Towing your boat opens up opportunities to explore new areas with ease. But there are some points to consider, and hopefully our guide will help better prepare you for the journey. It’s not rocket science we know, but it’s easy to make mistakes and forget things. So no matter how long or short your journey, correct preparation often saves the day…
Towing check list
Spare trailer wheel
High lift bottle jack and a couple of wooden blocks
Wheel brace or wheel nut spanner
Light board with correct number plate
Tie straps x4
Mirror extenders if necessary
Wheel clamp and hitch lock
Toolkit, spanner, screw driver etc
Spare cable ties, bungees, cord and rope
If like me, you always keep your actual boat things like boat keys etc in a separate ‘boat bag’, so I’ve not included any of the specific boat stuff, but kept my list just for the trailer.
If you tow regularly then the chances are you’ll be far more aware of what you need to check and what you need to take. But the less you tow, the less mentally prepared you’ll be, and it’s usually the one thing you forgot that you’ll need. Towing can be quite stressful or many, but good preparation and planning removes much of the worry.
Make sure your tyres are in good condition and correctly inflated. Check for sidewall cracking and intrusions. Don’t just assume good tread means all is well. Trailer tyres often fail with age related issues long before the tread shows signs of wear.
Brakes, axles and bearings need regular annual maintenance, especially if you dip your trailer in salt water. Check that the brakes working correctly if applicable and grease all grease nozzles. But it’s always best to factor in a regular servicing.
Strapping your boat down
This might seem obvious but I’ve seen boats come off their trailers on the road because they’ve not be strapped correctly or not strapped at all. This usually requires two rear straps and one front strap. Straps should be reasonable tight but not excessively so. Ideally there should be some natural flex between the boat and the trailer. If your straps are too tight then you could be putting your hull and fittings under undue stress when the trailer hits bumps on the road.
The rear straps should ideally follow down the stern and then run forward to suitable tie mounts. The front strap should really drop down or be angled slightly backward. In short, the rear straps should pull the boat down and forward, while the front strap should pull the boat down and backward. You should have a suitable snubber to stop any sideways movement from the bow. The idea is to ‘lock’ the boat in place.
Avoid using just one strap to wrap over the middle of the boat. While this might seem suitable, it’s doesn’t ‘lock’ the boat in place as it offers too much movement. And never rely purely on the winch strap.
See the clean run of the straps pulling the boat down and forward. Also note the black pad, this has two functions. Firstly to spread the load and stop the strap from ‘cutting’ into the hull, and secondly it stops the transference of strap colour rubbing into the hull.
Raise your engine or leg so it’s up and out of the way. A sterndrive unit should probably be raised to near its highest point, while an outboard probably wants to be raised by about a third of its travel. Obviously they both want to be clear of the road and any likely obstacles but the higher an outboard is lifted the more stress you’ll put on the ram mechanism. An outboard could be lowered against a block of wood to take some stress off the ram, but the block then also needs securing else it’ll work loose.
Hopefully your trailer has light board arms that pull out from the end of the trailer. If not, consider having some added as they make fitting and removing a light board quick and easy. If not, find the most suitable position to attach your light board. Remember that your license plate and lights should be clearly visible at all times, so maybe consider positioning it higher on the transom or perhaps make a simple wooden frame to attach it to.
You should either tow with a towing/winter cover or no cover at all. Tonneau covers aren’t designed for towing and can come off in the wind. That said, if you do need to tow with a tonneau cover then at the very least tie some cord around the boat just aft of the top of the screen thus trapping the cover should the front poppers fail or come undone.
And don’t forget to attach your prop bag.
Ideally tow with no or very little fuel in the boat. Not only is this safer but it’ll make your rig lighter and easier to tow. Just fill up when close to your destination.
Always carry some spare cord, rope, a couple of bungees and some long cable ties. You never know quite what to expect when towing and a little extra preparation can save the day.
My check list says 4x straps while I’ve only suggested using three to strap your boat down. What would do if one strap broke? It’s always a great idea to carry a spare.
Always have a couple of tyre chocks on hand should you need unhitch your trailer – especially if it’s not a braked.
Are you legally able to tow?
If you passed your driving test on or after January 1st 1997 then the chances are you’ll need to take a further test to tow a trailer. Check your license and the DVLA website for full details.
Please note Marine Advisor offers this information in good faith but takes no responsibility for any adverse effects, injuries or damage that may result in following our guide.
Marine Advisor Team