How to back up a boat trailer

Master the art of the boat trailer backup, and you’ll be the first on the water this summer. Pete Sucheski

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Backing a boat trailer down a ramp isn’t all that hard, but like establishing a proper lead in wingshooting, it takes practice. The key fact is that the trailer will always go in the opposite direction of the tow vehicle. This causes a great deal of confusion and is one of the main reasons you see guys jockeying up and down the ramp with a trailer that seems to have a mind of its own. Here’s an easy way to master the maneuver:

How to Back Up a Boat Trailer: Table of Contents

  • Adjust Your Mirrors
  • Find an empty parking lot to practice backing up your trailer
  • Steer in the opposite direction you’d normally steer
  • Move slowly
  • Scout the Boat Ramp a Day Early

How to Back Up a Boat Trailer

Find an empty parking lot to practice backing up your trailer

In an empty parking lot, you can learn how to back up a boat trailer without worrying about a long line of irate fishermen behind you. Pick a lot with plenty of space to maneuver. A good goal to shoot for is backing the trailer into a parking space. Just make sure there aren’t any trees, trash cans, or signs around the space.

Adjust Your Mirrors

Mirrors are your best friend when learning how to back up a boat trailer. You need to have them properly adjusted and possibly spaced out for towing—depending on how long your trailer is. Most newer trucks have mirrors that can be offset for towing. If you’re driving an older vehicle, you might need to buy tow mirrors that sit wider than conventional mirrors. Before taking off with your trailer, make sure you have a clear view of the back of the trailer in both mirrors from the driver’s seat. When backing up, only use the mirrors—don’t turn around to look out the back window. If a buddy is helping you, tell them to make sure they can see your face in the mirror before giving instructions.

Steer in the opposite direction you’d normally steer

Shift into reverse, and place your left hand on the bottom of the steering wheel. When you move your hand to the right (which turns the steering wheel and the front tires to the left), the trailer will move to the right (a). When you move your hand to the left (which turns the steering wheel and front tires to the right), the trailer will move to the left (b). It takes a little getting used to (and your brain will fight you at first), but it works.

Move slowly

Most beginners back up too fast when learning how to back up a boat trailer. If the trailer starts to move in the wrong direction, stop. Pull up, straighten the trailer, and start again. Trying to correct a wayward trailer will only make matters worse. Once you master the parking lot, you’re ready for the ramp.

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Scout the boat ramp a day early

If you have time, take a drive to your local boat ramp. Do a practice run without your trailer on and be mindful of anything you might need to maneuver around when you have a trailer. Leave with a plan on how to back up your boat trailer and stick with it when you arrive on the day you want to launch.

How to Back Up a Boat Trailer: Frequently Asked Questions

How far should you back a boat trailer into the water?

In general, you should shoot for having your trailer two-thirds of the way into the water. When loading your boat back into the trailer, don’t get the trailer too deep. If you do, the bow could float over the bunks and fall off one side of the trailer

Should a boat sit level on a trailer?

Any trailer needs to be level for even weight distribution. To safely tow a boat and trailer, you need to have the right hitch height figured out before taking off down the road. To figure this out, you can subtract the trailer coupler height from the height of the receiver tube on the truck. This should give you the number of inches of drop you’ll need in a trailer hitch.

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