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Trailering Boats Isn't Hard

Blog by: David Coulson , Colorado 3/20/2017
My eighteen foot fishing boat doesnít get to the lake on its own, it has to be trailered.  Towing a boat doesnít require a special driverís license. Still, there are things when towing that need special attention.  

The act of hitching a trailer requires you pay attention to details to avoid problems.  Starting with the hitch, you should check the nut holding the ball in place as it can work loose.  Once the trailer is dropped onto the ball, make sure itís properly locked in place. On my rig, thereís a locking lever and a pin to keep the latch from opening.  Next, make sure the safety chains are in place.  Finally, plug in the wiring for the trailer lights, check to make sure theyíre working correctly.

Before heading out I also check the lug nuts on the spare wheel, make sure the boat straps are secure, check the motor support, ensure the drain plug is out (state law in Colorado), secure all boat compartment doors, and make a general inspection of the boat.

On the road, I check the above items every time I stop, as things have a way of working lose or breaking. Aside from regularly checking the riggings, I also check the tires and bearing hub on the trailer to make sure theyíre running cool.  Itís better to discover issues while parked rather than as youíre driving.  Iím sure everyone has seen broken down rigs roadside.  I remember seeing a boat, off trailer and in the median on a trip back from Lake Powell.  The restraining straps came undone and the boat slid off the trailer. Regular checks will prevent many mishaps.
When driving, I pay attention to how the rig is responding, attuned to changes in feel or sound. Iím also attentive to my surroundings.  Trailered rigs tend to take a bit longer to stop, so I allow for that by greater following distances.  Unfortunately, many drivers fail to respect that trailers need a bit more space to change lanes and canít accelerate or stop as quickly as they can.

At the lake, Iím faced with another set of tasks.  Prepping the boat, backing down the ramp, and launching.  Simple tasks that are unfortunately complicated by my fellow boaters.  

One complaint is someone using the boat ramp to prep their boat.  Most lakes have staging areas where boaters can load their boats, remove most of the straps and motor supports, install the drain plug, etc.  That way, once theyíre on the ramp, all they have to do is back the trailer into the water, start the engine, release the winch strap, and get underway. 
A second complaint I have is people who arenít practiced in backing their trailers and launching their boats.  Itís not necessary to be a speed demon, but you should be able to back your trailer down the ramp straight and do so in a timely fashion.  Once the trailer is in the water, off-loading the boat should be quick.  This isnít the time to be working on your boat.  The process in reverse should go just as smoothly.  My last time at a three lane ramp, we were the third in, first out.  Thatís not how it should work. Anyway, I could do a number of pieces on boat ramps. Another time.  

Trailering boats isnít difficult, but it does require some attention to details when attaching the trailer, checking systems while traveling, and being alert on the road as many drivers fail to recognize towers need a little extra space and time. In addition, consideration at the boat ramp goes a long way to making for a great day on the water. 

First published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan March 19, 2017
Blog content © David Coulson
Blog Comments
Lloyd Tackitt, TX   3/20/2017 4:16:11 PM
I had a boat once, the kind that required a trailer. At first I took it out every weekend, then after a couple of months every other weekend. By the end of the first year it had weeds growing under it. I'm just not a boat person as it turns out. Everything you've said here is completely true. Especially about not going down the ramp until you've done all the prep work. People are waiting, don't be "that guy".
Kennywho, TX   3/20/2017 5:39:10 PM
For some reason, the little utility trailer that I use to haul my jon boat has never been easy to back. I've used lots of trailers over the years, and this one just doesn't back well. Or, maybe I'm just not as good as I was!
JKaboom, CO   3/20/2017 7:59:21 PM
Good BLOG Dave - I am relatively new to the trailering thing. One thing that helped me last year when I started was that I partnered with a member that is WAY more experienced than I. Just in the couple of times I worked with him I was on my way to doing things right. If it was not for Buds help I would have broke a bunch of stuff and probably would have gotten hurt or hurt someone. Thank you Bud!!
coloradodonkey, CO   3/20/2017 9:09:33 PM
I will agree being a boat owner does require certain responsibilities that can be tedious but rewarding at the same time. Like when you get to the lake on time with your boat and trailer in tact! I have had some very interesting times with other boaters and watching them struggle with backing. I was blessed with a natural ability of backing? Or my dad is a redneck?? Anyhow one good trick one of my buddies told me for people who struggle to know which way to turn the wheel is ti place your hand, yes 1 hand at the bottom center of the wheel and then move your hand the direction you want the trailer to go. Another problem I see often is people think they need to crank there wheel all the way one way or the other. Once you have pulled far enough forward to generally line your trailer up with what you are aiming for you only need make slow minimal turns to acheive turns with the trailer. These minimal turns are even more minimal the shorter your trailer is. Kennywho don't feel bad, even skilled backers can struggle with small trailers as they turn quickly and sometimes if they are too small you can't even see them until they are already taking off one way or the other. The moral of the story is that if someone is struggling at the ramp there is no need to lose your cool as I have been guilty of but rather to practice patience or even better offer to help/teach them in a polite way about etiquette or trailer backing. Nobody needs to get in a fight or worse over getting the boat on the water. Even if the are skiers!
spinn3r, CO   3/20/2017 10:39:12 PM
Re: "Check the tires and bearing hub on the trailer to make sure theyíre running cool." To add to that, the most important part here is to ensure that your bearings are properly greased before you ever use the trailer, especially with a load and at higher speeds. I bought a used flatbed, only about 2 years old. One of the first things I did was to repack the bearings. Upon disassembly, one hub was full of nothing but rainwater! Had I not checked, I'm sure I'd eventually end up like those poor folks I've seen alongside the interstate, one wheel off and one wheel on. If you don't regularly check and repack your bearings, now's the time to start. Buy a decent grease gun that you can operate with one hand, and don't skimp on cheap grease.
bratfish, CO   3/20/2017 11:43:42 PM
and towers be aware of Colorado's neglected roads, ie potholes. unfortunately no fishing if you can't make it through the gauntlet en route to every lake / res.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO   3/21/2017 11:59:11 AM
Some great points. Maintenance is a must for safe trailering, be it bearing, straps, lights/wiring, you name it. Ramps and backing will always be an issue. Especially as many boaters don't seem to understand basic good manner, or even have a good understanding about their rig. Last year, at the boaters request, showed him where his drain plug was.
Hawaiian Punch, CO   3/21/2017 1:38:00 PM
If you want to look like a pro,when it comes to backing a trailer . . . .take your trailer some place wide open(a high school parking lot?) and practice backing the trailer up. I bring 8-10 empty soda cans to mark out a lane and practice backing between them.When I'm with my regular fishing buddy,it takes us less than 1 min to unload . .and about 2-3 min to load. Kennywho . . .if the tongue on the trailer is too short,it will be hard to steer.
Lloyd Tackitt, TX   3/22/2017 8:24:30 AM
Back when I had a boat trailer I put clear plastic grease hub caps on the trailer wheels. It had a flat plate and spring that also kept the grease pushed down onto the bearings so that it would get a dry route around the bearings surrounded by grease. It was pretty handy, a glance at the clear hub told me when the grease was getting low. Kind of like these only clear plastic: