Trailering Safely

Trailering Your Boat Safely
Courtesy of Hagerty Marine Insurance

Some of you may be watching the winter weather from indoors while your classic boat is safely stored away, others may be planning a trip to warmer climes (with their classic, of course), and there are always those who enjoy a year-round boating season. Whichever group you may fall into, safe boat trailering tips are important to learn or revisit. The experts at the United States Coast Guard, ACBS Safety Officer Goody Thomas and Hagerty Classic Insurance offer the following advice to protect your classic and yourself.
It is very important to choose the proper trailer for your boat. More damage can be done to a boat by the stresses of road travel than by normal water operation. A boat hull is designed to be supported evenly by water. When transported on a trailer, your boat should be supported structurally as evenly across the hull, as possible. This will allow for even distribution of the weight of the hull, engine and equipment. The trailer should be long enough to support the whole length of the hull but short enough to allow the lower unit of the boat’s engine to extend freely.

Rollers and bolsters must be kept in good condition to prevent scratching and gouging of the hull.

Tie-downs and lower unit supports must be adjusted
properly to prevent the boat from bouncing on the trailer. The bow eye on the boat should be secured with either a rope, chain, or turnbuckle in addition to the winch cable. Additional straps may be required across the beam of the boat.

The capacity of the trailer should be greater than the combined weight of the boat, motor, and equipment. The tow vehicle must be capable of handling the weight of the trailer, boat, equipment, as well as the weight of the passengers and equipment that will be carried inside. This may require that the tow vehicle be specially equipped with a(n):

  • Engine of adequate power.
  • Transmission designed for towing.
  • Larger cooling systems for the engine and transmission.
    Heavy-duty brakes.
  • Load bearing hitch attached to the frame, not the bumper
    (Check your vehicle owner’s manual for specific information).

Before You Go Out On the Highway—be sure:

The tow ball and coupler are the same size and bolts with washers are tightly secured (the vibration of road travel can loosen them).

The coupler is completely over the ball and the latching mechanism is locked.

The trailer is loaded evenly from front to rear, as well as side to side. Too much weight on the hitch will cause the rear wheels of the tow vehicle to drag and may make steering more difficult. Too much weight on the rear of the trailer will cause the trailer to “fishtail” and may reduce traction or even lift the rear wheels of the tow vehicle off the ground.

The safety chains are attached crisscrossing under the coupler to the frame of the tow vehicle. If the ball were to break, the trailer would follow in a straight line and prevent the coupler from dragging on the road.

The lights on the trailer function properly.

Check the brakes. On a level parking area roll forward and apply the brakes several times at increasing speeds to determine a safe stopping distance.

The side view mirrors are large enough to provide an unobstructed rear view on both sides of the vehicle.

Check tires (including spare) and wheel bearings. Improper inflation may cause difficulty in steering. When trailer wheels are immersed in water (especially salt water), the bearings should be inspected and greased after each use.

Make certain water from rain or cleaning has been removed from the boat. Water weighs approximately four pounds per gallon and can add weight that will shift with the movement of the trailer.


Allow more time to brake, accelerate, pass, and stop.

Remember the turning radius is also much greater; curbs and roadside barriers must be given a wide berth when negotiating corners.

Prior to operating on the open road, practice turning, backing up, etc. on a level, uncongested parking area.