and a companion are involved, simply call to someone in the launch area to spot the trailer for you. Boaters, as you know, are friendly and helpful

2. Backing the trailer onto the ramp. Slowly back the trailer, being careful to make certain that it is moving in a straight direction and not angled. Your spotter will let you know when the trailer is correctly positioned with enough water over it to enable the boat to float onto it.

3. Maneuvering the boat onto the trailer. The most important thing to remember is this: position yourself directly in the center of the boat so that you can visually line the boat up with the center of the trailer. If you're looking at the trailer from an angle, your boat will arrive on an angle.

4. Attach the trailer hitch to the boat. Trailer hitches come in all sorts of sizes and quality. Make sure you have a good one. When you have a firm connection, use the crank to pull the boat all the way onto the trailer. This doesn't require enormous strength because the boat is still afloat.

5. Put your engine transmission into low gear. This may seem obvious, but it's a little detail than can go unnoticed. By all means you should engage all four wheels of your vehicle. If you only have a two wheel drive, well, you shouldn't be towing boats. But some folks tow boats with a two wheel drive vehicle. It can be done, but it's more difficult. The following video shows a simple retrieval. Note that the boat is semi inflatable, making it lighter. But the concept is still the same for any boat.

A Successful Boat Retrieval

The above steps are the basics for loading a boat onto a trailer under normal conditions. But what if the ramp is not what you would call normal. In other words:


Boat trailer ramps are usually constructed and supervised by a municipality or a park district. Like any group of people, some are diligent and take their jobs seriously, while others seem not to care. But even with a well constructed boat ramp, part of it will be covered with algae and slime at low tide and there is really nothing that the most diligent launch area crew can do about it. So you back the boat trailer into the water and make a perfect retrieval. Then what happens? You spin your wheels on the slime covered boat ramp. The only option now is to call a tow truck to tow your towing vehicle. So what do you do?

1. Wait for high tide. This is your best bet and the safest. The boat ramp pavement above the high water mark will be free of slime and the boat ramp angle won't be severe. But sometimes you simply can't wait. If a storm is on its way, you just have to get the boat out of the water, low tide or not.

2. Use a cable. If you must retrieve a boat at low tide on a steep slime covered boat ramp, your objective is to keep the vehicle on dry pavement. To do this, attach a cable to the boat trailer and back it into the water while your vehicle remains on dry land. Use a second, longer cable to attach to the bow of the boat just as you would under normal conditions. Make certain that the boat is secured to the boat trailer so that it doesn't tilt backward. A strong rope or short cable will do the trick. Once the boat is safely on the boat trailer, slowly wind in the cable to bring the trailer to the towing vehicle.

Loading a boat onto a trailer should be a simple part of your boating routine and you shouldn't look at it as a chore to be dreaded. Done properly, and pardon the pun, you can pull it off without a hitch.


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    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thank you. Happy and safe boating - and trailering.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 5 years ago from Western New York

      We have a 16' sailboat and I am SO glad it is simple to load and unload. Handling a heavy powerboat would be much more difficult! You have wonderful tips - every time I see a news report about a truck slipping backwards into the water, I cringe. There are obviously safe ways of getting a boat into the water - you have great tips, rfmoran!

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Happy and safe boating!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Even though all the boats I've had to deal with loading and unloading are either plastic or inflated, I STILL find the process to be incredibly taxing and stressful. Your tips are so useful. Thanks for sharing them!