It seemed an innocent question. I was having a brew at a beachfront Tiki Hut near my favorite launch ramp, along with a half dozen skippers also using the ramp. All I said was, “What do you guys think about supporting the drive while trailering?” And the opinions erupted. You’d think I’d asked if there was really a Santa Claus or a tooth fairy.
First, what are we talking about here? They’re called transom savers but they might easily be called drive savers, too. They might be as simple as a bar that extends from the outdrive or outboard back to the trailer, and it’s designed to reduce the road shocks transmitted to the boat transom.
A second reason for a drive saver is in case the locking mechanism, be it hydraulic or a simple locking pin, fails. Anyone who’s seen a lower unit be dragged down a concrete road for a few hundred yards, until the driver realizes what happened and stops safely, knows why they sell replacement lower units. The road can quickly grind right through the aluminum outer casing and start wrecking the gears inside, not to mention shred an expensive prop.
To get a definitive ans
wer, I started with boat manufacturers, which were divided in their advice. Some said their transoms were designed to handle heavy loads, both on the trailer and at sea, so no problem. Others, such as Tracker Boats, include an outboard support bar on their trailers as standard equipment.
The simplest solution is to leave the drive down, assuming there is sufficient road clearance under the drive skeg. But what is sufficient? Some guys suggest eight to 10 inches, but I know that going up a driveway with my trailer, I’d drag the skeg. Going over a big speed bump might tag the drive, too. The guys at the Tiki Hut who said they leave their drives down also noted they have tallish trailers that give them 16 to 20 inches of clearance.
Before looking at s
ome of the aftermarket transom supports, take a look at your outboard first. Many outboards include a swing-down tilt-lock bracket that will lock into a matching notch in the lower unit, thus holding it in the kicked-up position without relying on the hydraulic trim system.
Outboard manufacturers say these “locking brackets” are only intended for use during service, when a mechanic needs to lock the drive in place before working on trim cylinders, or for storage. And while these are a good first defense, most of the outboard mechanics I know jam something like a two-by-four under the hinge before they put their little fingers into a potential guillotine. Newer Evinrudes and Johnsons have spring-loaded tilt-locks but, again, the manufacturer says don’t use them while trailering.
A couple of guys at the Tiki Hut said they use the “locking brackets” regularly, but they always trim the engine down after putting the bracket in place, until they hear the trim system struggle against the bracket. They think that helps secure the bracket from bouncing loose.
Other guys at the Tiki Hut rely on the Home Depot Special Drive Support system: a two-by-four board 16 to 20 inches long that they wedge up into the hinge mechanism and then trim down against it to hold it in place. This has a positive locking effect, and it’s definitely low cost. It isn’t the best looking method, but if you lose or forget it, no big deal.
If you don’t want to leave your drive upright or use a two-by-four, you need to get an aftermarket transom saver. Find them at boat dealerships and marine hardware stores in a variety of shapes and sizes. Prices range from 10 bucks up to nearly $100, so choose wisely.
First, you’ll want the transom saver to be rust resistant, since it will be in and around water a lot. Obviously, it should be sturdy enough to support the weight of the engine and the drive, and it should be easy to attach. It should be secure, through rubber straps or pins, so it won’t come loose from the trailer or the drive. And finally, it should have some padding, to save the finish on the drive.
The most basic version is a bar that extends from the trailer to the drive, and West Marine offers several versions, as do companies with models such as the Attwood Swivl-EZE Lock N’ Stow, Yamaha Outboard Trailering Support, and Walmart Extreme Max.
A different version uses aluminum or rubber/plastic tubes that fit over the trim rams when they are in the up position. Just slip the tubes in place and trim the engine down for full support. Obviously, these only work on engines without hydraulic trim, and include the M-Y Wedge and the T-H Marine Motor Stik.
The Lock-n-Haul system uses a pair of aluminum rods that wedge between the lower unit and the transom but, like the other transom savers, the load on the transom isn’t really reduced: these protect against dropping your drive onto the road.
Some folks at the Tiki argued that raising the outboard better positions its weight over the transom, while others felt that leaving the outboard upright did much the same, and so the decision comes down to you.