Safely Trailer a Wake Boat

Wakesports boats require some extra care before and during retrieval.

Life used to be a lot simpler, especially for owners who trailer their boats. Now, especially for people who own one of the new wave of boats for wakesurfing, wakeboarding and even waterskiing, simple might not be the word that comes to mind.

Up until these new boats arrived, getting a boat on a trailer was a simple affair: back the trailer into the water just the right amount, get the boat up to a certain speed and aim it right up the center of the trailer. At just the right distance from the trailer, the driver hit the “up” switch for the sterndrive or outboard and the boat slid up the rollers and came to a stop against the bow post on the trailer.

Today, however, most watersports boats have flaps or wings or foils that make the huge and sculpted wakes that boarders and surfers demand. Called Surf Gates (Chaparral), Power Wedges (Malibu), Surf Tabs (MasterCraft) and more, some of them look like trim tabs that have been installed incorrectly, with the tab unhinging at an angle rather than with the water flow. Others are tabs installed on the side of the boat that can carve a wake of Banzai Pipeline proportions. Nearly all of the boats have ballast systems that can suck outside water into flexible or built-in rigid tanks using high-speed two-way pumps. They allow an operator to build a wake on one side of the boat and then quickly transfer it when the surfer changes sides.

And finally, Volvo-Penta has made huge inroads in the ski boat market with its Forward Drive, which reverses sterndrive thinking by putting the twin props on the front. This is a real safety factor for anyone in the water around the stern of a boat, because the props are tucked well under the boat, away from arms and feet. But it makes the props far more susceptible to damage from hitting something … like a trailer.

Here’s how wakesports boats have changed trailering.

First, operators have to pay attention. They must remember to retract or raise all of the boat’s wake devices. The bottom tabs must be withdrawn to the fully up position, and any side deflectors must be flush with the hull. Engaged or extended, they’re all susceptible to serious damage from the trailer rollers, the bunks (bottom tabs) or the upright posts of the trailer (side tabs). While most of these systems have sophisticated electronic systems to “dial in” the wave height and shape (and even remember favorite positions), they still need to be retracted before heading for the trailer. Be wary of driver error.

Scott Wood of Wake WorX, which provides wake control systems to many leading manufacturers, suggests operators take a moment before retrieving their wake boat to cycle whatever system they have and then visually make sure it’s in the safe position.

Volvo-Penta Forward Drive uses forward-facing props that provide a real margin of safety, both in keeping the props under the hull and using a forward underwater exhaust to keep carbon monoxide fumes from gathering around the swim platform.

But as one executive, who begged anonymity out of embarrassment, for a major boat builder noted sadly, “Yeah, we dinged a bunch of props until we started using trailers with higher bunks.”

With boat lifts at a dock, owners need to have a forward bow stop to keep the props from getting into the lift.

Buyers will probably get the trailer at the same time they acquire a boat with Forward Drive, and it’s likely to have either higher bunks or a dropped frame. The first way raises the trailering height of a boat and the depth to which the driver must submerge the trailer, while the latter may reduce a trailer’s road clearance.

Remember one more thing: Because of its prop-forward design, Forward Drive doesn’t retract as high as a typical sterndrive or outboard, so during a beaching or retrieval to a trailer, the drive must be fully up.

With fresh water weighing in at 8.36 pounds per gallon (sea water is about 8.6 pounds), it doesn’t take much to literally add a ton of weight, and many smaller wake boats can carry up to 2,800 pounds. One 25-footer adds a whopping 5,500 pounds of wave-making water into its tanks.

The point is that operators should empty all the water out of the ballast tanks before they roll up on the trailer. Adding a ton or two of weight to a boat probably won’t squash a trailer, but it’s certain to challenge the tow vehicle, especially going uphill.

There’s another point from an ecological standpoint. Always empty all the water from ballast tanks into the waterway from which it was gathered. Carrying it to another lake or river can spread invasive species such as quagga and zebra mussels.

In addition to emptying the ballast tanks, owners can sterilize them by pouring a mix of water and bleach into the tank, either via a filler plate or through the overflow vent. Being careful can save money, too, since many waterways have inspection stations at launch ramps that will cite owners and require an expensive decontamination if they have any water in their boat from other areas.

Anyone who isn’t a Forgetful Fred shouldn’t have any problems towing the new watersports boats. Just think twice before heading back to the launch ramp, retract everything and be sure to dump any ballast at the ramp.


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