One of the most intimidating moments in boating is backing your baby down the ramp for the first time. Or any time. It’s easy to get so consumed with the launching that you forget about the hauling. Trailering a boat on the streets and highways requires its own set of rules and vigilance. Here are a few things to think about.

–Check your vehicles tow rating versus your boat’s actual weight. It’s easy to look at a boat’s displacement or dry weight on a spec sheet and think that’s the weight you’re towing. Say your vehicle tow rating is 3,500 lbs. That new 20-foot outboard you want to buy has a listed dry weight of 2,200 lbs. Great, that’s an easy tow. But does that weight include the outboard engine?  Or a full tank of fuel? One gallon of gasoline weighs six pounds. If you have a 100-gallon tank, that’s and extra 600-lbs. added. Don’t forget to throw the weight of the trailer in, too. For a 20-footer, think about 600 lbs or so. Add it all up: Looks like you need a bigger tow vehicle.

–Single or Double? Small boats measuring 20-feet and under and weighing less than 3,000 pounds are fine on a single-axle trailer. Bigger than that and you’ll need a double-axle trailer.

–Speed Limits. They’re designed for cars, not vehicles towing trailers. Most boat trailers aren’t designed for speeds over 65 mph. Excessive speed can cause some trailers to wander. Stick to or go below the posted speed limit.

–Off Ramps. They’re also designed for cars and are an easy place to flip your trailer if you approach at high speeds, or overcompensate with the breaks. Try to stay at least 10 mph under a ramp’s posted speed.

–Don’t overcompensate. If you notice your trailer wandering in the rearview mirror, give the steering wheel a slight turn to the left to swing your trailer right, and vise versa. Slight is the key word. Over-correcting with the steering wheel can make the trailer rotate too far, maybe into the next lane.

–Don’t Cut Corners. I’ve seen this making turns where the tow vehicle cleared the curb or the car in the next lane but the trailer didn’t. I’ve see guys make a hard turn leaving the gas station and clip their boats into the pumps. Alway swing a little wider with your tow vehicle to ensure your trailer clears the turn.

–Low Bridges. The best way to turn a hard top into an open cockpit is to tow it under a bridge that’s too short. Measure your vehicles towing height and check it against the clearance of any bridges or overpasses along your route.

Written by: Pete McDonald
Pete McDonald is a contributing editor to Power & Motoryacht. Previously, he spent 11 years on the editorial staff of Boating. He has won multiple writing awards and holds a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.