All About Boat Trailers - One man's perspective...

When we shop for boats, we look critically at the boat. We scrutinize its condition and whether it will meet our needs. On the other hand 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.

Imagine the havoc it would wreak if you dipped the back of your truck in water as often as you do your boat trailer.

If what you’re carrying is important — and a boat certainly counts — you should spend some timing thinking about what kind of trailer you’ll need. Like so many other products, the quality of trailers varies widely, and if you look closely in all the right places, you can spot the differences. As simple as it sounds, a decent rule of thumb when trailer shopping is, “you get what you pay for.” Let’s look at the subject in terms of size and type, safety, and maintenance.

First is size. Of course, the boat determines the size of the trailer you need. Dual-axle trailers are nice, but they have twice the number of tires that eventually need to be replaced, and I don’t know anyone who relishes buying trailer tires. So, unless your boat is at least 20 or so feet or longer, or inordinately heavy, or unless you do lots of long-distance trips with your boat, you can economize by going with a single-axle trailer. It just doesn’t look as cool as the Jones’ trailer. Fight the urge. If you don’t need one, don’t bother. It’s cheaper to operate long-term.

However, if you do take long trips, a dual-axle trailer is more stable at highway speeds, and if you get a flat on the freeway, dual axles offer a measure of safety you don’t get with a single-axle trailer. Dual axles spread the load more effectively over the four-tire contact patches. Dual-axle trailers also can be equipped with brakes on both axles, which great decreases stopping distance and enhances safety.

Unless your boat is longer than 20 feet, inordinately heavy, or you regularly take it on long road trips, you don’t really need a dual-axle trailer. A single-axle trailer is cheaper to operate and maintain. Photo: C.E. Smith.

That, of course, necessitates that the boat be tied down tight. I towed boats for a long time without the stern being attached to the trailer, but now I almost insist on it, for the same reasons we wear seat belts. It’s only slightly discernible, but you really can feel the difference from behind the wheel. You hear one thump when going over bumps instead of two. The boat and trailer move as one, and if you ever get into a situation that involves a panic stop, or worse, a collision, there’s one less moving object in play.

If you don’t need a new trailer, but yours doesn’t have a way to tie down the stern, you can buy straps from West Marine or another such retailer. It also points up the need for a good bow attachment point. That means a sound crank mechanism, roller, strap, and bow eye.

How to Choose

When it comes to the type of trailer you want, let’s just outline what types are available and you can figure out for yourself what you want. I’ve written about this before, but focused a bit more on axle types and light packages, and before that on brake systems.

Unless you know something I don’t, there are two materials from which to build a boat trailer: steel and aluminum. Obviously steel is usually stronger, but because it is a ferrous metal, it will rust. Aluminum corrodes, but it won’t rust. Raw steel is a cheaper material than aluminum, but that doesn’t mean all steel trailers are cheaper than their aluminum counterparts.

For longer distance trips and for larger boats, a dual-axle trailer is the safer choice. Photo: LoadRite.

As a general rule,