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Loading a Boat on a Trailer: A Step-by-step Guide

Fact checked by William Hart

loading a boat on a trailer

Cruising and sipping a warm coffee in the misty morning air is a precious experience. But before you can enjoy the trip, you need to master the art of launching the vessel in the water and retrieving it onto land. You don’t want to be slow at crowded ramps and take up others’ time and space.

No worries! A little practice goes a long way. This article will guide you through the steps of loading a boat on a trailer.

Table of Contents

Step-by-step to Load a Boat on a Trailer

What to prepare

Loading boat on bunk trailer doesn’t require anything rather than a capable tow vehicle. You can also install some add-ons, such as:

  • A transom saver – It will protect the stern and engine when the trailer runs on the road
  • A pair of side mirror extensions – It is to gain a clear rear view from your vehicle, especially if you are loading large boat on trailer

Step 1. Prepare the trailer


Before approaching the dock to load boat onto trailer, assign one person to be the car driver (trailer retriever) and one to be the vessel operator.

Then, slowly drive to the dock and drop off every guest onboard, one of whom should walk to the car park and drive the trailer to the ramp.

If the dock is busy, you should move back to the sea while waiting and give space to other boaters.

Also, form a line connecting the bow cleat and the stern cleat. You will use this line to guide the vessel onto the trailer.

Before driving, the trailer retriever should check and make sure that the trailer’s latch is secured properly and that the safety chain stays in its position.

Step 2. Launch the trailer


The driver can back the trailer into the water when everything is set. The driver should keep moving in reverse until two-thirds of the trailer is submerged.

You have a clearer view of this from the boat, so use signals to help the driver stop in time. If the entire trailer is underwater, the boat bow won’t stay in place when you retrieve it.

Once the trailer is in position, the driver will put the car in park and pull up the parking brake. This step ensures safety if the retrieving goes sideways and causes the car to slide into the water.

Step 3. Position the boat onto the trailer


Now, idle the pontoon boat to the ramp, turn off its engine, and hop on the dock. (If the dock is too far from the ramp, you might need to step into the water.) Then, hold the bow and stern line you’ve made to guide the vessel onto the trailer, keeping it centered.

If the wind or current hinders you from retrieving a boat onto a trailer by hand, you can drive boat onto trailer until the bow eye reaches the winch strap.

However, never put a boat on a trailer with power and speed. It is dangerous for you—the operator, your vessel, others in the area, and the ramp’s underwater construction. In fact, many ramps forbid this practice.

The ramp is constructed with a hard flat surface sitting against the sea bottom sand. Speeding up your boat stirs up the bottom’s materials and causes the flat surface to eventually collapse.

Step 4. Retrieve the boat onto the trailer


How does your boat sit on a trailer? If it is centered, you can step on the trailer’s tongue, hook the bow eye to the winch strap, and start rotating the winch spur gear to retrieve the boat.

But if the boat position is not balanced. You should guide it back to the water and center it before putting boat on trailer.

Afterward, secure the boat to the trailer with safety chains and separate tie-downs. Remember that the winch strap is not for keeping your boat in place when you tow the trailer.

For easiest loading boat trailer, tilt the motor up in this step. Doing so will prevent the ramp bottom from abrading the propeller.

Step 5. Pull the trailer out of the water


Now that all is set, you can drive the loaded trailer to the parking zone and carry out this checklist before driving home.

  • Pull the drain plug to remove all water from your vessel (Don’t forget the live well)
  • Clean the weeds on the trailer (use a boat lift on a trailer if necessary)
  • Rearrange the gear onboard to make sure they won’t loosen and fall out when towing
  • Check the trailer’s tires and connections and plug in the trailer lights
  • Attach the transom tie-downs
  • Install the transom saver and hook it to the transom
  • Note:

When you don’t clean the weeds and drain your boat before driving it home, you risk transferring water species to a new environment the next time you launch your boat in another water body.

Unknowingly, you are affecting the Earth’s ecosystem. Laws regulate this practice, so don’t skip it.



Should you trailer a boat with the motor up or down?

Trailering can cause severe damage to the boat’s transom as it absorbs the impact of the bumpy road. To reduce the stress on the transom, you should tilt the engine until it sits vertically before towing.

Most types of engines, however, cannot be tilted to that angle. If that is your case, you can install an aftermarket outboard support device, also known as a transom saver.

All you need to do before trailering your boat is to trim the engine down and hook it to the transom saver.

Then, secure the bungee strap around the transom. The equipment will support the transom as you tow the vessel, minimizing the impact on the engine and stern.

What is the first thing you should do when retrieving a boat onto a trailer?

After retrieving the boat onto the trailer, quickly move your vehicle out of the ramp and drive it to the parking area. Most ramps are busy, so don’t take up space and make others wait.

When you arrive at the parking area, pull the drain plug and examine the trailer before driving it home.

How to load a boat on a roller trailer

Boaters often use a roller trailer to load and unload a boat at shallow ramps because the rollers can assist in moving the boat to the desired position. They are also helpful for loading a yacht on trailer.

When loading your boat on roller trailer, you need at least two people—one operating the vessel and one driving the car. Follow this procedure.

  • Put the car in reverse and keep going until the back rollers are submerged.
  • Slowly drive or guide the vessel onto the trailer and hook the bow eye to the winch strap. Roller trailers are not rigid like bunk ones; they can cause your boat to trip and slide back into the water. So, the operator should leave the engine on and keep the boat idling.
  • When you finish retrieving the boat, secure the chains.
  • Drive the loaded trailer to the parking zone.

How to load a boat by yourself?

Solo boat launching and retrieving is more troublesome and time-consuming, especially at crowded ramps where you don’t want to take up space. Nonetheless, you can do it with the right guide. Follow these steps:

  • Step 1: Approach the dock, form a line connecting the bow cleat and stern cleat, and tie your boat to the dock.
  • Step 2: Hop off the boat and quickly retrieve the trailer.
  • Step 3: Engage the parking brake of your car and walk to your boat’s position.
  • Step 4: Remove the boat from blocks and guide it onto the trailer with the line you’ve made.
  • Step 5: Hook the eye bow to the winch strap to retrieve it, secure the boat on the trailer, and drive the loaded trailer to the parking lot.

If you boat alone regularly, we recommend installing trailer guide posts. Loading a boat with trailer guides is much easier, especially when you have to do it on your own.

Helpful tips when trailering your vessel on the road

Driving a vehicle towing a loaded trailer can be dangerous. Remember to drive carefully, change lanes slowly, and engage the brake sooner than you usually do. The trailer’s heaviness largely affects the inertia of your vehicle.


Loading a boat on a trailer will become effortless once you get used to the steps. Practice makes perfect! So, don’t hesitate to volunteer to drive the boat onto the trailer next time your team finishes the trip.

Besides, keep in mind the safety rules, such as approaching the dock slowly, engaging the parking brake of your car, pulling the boat’s drain plug, and washing the weeds off the trailer. We wish you the most exciting fishing trip. See you out on the water!

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