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Boating Basics: Towing Your Boat

We’ll help you tow your boat safely and with confidence, so you can explore new and exciting waters.

Boating Basics: Towing Your Boat

If you are new to boating, the “Boating Basics” series of videos from Mercury Marine provides an engaging, educational guide to our favorite pastime that will help you gain confidence on the water. Even if you are an experienced boater, you might pick up a few tips!

A trailerable boat is your ticket to explore new and exciting waters – and to go boating where and when you want. If you’re new to towing a trailer, all it takes is practice. Find an empty parking lot and spend some time maneuvering your trailer in forward and reverse, much like when you first got behind the wheel of a car. This is a great way to build confidence.

The video below and the following tips will also help you build your skills by showing you the basic steps for getting your boat to and from the ramp.

Turn Wide

The first thing to remember about towing a trailer is that you must make wider turns than you would just driving your vehicle to make sure your trailer clears the corner. When you come up to a turn, pull farther forward than you ordinarily would before turning, and favor the outside edge of the lane you are turning into. You should purposely “swing wide” through the turn.

Backing Up: Hand Position Makes All the Difference

When backing up a trailer, remember this: If you reverse your vehicle one way, the trailer will go in the opposite direction. This may seem counterintuitive, but there’s a trick to help you. Place the palm of your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel of your tow vehicle as you’re backing up. From there, the direction you move the bottom of the wheel with your hand is the direction the trailer will go.

Slow and Steady Wins in Reverse

When backing up the trailer in a straight line, keep your eyes on your driver’s side mirror. If you start to see more of your trailer appear in the mirror, that means it’s moving to the left, out of alignment with your tow vehicle. To correct its course, palm the bottom of the wheel toward the right. This will bring the trailer back to the right. It should only take a small adjustment, so go slow and don’t oversteer. Once the trailer is back in line with your vehicle, ease the wheel back to center.

As you continue backing up, you’ll probably need to make multiple fine adjustments to keep the trailer in line. If you accidentally overcorrect and the trailer steers well wide of its course, don’t be concerned. Just stop and drive forward until your trailer and tow vehicle are lined up again. Then start slowly backing up again.

How to Turn a Trailer in Reverse

At some point, you’ll likely need to turn your trailer while backing up. This can be necessary to get in or out of a parking spot, to back into your driveway or even to back down a ramp.

Here’s the basic process for making a right-hand turn in reverse:

  • Place your palm at the bottom of the wheel and start slowly easing back. Then palm the bottom of the wheel to the right.

  • The trailer will start to move to the right. Watch its progress by looking over your right shoulder – or use your mirrors. As the trailer starts coming around, gradually move your palm back to center to ease the turn.

  • Once the trailer is about halfway through the turn, move your palm to the left, which will swing your tow vehicle around along the arc of the trailer and start to straighten things out.

  • Then, once the tow vehicle is back in line with the trailer, bring the wheel back to center and continue backing straight.

Mastering this process is all about timing your turns as you learn to direct the trailer and then follow it with the tow vehicle. It’s best mastered by practicing in an empty parking lot, so you can get used to how far to turn the wheel through each step of the process. Remember to keep your eyes on any obstructions, and to go slowly as you’re learning.

Keep a Safe Distance on the Roads

With practice, you will get used to the different feel of driving your vehicle with and without the trailer in tow. More time, space and patience are the keys to trailering safely. When you start trailering on the highway, you will find it takes more time to accelerate your whole rig to speed and to overtake other vehicles. It also takes more space to change lanes. The most important thing to remember is that it will take more time to come to a stop. Be sure to keep multiple car lengths between you and the vehicle ahead of you on the road in case it should brake suddenly.

Another thing to keep alert for is sway. If the rear of your vehicle or your trailer should start to sway, it could mean that the tongue weight is off, or a tire is losing pressure. Reduce your speed and look for an opportunity to safely leave the road and make the necessary adjustments.

Practicing different trailering maneuvers will help you to feel more confident and relaxed at the wheel. Don’t just get competent, get good. With practice, trailering will become second nature, and you will soon find you are the one showing new boaters how it’s done.  



Boating Basics: Towing A Boat (Saltwater)


Boating Basics: Towing A Boat (Freshwater)
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