Boat Trailers and Tow Vehicles -
A Users Guide
By Steve Henkel
A review by Dick Brandt, Northwest Sailing Association
On rare occasions a `how-to' book comes along that meets the needs of a wide range of users and this is one of them. It would be valuable to that wannabe boater who doesn't even have a boat yet to those experienced types, like this reviewer, who has been trailer boating for several years. By trailering we mean trailer every time out; not to trailer once to the slip in the Spring and once back again in the Fall.
Although this soft-cover book has only 133 pages it has almost all of the information one could ask for in the area of trailering a boat. It is divided into four parts and 12 chapters. A brief review of the four parts will reveal the breadth of coverage: Part 1 covers choosing the right trailer; Part 2 covers how to pick the right tow vehicle; Part 3 covers how to set up and use the trailer and vehicle, and Part 4 covers maintenance. The entire book would be valuable for the beginner, and chapter seven alone may be worth the price of the book to the experienced boater.
The author first explains the reason for writing the book inasmuch as he made so many mistakes when beginner trailering because he didn't know any better. He cites examples of losing pieces of equipment along the highway because he didn't know it should be tied down; not knowing how to launch and retrieve properly and has damaged propellers to show for it; and "sweated for hours to make my trailer light work....when there was no circuit diagram to point the way to a successful repair. All these problems could have been avoided if I had read a book...but unfortunately, until now, there has been no single volume on the market that covered the whole territory of choosing, using, maintaining and repairing a boat trailer, and selecting and equipping the right tow vehicle."
Before one spends a fairly large amount of money on a boat (don't tell my wife but our boat and tow vehicle cost more than our house!) it should be determined if a trailerable boat is the way to go. The author discusses that subject in the opening paragraphs of Chapter 1, the perfect location. It's such an important question that it could almost be the opening paragraphs of every chapter! When people ask me about our boat, usually with the idea of determining its value for their own use, I tell them to keep asking themselves the question, "How do we want to use our boat?" It does no good to explain how our boat is right for us when they don't want to use it in the same way.
Of course, the two biggest advantages of a trailerable boat are its relatively lower cost due to its smaller size, and the fact that it " can open vast new territories....for you to explore by land and sea." My wife and I, in our nine years of trailering, have sailed on all five Great Lakes and been east to Toronto, west to Branson, MO, north to the Apostle Islands, and south to Alabama. But if you really prefer to have a boat close by the house that you can invite friends to for cocktails and a cookout then a trailerable boat would not be right for you.
The author spends what might be considered too much space on the trailer itself, the first four chapters, and even discusses renting trailers. However, maybe it's not too much since he is trying to cover all the bases, and anyone contemplating purchasing a trailerable boat, even though the trailer will probably come with it, will be a much more enlightened consumer after reading this material. One may not purchase a boat based on the trailer but, at least, you will have a better idea of what you're getting when you know what to look for. I know an experienced boater who cursed out his trailer every time he launched because it was a bunk type and he really should have had a roller type. He finally sold the boat and got a boat with the proper trailer and is a much happier boater now.
The tow vehicle may be more important than the trailer. What good is the perfect trailerable boat without a vehicle that can pull it on a windy day and retrieve it on a slippery ramp? And what does a prospective buyer have to consider when choosing a tow vehicle; size, or horsepower? The author points out that the "vehicle's capacity to tow a trailer depends on a combination of more than a dozen different elements', and then proceeds to discuss each one in chapter five and gives examples of good choices for tow vehicles in chapter six.
The first six chapters are invaluable to the new buyer. The final chapters will be helpful after one has purchased the vehicle and trailer.
Chapter seven discusses setting up the new trailer and vehicle. `Setting up' includes adjusting the trailer to fit the boat (which may already be done for you by the manufacturer), adjusting the trailer to fit the vehicle to minimize sway and instability, complying with all legal requirements (registration, etc.,) pre-tow safety inspections and learning how to drive with a long heavy load attached to the vehicle. For example, how does one check the tongue weight using only a bathroom scale. How can the trailer be rewired to make a better ground connection which will make the lights work better. How to pick the right ball and hitch. Why is the $20 ball hitch better than the $8 one; they look the same! (the reviewer has heard of the hitch ball breaking in half while on the highway!)
Chapter eight has a helpful check list to use prior to heading for the highway.
Chapter nine discusses towing and handling including how to back up (a real challenge if you've never done it), preparing for launch, launching; and then retrieving. The author suggests heading for the nearest school parking lot after hours to practice backing up. Two hints, not in the book, are: when launching, and your boat doesn't want to back off the trailer despite your pushing for all you're worth, try pulling forward a few feet, backing down again, and hitting the brakes. The shock will provide more force than you can by pushing. The second hint is when securing the vehicle on the ramp put on the parking brake first , then move the gear shift into reverse. If done the other way on a steep ramp, the shift may not want to come out of reverse!
I disagree with the author's idea of shutting off the engine once secure on the ramp. I always leave the car running and the car door open for two reasons. First, sometimes the tailpipe is under water on shallow ramps and `gurgles' when launching. If you shut the car off it may not start again because of the backpressure caused by the water in the tailpipe. The second reason is that should the car start to slide down the ramp there is a better chance of stopping it before it goes into the water if all you have to do is to jump into the front seat and shift into gear instead of having to try to start the car and then shift!
Chapter ten covers tires and wheels. Trailer tires take a beating and it has been my observation that they take up most of the road shock instead of the trailer springs which makes the selection of tires extremely important. Wheel bearings and the use of bearing protectors are also discussed. Even experienced boaters will come off the highway, race up to a ramp, and launch as quickly as they can. What they might not know is that when the cold water comes into contact with the hot bearings, the air inside the bearings contracts rapidly and can suck the water right into the bearing. Wheel bearings do not like water! Better to let them cool off before launching unless one has bearing protectors.
If you are looking to buy a boat, or even if you have had one for awhile, this book has something for you. It is available from International Marine, (tel. 1-800-262-4729, Catalog No. 0-07-028205-6) for $14.95 plus applicable tax and $4.00 S & H.
Ed notes: 1)This book is also available from Seven Seas, 612-879-0600. 2) Dick Brandt and Thom Burns of Northern Breezes will present several seminars at Strictly Sail, Chicago, about trailer sailing the Great Lakes.
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