Is it Time for Electric-Over-Hydraulic Brakes?

Depending on the technology, I tend to vacillate between early adopter and abject Luddite. I bought a vehicle with fuel injection as soon as I could afford one—and would never go back to carburetors—but I hung back and waited awhile before buying a smart phone.

When it comes to boat trailers, I’m sort of trapped between the two ends of the adoption spectrum. I have heard that electric-over-hydraulic brakes are making inroads into the boat trailer market. Some of the trailers that come with the boats sold on BoatTrader.com might have this kind of system.

Electric over hydraulic brakes are great for heavy-duty applications, such as towing a big offshore V-bottom. For smaller applications, surge brakes seem to work just fine. 

Electric over hydraulic brakes are great for heavy-duty applications, such as towing a big offshore V-bottom. For smaller applications, surge brakes seem to work just fine.

On one hand, I ask, “What was wrong with surge-activated disc brakes?” They’re practically idiot-proof, and they have a terrific service history. Their reliability is exceeded only by their simplicity. On the other, I kind of like the idea of electric-over-hydraulic brakes. The latest hardware includes controllers that are no more difficult to install than plugging them into your tow vehicle’s cigarette lighter… er, 12-volt… outlet.

The controllers allow for fine tuning, which is something I would have appreciated when I was towing a 38 Wellcraft Scarab with surge brakes. Yes, the surge brakes stopped the trailer well enough, but when you lifted off the brake pedal to accelerate, the release could almost be described as violent. The return spring in the master cylinder really slammed the piston back out and it jarred the truck and its passengers.

So maybe that’s the difference, really. Surge brakes are still good for applications up to and including, say, 6,500- or 7,000-pound boat trailers. Anything from there up could benefit from the smoothness and adjustability of electric-over-hydraulic. I can’t see putting them on a trailer any smaller, unless someone could talk me into it.

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