| If you
own a typical SWS member boat, such as a Dovekie, you are already in
good shape concerning trailering. Your boat weighs
600 lbs, add to that 200 lbs of gear and 200 lbs of trailer, you are
with a total trailering weight of about 1000 lbs. That’s nothing
compared with the 3000 to 5000 lbs. monsters you will see at the
ramp. With such a light load you are in the class of very
boats. But, still, hauling your boat down the highway will be the
hazardous part of the whole sailing operation. One must give
due attention to both the maintenance and proper use of the boat
trailer to avoid breakdowns on
the highway. So here are some trailering tips for safe and
Dovekie specific recommendations from the Dovekie Manual are
- Refer to the
owner's manual of the tow vehicle,
which may have specific instructions regarding towing.
- Have your wheel bearings overhauled
every second or third year. This means disassembling the hub,
removing the wheel bearings, cleaning or replacing them, filling them
reinstalling them, adding a new seal, re-assembly, and filling the hub
with grease. The do-it-yourselfer could do the
overhaul himself, see section 7.7 Wheel Bearings.
- If you have Bearing Buddies remember to keep them filled
to keep water from getting to the bearings. There are newer
such as Champion’s spindle-lube system. In this system the axle
has grease fittings on the ends of the axle that deliver grease between
inner bearing and seal. It seems like a good design as it allows
renew all the grease in the hub without taking the hub off. You
the grease and the new grease displaces all the old grease in the
Champion does not recommend the use of bearing buddies because the
pressure tends to blow out the inner seal. Their axles come with
covers that do not pressurize the grease. But once a year you are
supposed to replace the grease, removing any water that might have
So on balance, Champion feels this approach works better. In any
case don’t neglect your bearings.
- The hitch should be VERY robust!
Except for “step” bumpers on trucks, a bumper hitch should NOT be
used. For Dovekie trailers use of a bolt-on hitch, such as
those made by Valley Tow Rite, Reese, etc.
are acceptable. The loads on the hitch will be: vertical =
from 75-100 lbs, depending on how the boat is loaded. Ball size
1 7/8. The top of the ball should be about 19” above the ground for the
to be level. An inch or two, one way or the other, poses no
- The basic recommendation is that tongue weight should be 10
to 15% of load weight. You adjust tongue weight by moving the front
trailer winch standard forward or back or by moving boat contents
Keep your eye out for any trailer sway, if it occurs, increasing tongue
weight should correct it. I generally leave the engine installed,
but for long trips I remove it and carry it in my van. I notice
tongue weight increases dramatically. For those of you who keep
the engine installed, care should be taken to assure that it is secured
properly so that it, or the boat, is not damaged by the engine's weight
or vibration. If you must tip the engine up, extra support of the
engine's lower unit should be investigated.
- Your trailer is attached to the rear end of your car. One
of the worst nightmares is if the trailer parts company with your car
at highway speeds. Safety chains are attached between the trailer
coupling and the tow vehicle, assure they are crossed under the
hitch, in case the ball and socket coupling ever lets go. Inspect
the coupling frequently to
make sure that vibration or stress hasn’t damaged it in some way.
- Always check your lights. Make sure the running,
and signal lights are working. Checking the break lights, when
you're alone, can be challenging. Checking them in the dark, the
night before leaving, allows you to see if the break lights are
operating, while you press the break. Some
sailors use a length of wood, wedged against the driver's seat and the
brake, so they can run behind the trailer to see if the break lights
are working. Strange behavor of trailer lights occur when ground
wires are loose, so remember to check them. Have extra bulbs
- Always tie a safety line from the boat’s towing eye to the
trailer. Do not count on the winch lock alone. This is especially
important with roller-bunked trailers that permit the load to slide off
- The body of your boat should be secured to the trailer with
- Check tire pressures of your trailer tires and spares.
Low tire pressure can cause
blow-outs. Check that the wheel lug nuts are tight.
Unless the lug nuts are good and tight they can
vibrate loose during a long haul. Check
that you have
the necessary tools for changing a tire and that you have a tire gauge
and tire pump in tow vehicle. Bring
replacement wheel bearings of the correct
size. Even if you can not replace them
yourself, a service station can do it for you, but might not have the
- Practice backing up. There is a trailering
rule-of-thumb that can help. When backing, the boat goes in the
same direction as the underside of your steering wheel. With this
in mind, find an empty parking lot and practice backing with your
trailer. Never oversteer when backing, once the trailer gets at
too acute an angle, it simply won’t behave. If the angle is too
acute, just pull forward to reduce it. While backing up, make
gradual adjustments; it works better that way. [Some sailors with
strong front tow vehicle bumpers have mounted an extra hitch ball on
the front and push versus back their boats into the water. This
is especially good for tow vehicles with rear drive as the drive wheels
stay on the mostly dry part of the ramp.]
- Your car is not going to accelerate as rapidly when pulling
the trailer, nor will it brake as effectively. Allow for these
changes when entering highways, maintaining distance from the vehicle
ahead of you, as well as changing lanes. When there’s no traffic
near you, try braking at speed to see your capabilities. Have your
brakes checked before leaving on a long trip. Consider taking the car
out of overdrive, especially on
long upgrades. On downgrades downshift, letting the engine’s
compression ease you downhill rather than using your brakes to maintain
a safe speed.
- Stop after the first 10-20 miles to check the trailer’s
wheel bearings. Simply feel the hubs to see if they are warm or hot.
they should be the same temperature or just a bit warmer than the fame
the trailer. If warm, stop after another 10-20 miles, and feel them
If either is noticeably warm, keep an eye on it by checking every 25-50
If they get warmer or they are hot, drive slowly to the nearest gas
station, or better yet, the nearest RV/trailer service center to check
the bearings. You may want to bring tools and an extra hub along
if you want to attend
to it yourself.
Dovekie specific recommendations from the Dovekie Manual are
- Once you are at the ramp, it is generally best to do most
of the rigging
setup while you’re still on terra firma, so long as you’re not blocking
way for other boaters to use the ramp. But go slowly while
Try not to fall off the boat, it could ruin your day.
- Check for overhead power lines or tree limbs. Don’t
your mast in the parking lot if there is any chance of hitting anything
there, and on the way to the ramp. I’ve seen broken masts from
into trees and I’ve seen videos of electrocutions by overhead power
Most ramps are clear of such obstructions, but not ALL.
- You will almost certainly forget to put the boat’s drain
in. But this will only happen once. It does help to get
while you’re setting up. Attach good length docking lines and
them for easy pickup.
- Some old timers like to unplug their lights at this
They feel it saves the bulbs as they hit the cold water. I never
this, but I have the pressure equalization lights that help assure the
don’t get wet. I’ve had few problems with them. I do, at
have to sand the electrical contacts, but have found a bit of WD-40
once a year on contacts and trailer electrical harness plugs goes a
to eliminate corrosion problems.
- Check the temperature of your trailer hubs, again, before
the trailer into the water to make sure they are cool. Hot hubs,
driven into cold water, will tend to suck water into the bearings
their useful life.
- Remove the boat hold down strap, the
trailer-to-towing eye safety line,and
the temporary leeboard pendants.
- Install the rudder, shrouds, and mainsheet, if any were
removed for towing.
- Open the forward and middle hatches. Remove the canopy.
Open and furl the dodger.
- Before backing down the launching ramp walk down and have
look at the ramp. Is it crowded? Will you have to launch and be
quickly? Are there other boats milling about to confuse the
are the wind and current, and how strong are they? How will you
off your boat. Decide now what you will do to vacate the ramp as
and with as little confusion to other boats, as the conditions
If you have a crew, explain your plans and what their duties are.
- Question the use of a steep, slippery ramp. Marine
common in tidal areas, can cause a bad fall. It has also caused
launching of the entire rig, including the vehicle! I saw a
wagon do this very thing on an algae covered ramp in San Diego.
- Make sure a bow line (at least 25’ in length) is secured
the bow (forestay block) and that someone will be tending it
you launch the boat. Position fenders where needed.
- With your backing skill acquired by practice in an empty
lot back your trailer down the ramp the appropriate distance. For
Dovekies with a trailer bed tilt mechanism, the trailer wheels need
only be driven to the water’s
Other boats, that do not use a tilt mechanism, the trailer must be
driven into the water so the boat can be floated off the trailer.
- Set the parking brake, put the transmission in Park, (or
if manual), and shut the engine off.
- Release the trailer bed tilt lock.
Do not unhook the winch line.
- Do not let go of the winch handle. Release the winch
pawl. Unwind 8-10 turns on
the winch. A small push will get the boat moving aft. Still
letting go of the winch handle, unwind the winch line.
BEWARE: If you let go, the winch handle will spin rapidly, out of
control. The boat will race back, also out of control, and you’ll
your wrist should you try to stop tie winch handle!
- Once afIoat, unhook the winch line.
- Have your assistant or bystander, hold the boat, or secure
the bow line somehow to the ramp. Drive the car and trailer up the
and park them. Lock the vehicle (hide a second car key somewhere
on vehicle, this has saved me more than once).
Dovekie specific recommendations from the Dovekie Manual are
- When coming back from your sail, and when approaching the
ramp or its pier, check again for wind, current conditions, and other
before deciding how to approach. If you have crew aboard tell
exactly what your docking plans are and what their duties are.
- Depending on congestion, space available, wind direction
strength, etc. at the ramp, sail, row, or scull to the ramp, or to the
- Raise and lock the rudder blade, leeboards, and bow
- Release the click stop on the winch and haul the winch
out the required distance.
- For tilt bed trailers, back to the water’s edge. As when
there is no reason to get the trailer wet. Move the bow of the
boat to center of the center
Try to hold the stern out so it’s in line with the trailer.
line hook to the bow eye. Unlock trailer bed tilt mechanism.
- Crank a small amount of tension into the winch line.
the winch pawl. Now take up on the winch in earnest. Line tension
pull the bow right up over the roller.
- The energy accumulated in the nylon winch line will do
of the work. Once the bow surmounts the roller, cranking should
pretty easy. Line tension should straighten the boat as it comes onto
trailer, but it may need some help. Crank until the bow is tight
the rubber V-block on the winch stand.
BEWARE: The nylon winch line will stretch as it is
tensioned. As it stretches the nylon absorbs energy...a LOT of
If the line should break, or come unhitched when stretched, that energy
be dissipated by the snapping of the loose ends. Should you, or
else be standing in the way, injury could result. So keep out of
way of the line, make sure it is in good condition and that you
- Move up to the parking area.
- Secure spars, install hatch covers and canvas for
Install hold down strap.
- As you prepare your boat for trailering remember that
is the mortal enemy of trailers and boats. Have the necessary
and walk around your boat making sure everything is tight. Especially
wheel lug-nuts for tightness.
- Install hold down strap, the trailer-to-towing eye
line, and the temporary leeboard
pendants. Tie on a red flag if parts of the
rig extend more than
two feet behind the stern of the sailboat.
- Trailers that have been submerged in salt or brackish
water should be
rinsed with fresh water to retard rusting of the trailer.
Sounds like a lot but trailering becomes second nature after
awhile. However, do not ever get too overconfident. Safe
- Keep up with trailer rusting with sanding/wire brushing
and a rust inhibitor.
- Poor trailer light-to-trailer body ground is the source
for many light failures. Consider running a
ground wire from each light-to-trailer contact to the trailer grounding
the front of the trailer.
- Light failures can sometimes be fixed with replacing light
bulbs, cleaning of contacts between light bulbs and light sockets, or
cleaning of the vehicle-to-trailer plugs. If light failures become a
nuisance, replace the entire harness and all trailer lights. This is
neither very expensive nor very difficult. Consider purchasing the new
fully sealed LED lights.
- The sun ages tires fairly quickly. This aging can be all
but eliminated with
the use of tire covers for the parked trailer tires. RV stores sell
these vinyl covers. If your trailer tires are too small to use tire
covers from the RV store, make your own. It is worth the expense