you ever have to sit in on one of those traffic classes that are supposed to
make you better drivers, but you didnít even come close to learning something
you didnít already know. We pretty much all understand that Mr. Driving
instructor says hands at 10 and 2 and signal to pass. Well, Iím here to give
you some practical advise on trailering a boat, that can be the difference
between a disastrous wreck or an uneventful trip. You see, there is no common
sense when it comes to trailering, because trailering is not a common thing.
There are however, some great tips and guidelines that can help us. Some of
these are preventive and others are for handling the emergency situation that
may arise one day, with a whole lot of fiberglass or aluminum behind us,
trying to ruin our day.
I can remember the first time I thought my life was in
peril as a result of a towing experience. I was cruising along a two lane road
in somewhat rural Wisconsin on a morning that had produced quite a bit of dew,
enough to make the road slightly moist. The sun was in my eyes a bit as I
rounded a corner, and I missed the sign that said stop ahead. I was driving a
small Blazer, and towing my Ranger 690VS, a fairly big craft. Well, by the
time I saw the stop sign and put the hooks on to try and stop the truck, I
realized that there was no way this small truck was going to be able to stop
that big boat that was pushing it from behind. What happened is that I rolled
right across the intersection, barely missing two speeding cars traveling
across my path. It was simply a matter of physics that this lightweight
vehicle couldnít stop with that heavy a load behind it. It really taught me a
lot about how valuable the right vehicle could be.
On that note, letís start by talking about the vehicle weíre going to tow
with. Just because your car says it can tow a certain capacity, and you get
the hitch to match, donít be mislead into thinking that it would be a very
good idea. You see, everything about stability and ride has to do with 2
things, wheelbase and weight. Wheelbase is simply the distance between the
front and rear wheels, the more the better. Weight has a couple of different
functions, but they all relate to physics 101. Basically, to stop straighter,
faster, and with more control, the heavier the vehicle, the better off you
are. When you put a big rig like my new Ranger 620 behind my GMC Suburban, you
have enough vehicle to basically push that boat to a stop. If you tried to do
the same thing with one of those little clown cars they call a Sports Utility
Vehicle, that big Ranger would push you down the road a heck of a lot farther.
Another vehicle style that actually fits our mold quite well are full sized
vans. The only downside to vans is that they tend to catch more wind when it
comes crossways to the vehicle, making for a bit more potential sway.
When it comes to sway, there are some valuable tips that may keep you out of
the ditch and on the road. I remember driving home one evening with a friend
of mine, towing an 18-foot boat with a mini-van. A gust of wind came up and
pushed the minivan sideways slightly and the boat began to sway behind the
vehicle. My friend sped up and the problem worsened, with the minivan now
swaying across two lanes on the expressway. At my urging, he slowly
decelerated and the problem went away by the time we got down to 30 mph. What
my friend didnít realize, is that slow deceleration is almost always the
answer, with one great exception. That is if the boat begins to sway as you
are traveling downhill. This is a situation where the boat actually begins
pushing the tow vehicle and in order to correct, the tow vehicle needs to
speed up to begin pulling the load again. In most other circumstances however,
you can hardly go wrong with slowing the vehicle gradually until the problem
Moving back on the vehicle, our next link in the system is the actual hitch.
Most importantly, donít ever opt for a hitch that either is part of the bumper
or clamps on it. Hitches that bolt to your frame are the style needed for safe
hauling. Hitches are classified by roman numeral ratings of class I, II, III,
and IV. The highest number having the greatest capacity. With not towing big
Lake Michigan boats, I opt for class III hitches on all my vehicles. This
style will tow all the boats up to that Great Lakes cruiser class, and doesnít
really cost that much more than a class I or II.
Now, lets actually get into the heart and soul of the operation, the trailer
itself. The one facet that can make a trailering experience more enjoyable and
relaxed, more than any other, is a quality trailer. One of the features that
you can get in a quality trailer, that adds safety, stability, enhances
driving and ride characteristics, more than any other, is getting a tandem
axle trailer versus a single axle. The tandem distributes the load differently
and also prevents that dreaded trailer sway much more than a single axle. If
you have a bigger boat, anything over 17 feet, you should seriously consider a
tandem axle for comfort and safety.
A few trailer doís and doníts before we hit the road. Check that electrical
system. Carry a couple of spare fuses and some connectors in case you need to
re wire somewhere on a trip. One of the surest ways to prevent an accident is
to have your trailer properly lit up. Secondly, use a hitch that has a lock
pin in the latch so that your latch canít pop open while running over rough
roads or heavy terrain. That means that you should always use your safety
chains also, because if you should ever need them, itís the difference between
a major disaster or a slight inconvenience.
On the trailer itself, there are several items that we can have to increase
our stability and performance. The most obvious is the use of surge brakes.
These brakes are activated by the force of the trailer pushing against the
trailer ball as brakes are applied in our vehicle. My Ranger Trail trailer is
equipped with disk brakes as a standard feature, and there have been more
times than not that Iíve been happy to have a quality braking system behind
me. The second thing we need to do to stabilize our load, is to actually tie
it down to the trailer. This is a very overlooked feature, and one that can
cause instant disaster if not considered. If we happen to travel across a
large bump or pothole, the trailer is going to bounce as it comes out or over
the hazard. If the load is not secured to the trailer, it will shift its
position on the trailer and cause something to change quite instantly. Besides
the potential for extreme hull damage to our boat, the boat can literally wind
up on the highway next to our trailer and cause a huge accident. Believe me
when I tell you that Iíve seen this happen, and more than once! For these
reasons, I use the style of tie down straps that permanently affix to the
trailer and are quick and easy to put on.
The last thing we should cover about trailering, is the motor position. My big
Mercury 225 Optimax needs to be tilted up so that the skeg doesnít drag on the
cement. However, if I just tilt my Merc up, it places too much stress on the
transom of my Ranger 620. For this reason, I use a support bar that fits on
the last roller of my trailer and I can trim my motor down slightly to rest
the shaft of the motor onto this support bar. Now the load is being
distributed to the trailer and relieving the stress on the transom. I also
have a 15hp Mercury 4-stroke kicker motor on my Ranger 620, and this needs a
different treatment for trailering. This motor should be tilted down, as the
skeg is not endangered by contact with the ground. This vertical towing
position is ideal for relieving stress on the transom that the heavier 4
strokes can potentially exert if left in a tilted position.
This should answer a bulk of questions that you may have had about towing.
Hereís to a happy and safe trailering future for you and your family, and Iíll
see you on the water!
Whether you are in the states of Alaska,
Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Washington, Oregon, Idaho,
Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa,
Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Kentucky, Colorado,
Indiana, Virginia, California, Nevada, or New Jersey, there are fish to
If you are in one of the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Yukon, Northwest
Territories, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, or Quebec,
there are fish to catch.
You might be trolling with cranks as your lure of choice. You might be
jigging with jigs. Youíll probably need rods, reels, some live bait
(crawlers, minnows, leeches), sinkers, leaders, and fishing line. More
often times than not, it takes a boat to get to those spots, as well.
Maybe you will be fishing from the bank or wading, however.
You may need fishing reports or maybe even a fishing guide.
This website will try to help you achieve the goal of catching bigger,
better, and more numerous fish.