At first towing a boat may seem daunting, but just remember that millions of people tow their boat every year -- you can, too. Just like learning to drive a car for the first time, take the boat and trailer to a large parking lot and practice driving and backing up. This practice is the secret to avoiding difficulties at the launch ramp when other boaters may be waiting.
Practice makes perfect -- and don’t forget the old captain’s advice: “Never be too proud to try again.” Even veterans sometimes get it wrong on the first pass.
Use the side-view mirrors and leave extra room for braking. When towing in windy conditions, the effects of the crosswinds can be minimized by taking a foot off the gas pedal. Do not apply the brakes. When making turns, be careful to travel far enough forward so that the trailer can also make the turn.
Upon arriving at the ramp, don’t get directly into the launch line. Pull aside, remove the transom straps from the trailer, load gear into the boat, affix lines to fore and aft cleats and install the drain plug. Don’t remove the bow winch strap and safety chain yet.
If the trailer has incandescent lights, just before getting the trailer wet, disconnect the plug for the lights to keep them from bursting when the brakes are applied.
It’s easy to get confused when backing up with a trailer. The easiest way to get it right is to place a hand on the bottom of the tow vehicle’s steering wheel and move it in the direction the trailer needs to go.
Move your hand to the left and the trailer will go left. Moving it to the right will make the trailer go right. Keep course corrections minor. Don’t over steer. Go slowly -- there’s no need to rush. Remember the old adage: “I’m going slowly because I’m in a hurry.”
Before backing down, pull forward as much as necessary to get the boat and trailer in line with each other.
While keeping the boat close enough to the dock to reach it in order to handle dock lines, back down the ramp until the boat’s stern begins to float and the drive or outboard is submerged sufficiently to pick up cooling water.
Set the parking brake on the tow vehicle.
Do not disconnect the winch strap or safety chain until ensuring that the engine(s) start. Once the engine is idling, then disconnect the bow strap and chain.
Shift the engine into reverse and gently apply power. If the boat doesn’t move, back the trailer a little deeper into the water. Once the boat is free of the trailer, pull the trailer straight up the ramp and park in a designated spot.
Obviously, all of this is much easier with two people working together. If you are alone, simply make sure that you are close enough to the dock to jump onto and off of the boat -- or have a swimming suit on to get into the water. Always have the tow vehicle’s parking brake on or have it in park when exiting the vehicle.
Hauling the boat out of the water is essentially performing the launch process in reverse. But there are a few pointers to keep in mind.
First, don’t back in too far. Doing so could cause the boat’s bow to float off the trailer. It varies from rig to rig, but submerging one half to three-quarters of the trailer is usually about right. A good way to gauge is to be able to see the tops of the fenders.
Remember, it’s easier to back up a little deeper once the boat is lined up.
Trailers with rollers can be easier to load, so it might be best to drive the bow up onto the rollers, then winch the boat the rest of the way. For bunk trailers, it's usually more effective to use the boat's power to drive it up the trailer. Make sure the boat is properly aligned before applying throttle.
Once the boat is solidly on the trailer, turn off the engine and raise the tilt. Re-connect the bow strap and tighten it. Re-connect the safety chain and pull the boat out of the water. After determining that the boat is properly positioned on the trailer, haul the boat and trailer out of the ramp.
A trailer boater’s goal should always be to use the launch facility for as short a time as possible, so pull up into the parking lot or off to the side of the road before preparing to drive home. Remember to re-connect the brake lights and make sure that all straps and cables, chains, etc. are properly secured.