Tips for Loading and Towing Your Boat

Few things can be more nerve-wracking to the new or inexperienced boater than having to load or unload a boat on a trailer in front of an audience of people gathered at the boat ramp. The stress is even worse when they’re waiting for you to get out of their way so they can load or unload theirs, as well. Here’s how to haul your boat like a pro and take it in and out of the water with confidence.

Keys to Towing Your Boat

If you haven’t towed your boat yet, you’ll want to practice backing a trailer – with the boat on it – into an empty parking lot before trying it out on a busy ramp. Once you’ve got that mastered, you can head over to the marina.

When backing into a ramp, give yourself extra distance to stop. The additional weight of a boat and trailer can add to your vehicle’s momentum, and you’ll need the extra space for making turns and pulling past objects due to the additional width and length. Align the trailer and vehicle before slowly backing down the ramp, as it’s more difficult to back down at an angle. Remember when backing, a trailer moves in the opposite direction that you steer. suggests steering from the bottom of the steering wheel, as this guides the trailer in the direction you are steering.

Launching Your Boat Made Easy

First things first: You’ll want to get your boat ready to unload before you back down a busy ramp. Put drain plugs in, untie all straps except the bow strap and load fishing or other gear you will need in the vessel. recommends backing the trailer deep enough into the water so that its fenders are just above the waterline. This should be enough to float the boat off the bunks and keep the tow vehicle from submerging its tailpipe. Don’t forget to put the truck in park and apply the emergency brake. The goal is not to launch a vehicle!

Unhook the bow strap and, using a rope, walk the boat back down the dock if there is one, or climb in–or better yet, have a friend if climb in if you’re going out with someone–and power rearward until clear of other boaters.

Load a Boat on a Trailer the Right Way

After you’re done enjoying a day out on the lake or it’s time to put your boat away for the season, you need to be able to safely and easily load your boat back onto the trailer.

Back up your trailer until the bunks are just submerged. This should allow the boat to float onto the bunks without overshooting the winch. Bunks are designed to help align the boat. If there is too much water over them, it can be hard to set the boat on the trailer straight.

Pull or power the boat onto the bunks so that you only need to crank the winch a few times to tighten it up. Next, kill the engine, secure the bow strap and raise the prop so it won’t drag on the ramp when pulling forward. Pull clear of the ramp before securing the boat with additional tie-downs, opening drain plugs and organizing gear for the drive home.

Wind, tides and currents can make it challenging to properly align a boat with the trailer before powering up. offers this advice: “If water current is making it difficult to load the boat, try backing the trailer into the water so that the tail end of the trailer faces downstream a little.” This reduces the amount of cross current the boat’s driver will have to contend with when pulling forward on the bunks.

Another thing to consider is proper boat insurance, which can be helpful after the unexpected happens.

Try these tips the next time your and your friends head out for a day on the water to keep your launch simple and stress-free.


Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service – Northern Region