When I was younger, I never thought about my boat trailer. I towed my boat on it, launched and retrieved from it, and never gave it another thought. But as the years went by and I acquired more than a few creaks and groans, I started thinking about making my trailer more user friendly — both easier and safer to use. So here, in no particular order, are 15 ways to improve your boat trailer.
Get a Grip
Put non-slip tape on the top of everything from the fenders to the trailer frame. It’s easy to apply, cheap and provides sure footing even when the trailer is wet. Remember to round the corners with scissors.
Get an electric winch! It runs off the tow vehicle’s battery and is strong enough to drag even the most recalcitrant boat back onto the trailer. Be sure to opt for a long remote cord, to allow freedom of movement, and have the dealer spot weld the winch bolts to make it theft-proof.
A pair of chocks (made from 4-by-4-inch lumber) under the tow vehicle’s rear wheels provides an added measure of safety when launching or retrieving a boat on steep ramps. A short length of cord from the rear bumper to the chocks will retrieve them “automatically,” and you can put them away once you’re off the ramp.
Bring it In
Vertical guides line up the boat on the trailer and make loading a cinch, and several ready-made ones (including lighted) are available. If you can find them, buy a couple of cheap, tall, old-style car radio antennas and mount them on each trailer fender. With a red ribbon or a ping-pong ball on the top of each antenna, centering the boat is simple.
Replace that hard-to-use trailer jack and wheel with a smooth-rolling dual-wheel version, such as those from Fulton. They take all the effort out of moving a boat around or lining up the trailer hitch.
Many trailers have carpeted bunks to support the hull, and those create a lot of friction. Liquid detergent makes carpeted bunks slippery but rinses away immediately. Trailer supply and marine hardware stores offer polymer pads that bolt directly to the bunk and are incredibly slippery. The boat will slide much farther onto the trailer, so be careful the first time.
Bye Bye Ties
Tie-downs are always a pain, because they must be removed, stored and hooked up again. Several companies offer retractable tie-downs that bolt to the frame and, when not in use, disappear completely.
Backing up the tow vehicle to the hitch is usually an exercise in frustration. The inexpensive way to provide a guide is with a radio antenna (as mentioned earlier). Screw the base plate of the antenna into the trailer by the hitch, put a ball on the antenna and it becomes a highly visible guide.
Alternatively, boaters can go high-tech to line up their tow vehicle. Discount warehouse stores and electronics stores offer backup cameras that are a cinch to install on the back of the car. With Wi-Fi, there aren’t even any wires to run, and the viewing screen can be placed on the vehicle’s dashboard.
Accessing the entire boat is sometimes a struggle when it’s on the trailer. If your trailer doesn’t have step plates, a trailer supply can provide them to fit on the front and back of the fenders. A quick stop at a welder will literally give you a step up.
Want to get all the way up on the boat without having to do chin-ups? Some trailers have ladders built into the winch stand on the front of the trailer. Trailers vary, of course, but a welding shop can easily tack some angle-iron steps to make access easy. If not, find a fiberglass — so it’s non-corrosive — stepladder at the hardware store and put some tie-downs for it on the trailer. And don’t forget a lock.
Light it Up
Lining a boat up with the trailer at night can be troublesome. Find waterproof side marker lights and install them along the center trailer support. When wired into the trailer’s lights, they become “landing lights,” like at an airport.
On the Ball
If you’re single-handing, it can get old getting in the car, backing up to the hitch, getting out of the car, moving the trailer a bit and then getting the trailer tongue onto the ball. Several companies, including Quick Bite, offer trailer hitches with a wide opening to guide the trailer ball into place and then automatically lock. All the driver has to do is close the locking pins for an effortless hook-up.
If you’re like me, you have a lot of gear that goes with trailering, and it all gets tossed in the back of the tow vehicle. Instead, check out trailer shops and hardware stores for lockable storage boxes that can bolt onto the trailer. You’ll need enough room so they don’t get submerged, but they can be a godsend for cleaning up your gear.
If your favorite launch ramps slope gently, add a trailer tongue extension so you can submerge the trailer without having to dunk the rear of the tow vehicle. Stow the extension on the trailer itself and then fit it when needed.