How To Attach The Boat Trailer For Beginners
You’ve done it! You’ve bought a boat and trailer and are eager to get out on the water. Now you’re wondering how to attach the boat trailer. The only one thing that stands in your path; you don’t know how to connect the boat trailer. No one wants to feel the loaded trailer sway after a semi rushes past, the hitch hit the ground when driving across a railroad track, or hear the back of the trailer scrape as you pull into your driveway. Eliminating these problems is easy if you know how. You need to adjust your tow vehicle and trailer setup.
The boat trailer team at Rocket Marine is here to boost your anticipation and lessen your anxiety with our expert knowledge, tips, and tricks for getting your towing setup just right, every time. We manufacture top-quality boat trailers, so we know a thing or two about getting everything just right. First, let’s discuss how to attach the boat trailer to your rig to avoid any unexpected issues.
How To Attach The Boat Trailer
- Align your tow vehicle and back it up, so the ball is directly beneath the trailer hitch.
- Lower your hitch onto the ball and raise the jack stand as high as possible. Sometimes, that means you will need to crank until you can’t crank anymore. Other times a jack will swing away to sit parallel to the road.
- Push the arm back or screw the latch on the ball to engage the latch.
- Next, insert the safety pin. Never trailer without the safety pin – you don’t want to lose your precious cargo!
- Attach the safety chains. Cross the safety chains to prevent the trailer tongue from digging into the roadway if your hitch somehow disengages.
- If your trailer has brakes (and many states legally require they do), hook up the brake safety chain. The brake safety chain will cause the brakes to engage if the trailer comes too close to your tow vehicle.
- Plug in the trailer lights. Always check to ensure all your trailer lights work.
- Do a 360 check around your towing vehicle and trailer.
- Double-check your trailer hitch, trailer and vehicle tire pressure, and the boat’s bow and transom attachments.
If some of those steps were confusing or you have further questions or troubleshooting needs, keep reading. We talk about some common boat trailing problems and key attachment points below.
Common Boat Trailering Problems
First, always check the plate to ensure that your trailer can carry the weight of your boat and the motor, fuel, and all extra gear you are taking on board. Here is a general rule of thumb to follow:
|Trailer Class||Towing Weight|
|35 feet or less||
Do not exceed 2000 lb.
|36 – 39 feet||2001 lb. to 3500 lb.|
40 – 45 feet
|3501 lb. to 5000 lb.|
|46 – 52 feet||Over 5000 lb. up to 12,000 lb.|
This is a rough estimate and really depends on your vehicle and your type of boat trailer (single or double axle plays a huge role).
1. Get Everything Level
Sometimes a trailer frame angles upward or downward. If that’s the case, you must adjust the hitch-ball height to bring the trailer frame parallel to the ground. Several hitch-shank options can make your life a whole lot easier. The fixed-type hitch shanks have a “step” for the hitch ball to help you adjust to the proper angle. You can flip the hitch shank to adjust the step to raise or drop the trailer frame. This will help you get the frame parallel. Depending on the design of the shank, it can change the trailer tongue height by three or more inches.
Another hitch-shank is one with an adjustable ball. This type of shank is perfect for those who use different trailers during the year. An adjustable-ball shank comes in a four or six-inch drop and works for a range of half-ton 4×4 pickups. Shanks with more drop even work well with lifted trucks and SUVs.
Always pay close attention that the shank you choose can handle the weight you want to tow. Finally, always double-check tow ratings and stipulations.
2. What’s Your Tongue Weight?
Most vehicle manufacturers recommend you load 10-15% of the trailer’s weight on the hitch when towing. Pay extra attention to the tongue weight. The tongue weight is on the capacity plate. If your tongue weight is too heavy, it will make it harder to steer. If your tongue weight is too light, it can make your boat fishtail.
Why? Well, this weight distribution helps fight trailer sway.
How? Let’s briefly share why this is without getting into too much physics. Tongue weight is can an approximate measurement for the center of gravity (CG) of your trailer – the imaginary point on your boat/trailer setup where the whole combo would balance if you could rest it on a post. Ideally, the CG is in the front of the trailer tires. If your setup is bow-heavy, it helps create friction in your tires, creating drag. The drag acts as an antidote to sway by helping tug it back into line with the tow vehicle when that fast-moving semi comes to push it to the side.
If your CG is even with the trailer tires, then the drag from the friction won’t help with sway. However, if the CG is behind the tires, the drag will exaggerate the forces behind the sway, potentially resulting in a loss of control.
It might seem like a small thing. However, think about when you spontaneously hit a deep puddle on the highway, and the car pulls to the side. This is because drag influences your vehicle’s stability. Now imagine a similar force, amplified by the trailer’s long lever arm, pushing on your truck’s rear end. The results? Not great.
However, if you have a larger boat (over 22 feet), your tow-vehicle manufacturer may recommend a weight-distributing hitch. Double-check that your desired tongue weight is not greater than the capacity of either the hitch or the vehicle specifications.
3. Do You Need A Weight-Distributing Hitch?
Tongue weight is the weight a trailer has on the hitch ball. Vehicle manufacturers place a very specific tow limit on each vehicle. You can easily calculate the maximum tongue weight to prevent trailer sway for your setup by taking your trailer’s loaded weight and multiplying it by 0.1 or 0.15. Also, consider that this number must fall within the hitch and vehicle capacity specs.
If your trailered weight is greater than a certain amount (usually more than half the weight of the tow vehicle), you will need a weight-distributing hitch. You might also need a sway-control device.
Check These 5 Connecting Points On Your Boat Trailer
1. The Hitch and Receiver
There are four types of hitches. Professionals classify each hitch by the weight it can pull. Every hitch has a weight capacity or weight distribution sticker. The sticker informs you what you can and can’t carry with this particular hitch.
Remember the center of gravity we talked about earlier? Well, this is very important, and all work together! For example, some boat and trailer combos require a tow vehicle to have a weight distribution hitch to help the weight balance to the front axle and the trailer frame level with the hitch ball.
- Class I: Capacity is 2,000 pounds
- Class II: Capacity is 3,500 pounds.
- Class III: Capacity is 6,000 pounds.
- Class IV: Capacity is 10,000 pounds.
2. The Coupler
What is a coupler? We are so glad you asked! A couple sits at the end of the trailer tongue. It is the part that rests on the hitch ball. You secure it with a latch lever or (if you own an older trailer) a round “hand wheel” that you screw down to tighten. Most levers have a locking pin to keep the trailer secured to the tow vehicle. Remember, the coupler should always be the same size or bigger than the ball hitch. Always check that the coupler is fully tightened/locked in place before you hit the road.
3. Breakaway Cable
The breakaway cable runs from the actuator’s master cylinder to the tow vehicle. This cable runs from the actuator’s master cylinder to the tow vehicle. Brake actuators are the little things that convert the compressed air force within a truck or trailer’s air reservoir into a mechanical force, which activates the brake.
The breakaway cable is the last line of defense if everything goes south fast. It will slow the trailer down if your safety chains/cables don’t show up to do their job. The cable will activate the brakes, even if the cable snaps off or the coupler comes off your tow vehicle. Always attach your breakaway cable to a tow vehicle hitch – never the safety chains! Also, disconnect the breakaway cable from the tow vehicle when you disconnect the trailer.
Your tow vehicle’s battery powers your boat trailer lights, so when your trailer is not properly connected to the tow vehicle, the trailer lights do not turn on when the tow vehicle lights turn on. You must ensure the harness or connector is correctly installed to get electricity from the truck to the trailer. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all regarding a connection or harness. You must ensure you have a connector or harness that works for your trailer and tow vehicle.
5. Safety Chains
The purpose of safety chains is to catch the trailer tongue if, heaven forbid, your trailer tongue separates from the trailer ball and doesn’t hit the pavement. Secure these chains with a snap shackle, as these hooks are less likely to come loose. Double-check that the chains are long enough so that your tow vehicle and trailer can still make tight turns. Safety chains are pointless if they are not crisscrossed. You need to crisscross the chains for them to work correctly. Ensure your safety chains meet your minimum requirements. You measure the chains by a minimum breaking strength which should be equal to (if not greater) the weight of the trailer and boat.
Final Steps Before You Hit The Road
Always ensure your boat is fully centered on the trailer and that any fuel or gear is evenly distributed for a smooth ride. You don’t want an uneven load to cause instability.
- Tie down all loose items and equipment.
- Adjust your side view mirrors so you can clearly see the trailer and traffic behind you.
- Familiarize yourself with the nuances of towing a heavy load behind you.
Here at Rocket Marine, we believe in making top-quality boat trailers and educating our customers on boat safety in and out of the water. We want to ensure you safely make it to your boating destination and have a spectacular time out on the water! If you need a new trailer or a trailer repair, give us a call! As always, stay safe and enjoy the water!