Towing Safety: The Art of Getting There

Of course, we all want to get on the water as soon as possible. That leads to hurrying, which in turn leads to mistakes. So while the water is frozen (at least for a lot of us), let’s pause for a moment to consider our routine in packing and setting off for a day or weekend of boating. We’ve covered some of these tips in A Primer on Towing Safely, so here’s a partial review and a few more tips that might make it easier for newbies, and perhaps give seasoned veterans a few new ideas.

Start getting ready for your weekend of boating the night before you leave. That will lead to fewer mistakes. Photo Courtesy of General Motors.

Start getting ready for your weekend of boating the night before you leave. That will lead to fewer mistakes. Photo Courtesy of General Motors.

First, load the coolers and all the gear you need into the boat the night before. Load them into the boat so you don’t have to transfer them from the truck to the boat when you get to the ramp. No sense in double-handling things.

Be sure your tires are inflated to their maximum cold pressures. This helps keep the trailer more stable at highway speeds, keeps tires from getting too hot, and saves a little fuel. OK, so it’s not enough fuel to matter when you’re going to be running an offshore boat that can burn more fuel than a fleet of New York taxis, but it does help stability and reduce tire temperatures.

As you’re hooking up the trailer, be sure to cross the safety chains under the tongue. If it does come uncoupled, the trailer will, theoretically at least, fall into the cradle formed by the two chains, which allows you to maintain vehicle control and reduces potential damage. As we said, theoretically. Also, if you’re towing between states, check applicable laws. Some states allow “S” chains, but some, such as California, require the J hooks with the closeout clasps, which prevent the chains from bouncing off.

Also be sure the coupler is latched and locked. If you have a screw-down-style coupler, be sure it’s as tight as can be. If you have the throw latch, you might want to padlock it closed. That way, it can’t come uncoupled. Also, because you’re hooking everything up the night before, it’ll be easier to check all the trailer lights.

So, dawn arrives and you’re loaded and ready to go, right? Maybe not. Odds are, you need to remove the cover for towing, particularly if you’re towing on the freeway. Inevitably, wind sneaks beneath the cover and pops a couple of snaps loose, which then flail and flap in the wind and do all kinds of unspeakable things to your gelcoat. Unless your cover is expressly specified as compatible for towing, take it off before you head out.

And if you think about it, when you get to the ramp, removing the cover is one less thing you have to do. And because the plug is already in and the gear is loaded into the boat, all you have to do when you arrive is detach the stern straps. Obviously, you leave the bow eye strap attached until the boat is safely in the water.

When the day is over, have someone back the trailer into the water. Most often, you back the trailer in far enough so you can see the front of the fenders or the forward edges of the rear bunks. That allows the boat driver to see what he’s aiming for and it provides just enough resistance for power loading. Legal or not, we all power load, right?

If a stiff current is making it difficult to hit the mark, have the driver back the trailer into the water so that the tail end faces downstream a little. Then the boat driver will have more control when trying to get the boat onto the bunks. After you pull the boat out, pull the plug.

Usually, just a few helpful hints at the ramp are what separate a comedy of errors from a smooth operator. We’ve tried to provide some of our favorites, and we hope it helps with those first-tee jitters.


  1. Caleb says:

    All precautions need to be made before you hit the road when towing your boat. It is essential that you check and recheck your trailer, your straps, the tires and anything else having to do with keeping your boat safely secure.

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