Boat Trailer Types: Freedom of Choice

When we shop for boats, we look critically at the boat.  We scrutinize its condition and whether it will meet our needs — but we probably don’t pay as much attention to the trailer as we should, which is interesting given the ratio of how much time the boat spends on it compared with the amount of time it spends on the water.

This triple-axle trailer would be overkill for a light runabout. Whether its bunks are better than rollers depends on the boat that will rest on them, and how it’s launched and hauled.

We will be doing a big story on trailers later, and we’ll provide a great deal more guidance on what works best in which situation. But for now, let’s just look at the different types of trailers on the market and the differences in their systems.

First, you must choose between steel and aluminum. There are differences, and they most closely relate to how you’re going to use the trailer and the size of your wallet. And there are some differences in design, such as those that tilt and those that do not. Again, deciding which design to choose depends on purpose and budget.

In terms of support systems, there are essentially two types, rollers and bunks. Bunks are the more prevalent of the two.

Axles are the support for the support, if you will, and the number of axles relates directly to the length of the boat. Obviously, a 16-foot runabout has no use for a triple-, or even a dual-axle trailer. A single axle will do and the job, and will be less costly to maintain over the long run.

Two types of axle made by Dexter Axle: a traditional leaf-spring model (top) and a torsion-beam type (bottom) in which the axle and suspension system are combined.

Two types of axle made by Dexter Axle: a traditional leaf-spring model (top) and a torsion-beam type (bottom) in which the axle and suspension system are combined.

Each of those axles rests on a suspension system that insulates the boat from the bumps in the road. For boats, the two most prevalent systems are leaf springs, which use equalizer bars, or bogies, for applications with more than one axle, and torsion beams. Torsion beams work exactly as the name indicates. The spring effect occurs via torsional twist of a round torsion bar inside the axle itself. You can get air bag suspensions, too, but we are talking high-end stuff.

For stopping, boat trailers almost invariably use a surge-brake system, in which the slowing of the tow vehicle compresses a sprung master cylinder that actuates either drum or disc brakes. There are rare instances of electric over hydraulic, but as with air suspensions, that system is mostly reserved for more expensive applications.

LED trailer lights are superior to the old incandescent type, which almost always require a bulb replacement when the housing leaks.

LED trailer lights are superior to the old incandescent type, which almost always require a bulb replacement when the housing leaks.

For lighting, there was no choice for years. You got incandescent bulbs, which meant you replaced a lot of bulbs because any lamp housings that leaked when you backed your boat into the water meant blown bulbs. At least now, you can opt for LEDs, which offer a lot of advantages.

Compared with a boat, there are far fewer systems on a boat trailer, but quality components and due care are just as important when considering what kind of trailer you want. Again we’ll offer a lot more on the subject later, but we just wanted to give you something think about while you’re shopping on BoatTrader.com, especially if what you buy will rest on a trailer.

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