Boat Trailers: The Ultimate Buying Guide
Written by Carolyn Jackson
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Maybe you just bought your first boat. Congratulations! Or perhaps you just upgraded to a larger boat. Or perhaps you’re just curious. Either way, when you are in the boating world, understanding boat trailers are usually an additional requirement. Although you can leave your boat at a marina in the water year-round, there are some exciting benefits to utilizing a boat trailer:
- You can transport your boat to different bodies of water at any time
- You can easily remove your boat in the case of inclement weather
- If you permanently trailer your boat, you will save money on slip fees, blistering, and bottom repairs.
In this ultimate buying guide to boat trailers, we’ll discuss boat trailers’ ins and outs: how to pick one, how much they cost, and how to use a boat trailer. So strap in, and let’s get rolling.
- Boat trailers are convenient and cost-effective for boaters
- Most boat trailers will cost between $500 and $5,000
- Learning to haul a boat trailer safely is just as important as learning how to operate a boat safely
Table of Contents
What are the Benefits of a Boat Trailer?
Access and mobility are two of the most rewarding benefits of owning or having access to a boat trailer. Yes, storing your boat at a dock or marina adds ease of use, but without a trailer, you are limited to that one body of water and unable to relocate your boat or send it to dry storage for the winter.
The main benefit is the ability to travel with your boat and take it to new locations, be it a lake, ocean, river, inlet, or bay. You could even visit multiple spots within the same weekend. If you live in a colder climate, you can transport your boat to a warmer body of water during the winter and continue to enjoy the benefits of boating. If you are a fisherman, you can visit different spots to try fishing for other varieties. If you are a water skier or water sports athlete, you can try out new bodies of water with like-minded communities or trick courses available.
Another benefit of owning a trailer is peace of mind. If a hurricane or derecho or any other dangerous conditions roll into where you store your boat on the water, you can quickly load the boat on a trailer and take it somewhere safe on land. The likelihood of damage is significantly less for a boat stored on dry land vs. a boat docked in the water. If you consistently take your boat out of the water after each use, you also decrease your time and money spent on repairs like bottom fixes and blistering and save money on slip fees.
Long story short, access to a boat trailer is always a good idea, and understanding how to use a boat trailer safely is equally essential. You want your boat to last for many years, and you want as few bumps in the water as possible during that time; utilizing a boat trailer aids in that goal.
How Do I Pick a Boat Trailer?
The two most important factors when choosing a boat trailer are size and frame. You will need to select a trailer that suits your boat’s size, and then you can choose the frame based on your personal preferences.
Step one is choosing a trailer size that actually fits your boat. Although it seems obvious, you will need to know the length and weight of your boat. To get the correct length, measure from the farthest point at the bow to the end of the hull’s running surface.
Generally, a trailer is about two feet longer than the boat it carries.
Pro Tip: when determining your boat’s length, do not use Length Overall (LOA). LOA can include extended swim platforms and other add-ons that will not influence the trailer’s length.
When determining the boat’s weight to estimate your trailer needs, you will need to go a little deeper than just what the manufacturer says the weight is on the spec sheets. The spec sheets do not include any cargo you have on board, fuel weight, additional features you have added, water, and other items like batteries, gear, etc.
The weight is essential for determining the axles on the trailer. Typically, boats over 3,500 pounds required a tandem axle trailer, and boats under the 3,500-pound mark can use a single axle trailer.
Boat Trailer Frame
There are two types of frames for boat trailers: steel and aluminum. There are benefits to each frame type, and which you choose comes down to personal preference.
- Strong and durable
- Well-protected wiring and brake lines
- Can be painted to match boat or towing vehicle
- Prone to rust and corrosion
- Painting, though inexpensive, can require additional maintenance
Pro Tip: If you want a steel boat trailer and do not care about the color, opt for a galvanized finish. Especially if you are using a boat in saltwater, this offers protection from corrosion that paint will not.
- Excellent strength-to-weight ratio
- Less strong than steel
- Less protection for wiring and brake lines
Boat Trailer Brands
When selecting a boat trailer, you might feel overwhelmed by the amount of selection available. Most of the time, your manufacturer will have a preferred brand to use with their boats, or the boat dealer will be able to select some top choices for you. Nonetheless, here are some of the most common boat trailer brands on the market today:
Bear Trailer Manufacturing, Inc.
How Much Does a Boat Trailer Cost?
The cost of a boat trailer can range from $500 to over $10,000. The price depends on the materials, size, carrying weight, and design. We are going to give some examples of different types of common boat trailers.
Single-Axle Boat Trailer Cost
A single-axle boat trailer can cost anywhere from $700 to over $4,000. Smaller 10’ to 14’ boats are usually under $1,500 but remember that weight, towing capacity, size, and accessories can always increase the price tag.
For single-axle trailers that carry boats in the 16’ to 21’ range, you can expect to pay between $2,000 and $4,000.
Another thing to keep in mind is that sometimes you pay for a brand name. More popular and well-known brands such as LoadRite or EXLoader can charge more for their products for this reason.
Single Axle Pontoon Boat Trailer for 21′-23’ pontoons — $2045
- 2600 lb. capacity
- Trailer weighs 675 lbs
Thinking of buying a boat and a trailer together? Check out our guide to how much a boat costs. And if you’re looking for a bigger adventure, you can always explore how much a yacht will run you. When you’re ready, explore thousands of new and used boats for sale at GoRollick.com.
Double-Axle Boat Trailer Cost
A double-axle boat trailer will cost more than its single-axle counterpart, but they can safely handle longer, heavier, and larger boats. You can expect to pay between $1,500 and $6,000 for a double-axle boat trailer. Most boats that require a double-axle boat trailer are in the 18’ to 25’ range.
Tandem-Axle Boat Trailer for 24′-25′ Pontoon Boats — $3,595
- 5,500 lb. capacity
- Trailer weighs 1400 lbs.
What is a pontoon boat? We got you covered here.
Personal Watercraft (PWC) Boat Trailers Cost
Personal watercrafts like jet skis also require a trailer to move from location to location. Fortunately, manufacturers make smaller single-axle trailers specifically for personal watercrafts. These trailers usually cost between $500 and $4,000, depending on the frame material, towing capacity, weight, and size.
If you own two personal watercrafts, there are double trailers (available in both single and tandem-axle) for hauling both jet skis simultaneously.
Ironton Jet Ski and Personal Watercraft Trailer Kit — $580
- Steel Frame
- 610 lb. load capacity
2019 Magic Tilt Double PWC Single-Axle Trailer — $3,000
- 2,000 lb. load capacity
Thinking of buying a jet ski? Check out new and used jet skis for sale at GoRollick.com.
How Do I Haul a Boat Using a Trailer?
The first thing you need to think about when gearing up to haul a boat using a trailer is your tow vehicle. You need to have a vehicle available with a towing capacity to carry both the trailer’s weight and the fully loaded (gassed up, water tanks full, gear on board) weight of the watercraft. To find your vehicle’s towing capacity, consult your manufacturer or your manufacturer guidebook for your vehicle.
Another way to determine towing capacity for your vehicle is to follow these steps:
- Find out the curb weight of your vehicles, which is located on the VIN sticker
- Add the weight of passengers, fuel, and cargo to the curb weight
- Subtract this number from your vehicle’s GCWR, which is also found on the VIN sticker (you may have to look this up using your VIN# if it’s not on the door sticker)
= Your vehicle’s max towing capacity
The second thing to think about when towing a boat using a trailer is your hitch. This is what connects the trailer to your vehicle. Boat trailer hitches are rated by ‘Class,’ ranging from Class I, Class II, Class III, Class IV, Class V. Class I hitches are for smaller lightweight boats under 2,000lbs. Class II hitches are good for loads up to the 3,500lb mark. Class III hitches are for boats up to 5,000lbs. Class IV goes up to 12,000lbs, and Class V can tow as much as 18,000lbs. The capacity of the hitch includes the weight of the boat and the trailer’s weight.
Okay, now that you have all the properly fitted materials, it’s time to hook up the trailer to your tow vehicle. Here are the steps for this process:
1. Align the hitch and ball, then lower the trailer hitch down over the ball.
2. Close the latch and insert the safety pin.
- Pro Tip: Never tow without the safety pin in place because the hitch might pop off the ball when you hit a bump
3. Cross the safety chains, and attach them to the tow vehicle. They should always be crossed so if the hitch fails, the chains will support the trailer tongue, and it won’t dig into the asphalt
- Safety chains are underneath the ball and hitch and criss-cross each other. They hook into a specified area to ensure that if the ball and hitch fails, you still have a backup safety measure, so the trailer doesn’t fall on the road or crash.
4. If your trailer has brakes, attach the safety line to the tow vehicle. (This will engage the brakes if, for some reason, the trailer comes free from the vehicle)
- These are safety brakes that are built into the trailer itself. If the vehicle becomes disconnected from the trailer, the wire will be pulled, and it will activate the trailer brakes so it will slow down. Think like the bracelet you wear on your wrist when you ride a jet ski that turns the machine off if you fall off.
5. Plug in the lights, and run a full check to make sure they’re all working.
- Your vehicle should be compatible with towing, which means there will be a clear place to plug in the trailer’s lights, which is a wire that comes with every trailer. Simply plug this into your vehicle (like plugging in a power cord) and then test them to ensure it is working correctly.
How to Get a Boat onto a Trailer
If this is your first boat or your first time using a boat trailer, you might be wondering how the heck you get the boat on it from in the water. It may seem obvious, but step one is to drive the boat to a docking site where you can back your boat trailer into the water and drive the boat up onto the trailer. There are a few best practices for getting a boat onto a trailer:
- Idle up to the launch ramp while you wait for the tow vehicle to back up into the water.
- The tow vehicle should be in park and use the parking brake once in position in the water.
- The tow vehicle driver can get out of the vehicle and help guide the boat onto the trailer.
- Make sure the bow peak is aligned with the bow stop on the trailer.
Remember that every boat is different, and although these guidelines are helpful, you will need to take it slow and see how your boat reacts to launching and trailering.
Tips and Tricks for Towing a Boat Safely
Towing anything can be a challenge. It adds a lot of length to your vehicle, making turns and high speeds more difficult. We highly recommend practicing in an open parking lot or area before you tow anything on the road. To ensure you are towing a boat as safely as possible, we have some general guidelines and recommendations to follow:
1. Always check your vehicle and the trailer to ensure everything is in street-ready working order.
- Connections are all tight
- Walk around vehicle
- Ensure you have a chalk block
- Check all the lights (hazards, brakes, etc)
- Make sure the load is secure, and everything is strapped down
2. If you sense swaying when towing, stop and recheck everything.
3. Make wide turns to avoid clipping a curb or other obstructions.
4. Leave extra following room between your vehicle and those in front of you. When towing a heavy load, braking distance may be significantly increased.
5. When wind-blast shoves your rig sideways, you can minimize the effect by taking your foot off the accelerator. Do not step on the brakes.
6. Learn to use your side-view mirrors and not your rear-view mirrors. Consider getting an extender for your side-view mirrors if you need additional visibility.
7. As soon as you arrive at the boat ramp, walk back to the trailer hubs and check that they’re cool to the touch. If they’re hot, your bearings aren’t functioning correctly and need to be serviced immediately.
8. Practice! This is not something anyone knows how to do well without some practice. Practice making right and left turns, practice backing up, and practice accelerating.
New to buying a boat? Read our beginner’s guide to buying a boat, plus learn all the ins and outs of getting a boating license.
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