Saturday, June 6, 2009

Trailering your Boat

A trailer and your towing vehicle should be designed to fit the needs of your vessel. Use the size of your vessel to determine the dimensions of the trailer you need. Most trailerable boats are sold as a package with a trailer of the appropriate size.

Look at the load capacity of the trailer stated by the trailer's manufacturer. If the combined weight of your vessel and its engine is more than 90% of the recommended load capacity, buy the next larger trailer. This is because your gear (fuel, life jackets, anchors, lines, etc.) will increase the overall weight by at least 10%.

Check the owner's manual of your towing vehicle to make sure that your vehicle is rated to tow the combined weight of your vessel, engine, and trailer. Also make sure your towing hitch can handle the loaded trailer.

The coupler on a trailer connects to a ball hitch on the towing vehicle. A frame-mounted hitch on the towing vehicle is better than a bumper-mounted hitch. If you are using a bumper-mounted hitch, do not exceed the weight rating of the bumper. Make sure the size stamped on the ball hitch on the towing vehicle is the same size that is stamped on the trailer's coupler. If the ball hitch is too small, a bump in the road might cause the coupler to lift off the hitch.

"Tongue weight" is the amount of the loaded trailer's weight that presses down on the towing hitch. The tongue weight should be about 10% of the combined weight of the vessel and trailer ("gross trailer weight" or GTW). If the tongue weight is too light, the trailer will swing from side-to-side. If the tongue weight is too heavy, the rear wheels of the towing vehicle will be weighted down, making it hard for you to steer.

Two strong safety chains should be crisscrossed to support the trailer's coupler if it becomes disconnected from the towing vehicle. The chains should be strong enough to hold the combined weight of the vessel, engine, and trailer.

Secure all gear in the vessel firmly to keep it from shifting. Arrange the gear so that its weight is balanced side-to-side and front-to-back. Secure the vessel to the trailer with several tie-down straps and or safety lines to keep the vessel from shifting. Use extra tie-down straps in case one fails. Never trust the bow winch to hold your vessel onto the trailer.

Put your engine in the raised position and make sure it is secured. Attach the safety chains between the trailer and the towing vehicle, crisscrossing them under the trailer tongue.

Check the pressure of the tires on the towing vehicle and the trailer. Make sure you have a spare tire in for both the vehicle and the trailer.

Tighten the lug nuts and bolts on the wheels of both the towing vehicle and the trailer, and grease the wheel bearings.

Make sure that all lights and brakes on the towing vehicle and the trailer work.

Look at the tie-down straps, lines, winch, safety chains, and hitch for signs of wear.

On long trips, pull over every hour or so to check the towing vehicle, trailer, tires, trailer coupling, and gear in the vessel. Allow for the added length and weight of the trailer.

Launching Your Vessel from a Trailer
Prepare to launch well away from the boat ramp so that you don't block ramp traffic.
Transfer all equipment and supplies to the vessel.
Disconnect trailer lights from the towing vehicle.
Remove all tie-down straps before backing down the ramp but leave the trailer winch line attached to the vessel.
Make sure the vessel's drain plug is in place.
Tie a rope to the vessel's bow to use to control the vessel during launching.
Back the trailered vessel into the water far enough so that the lower unit of the engine can be lowered and submerged while the vessel is still on the trailer.
Always set the parking brake on the towing vehicle.
Lower the engine or outdrive, and start the engine. If your vessel is still on the trailer and you have engine trouble, you can retrieve the vessel easily.
Once the engine is warmed up, back the trailer further into the water until the vessel floats. Undo the winch line, put the vessel's engine in reverse, and back slowly off the trailer.

Retrieving Your Vessel
Back the trailer into the water so that approximately two-thirds of the rollers or bunks are submerged in the water. Set the parking brake of the towing vehicle, and put it in park (or first gear if you have a manual transmission).

Move the vessel onto the trailer far enough to attach the winch line to the bow eye of the vessel. Finish pulling the vessel onto the trailer by cranking the winch. Stay out of the way of the direct line of the winch cable in case it snaps or you lose control of the winch. Do not load a vessel using engine power because this can cause damage.

Shut off the engine, and raise the engine or outdrive. Pull the vessel out of the water. While still at the ramp area, remove and dispose of all weeds from the vessel and trailer, remove the drain plug to release bilge water, and drain any live wells. This will help prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance plants and animals. Secure the vessel on the trailer and the gear within the vessel.
The Boat Ramp
Use at least two experienced people to launch and retrieve the vessel, one to drive the towing vehicle and one to operate the vessel. Never block a ramp with an unattended vessel or vehicle. Move the vessel away from the launch lane immediately after removing it from the trailer.
When retrieving, do not pull your vessel into a launch lane until the towing vehicle is at the ramp. The line is formed by vehicles with trailers, not by vessels in the water. Drop off the vehicle driver, and wait offshore and clear of the ramp until he or she arrives with the trailer.