How to Choose a Boat Trailer - 08/31/2018

A trailer can greatly enhance the boating experience not only because it eliminates having to rent a slip, but also because it allows the owner to travel long distances to boat in new waters. A trailer also adds value to a boat, creating a more complete package. Choosing the right trailer isn’t rocket science, but there are important criteria that factor into the decision.

Galeon 510 Skydeck
A trailer adds to a boat’s versatility by making it more mobile.

Size Matters. Trailers are classified by length and weight. The length is easy to figure out. Use a tape measure or contact the boat manufacturer. The weight includes more than just the boat – remember to add in the engine, weight of fuel, water and gear. The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is the maximum weight the trailer is rated to carry. For safety, add 15 percent extra weight.

Tongue weight refers to how heavy the front of the trailer is. It should always be between 10 and 15 percent of the total boat-and-trailer package. If it is heavier than that, the trailer could sway back and forth as it’s rolling down the road, which can be dangerous.

Single or Multiple Axles. Trailers with one axle are for smaller boats. Typically, a single-axle trailer can accommodate a boat up to 22’ (6.7 m) or 23’ (7.01 m) with a maximum weight of 3,300 lbs. (1,369 kg) to 3,500 lbs. (1,587 kg). They cost less, require less maintenance and are easier to move around manually than dual-axle models. Trailers with two or more axles are for larger boats. They track better on the road and prove safer if a tire blows out.

Galeon 510 Skydeck single engine
A single-axle trailer is usually used for smaller single-engine boats and can be towed by a variety of vehicles.
Galeon 510 Skydeck tandembunk
Here we see a tandem-axle bunk trailer. Trailers with two axles can accommodate a wide range of boats up to about 7,500 pounds (3,401.9 kg).

Brakes make it easier to keep a trailer under control. Laws that require how many axles have brakes vary by state, but many experts recommend that multi-axle trailers have brakes on all axles. Electric brakes offer low maintenance and the ability to brake the trailer before the tow vehicle, but saltwater can cause problems with them. Surge brakes, though more complex, have proven more reliable in marine service.

Real Steel. Boat trailers come in three types of material. Painted steel trailers are fine for freshwater and they create a more packaged look when color-matched to the boat. For saltwater use, galvanized steel or aluminum is the preferred metal. The galvanized trailer is heavier, but aluminum is more expensive.

Galeon 510 Skydeck trailer
Steel trailers can be painted to match the boat, which presents a more custom look.
Galeon 510 Skydeck aluminum
Aluminum trailers are built with I-beam construction and are often lighter than galvanized steel. This trailer has bunks instead of rollers.

Bunks or Rollers. Trailers come with one of two support systems, rollers or bunks. A trailer with rollers is considered easier to load. Bunks are thought to provide better support for the hull. Offshore go-fasts, bass boats and other high-performance models almost always ride on bunk trailers. Bunks are usually covered in carpet and some have plastic tops to make it easier for the boat to slide onto and off of them. Rollers make it easier to slide a boat on and off of a trailer.

Galeon 510 Skydeck big bunks
Bunks can be added to a trailer to improve support.
Galeon 510 Skydeck trailers
Roller-style trailers are more versatile and are preferred for easier launch and retrieval.

Get Hitched. Most trailers connect to the tow vehicle with a hitch that clamps to a ball on the bumper or frame-mounted receiver hitch. We will cover the different classes of trailer hitch in our report on tow vehicles. Most trailer hitches require a 2” (5.08 cm) ball. Smaller ones will use an 1 7/8” (4.76 cm) ball and larger ones can be as big as 2 5/16” (5.87 cm).

Galeon 510 Skydeck hitch and ball
Here we see a typical receiver hitch and ball (bottom) beneath the trailer hitch that will be lowered onto it.

LED lights are more durable and brighter than traditional incandescent lights. They also cost more. Incandescent lights get hot when used so it’s recommended that they be unplugged before backing the trailer into cold water so they don’t blow out. For wiring look for tinned copper and make sure all holes in the trailer frame have good rubber grommets or other chafe protection.

Galeon 510 Skydeck trailer lights
Incandescent lights have been used on boat trailers for decades – but technology has changed and we recommend LED lights.
Galeon 510 Skydeck led lights
LED lights are brighter, more durable and waterproof.

Radial tires are better than bias-ply versions. Bias-ply tires transmit sidewall flex to the tread, increasing the chances for slipping. Bias-ply tires also present a smaller footprint, resulting in less grip.

Worthwhile Accessories. There are some accessories that are worth adding to a trailer, especially one that’s going to be used on a weekly basis. A jack that bolts to the front of the trailer tongue makes it easy to lift the trailer on and off the hitch. A spare tire and mount can mean the difference between making it to the ramp or home. We highly recommend that all trailers have a spare tire.

Load guides attached to the sides of a trailer make it easier to put back on the trailer, because when submerged the operator cannot see all of the trailer bed. Finally, bearing savers such as Bearing Buddies can extend the life of a trailer by keeping the wheel bearings bathed in a constant supply of grease.

Galeon 510 Skydeck tongue
A tongue jack is one of the most worthwhile accessories for a trailer.
Galeon 510 Skydeck spare time
A spare tire for a trailer is highly recommended, especially for people who use their trailer every weekend.
Galeon 510 Skydeck pvc
PVC load guides, known as goal posts, make it easy to see the sides of the trailer at a deep-water ramp.
Galeon 510 Skydeck wood
Carpeted wood load guides help keep a boat properly positioned on the trailer.
Galeon 510 Skydeck buddy
Bearing Buddies press onto a trailer axle end and help keep the axle greased.
Galeon 510 Skydeck
This drawing shows how a bearing buddy distributes grease through the hub and axle.

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