Load a Powerboat on a Trailer

Whether you spent the day water skiing, fishing, riding your personal watercraft, or just out cruising, the stress you relieved on the water can quickly return when it comes time to put the boat on the trailer. With a little practice, you will know how to load a powerboat onto a trailer, and then this part of your boating adventure can be quick and painless.


Before You Go Boating

  1. Practice backing the trailer. Backing boat trailers is essential to the powerboat loading process. The biggest key is to go slowly, which can be difficult when many other boaters are waiting to use the ramp. For this reason, it makes sense to practice somewhere else. Take your trailer (with or without the boat) to an empty parking lot and practice backing until you are comfortable.
  2. Ask questions. Your relationship with your boat dealer shouldn't end when you drive off the lot. Ask for specific tips about loading your powerboat.

At the Boat Ramp

  1. Back the trailer slowly onto the ramp. If possible, have a helper ensure you are centered on the ramp and backing straight.
  2. Stop when the wheels are almost completely covered by water. The precise position depends on your boat, but this is a good starting point.
  3. Put the car in park and set the emergency brake.
  4. While piloting the boat, on the final approach to the trailer, pay special attention to wind, currents and waves that can easily pull your boat off course and into a collision course with another boat or dock. Anticipate the direction of these forces and steer into them to offset their effects on the direction that your boat will travel with the idea towards landing squarely between the rails of your trailer.
  5. Pilot the boat slowly towards the trailer, alternating between a slow idle, neutral and reverse if necessary.
  6. Drive the boat onto the trailer until it is close enough to attach the winch hook to the handle on the bow of the boat. Drivers who are inexperienced at powerboat loading tend not to give the boat enough gas when driving onto a trailer. Don't be afraid to drive what feels to be a little too fast.
  7. Attach the winch hook to the handle. Working as a team, the powerboat driver should slowly drive the boat forward while the assistant cranks the winch.
  8. Stop when the bow of the boat is touching the winch.
  9. Secure the boat to the trailer. You will make sure your boat is safely attached to the trailer with different clips and straps depending on the make and model of both your boat and your trailer. Be sure to check your boat owner's manual to be sure you are attaching the boat to the trailer correctly.
  10. Take out the drain plug. The drain plug at the stern of the boat needs to be in when you are in the water, but excess water will drain out of the boat if you remove the plug before you drive away.
  11. Very slowly drive the tow vehicle with trailer and boat forward and out of the water. Boat ramps can be slippery with moss and algae and it is important to not let the vehicle's tires spin. If your tow vehicle is equipped with four-wheel drive, this can be useful if your back tires start spinning.


  • Backing boat trailers is easier when you have a visual reference on the trailer. Consider adding wide-view mirrors to the car and bright colored poles to the trailer.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help at the ramp, and don't be too proud to accept help if another boater offers it. Experienced boaters were once inexperienced and may be able to give you additional tips to help you become an expert at loading your powerboat.
  • It is perfectly acceptable to swim a boat onto the trailer as opposed to driving the boat onto the trailer using the engine - especially for inboards which have limited steering at slow speeds. With the boat engine off and the boat in position near the trailer, wade into the water and use dock lines as necessary to gently guide the boat onto the trailer.
  • When you wash your boat, don't forget to also wash the trailer. Some people forget that the trailer is in the water twice for each boating trip, so remember to wash the trailer when you are washing the boat. This is especially important if your boating trip took place in salt water.

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