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BACKING A BOAT TRAILER
  |  First Published: December 2005



One of the biggest challenges facing a new trailer boat owner is launching and retrieving the boat.

Newcomers often wait for perfect weather to launch their boat for the first time because they lack on-water confidence. However, this also happens to coincide with everyone else wanting to go boating, so the ramp is generally crowded. Everyone else is in a hurry, which puts the beginner under even more pressure. So my first tip is to practise launching and retrieving when the weather is lousy and the boat ramp is deserted.

Here’s what works for me, even if it is not the most conventional method.

When I was a teenager one of my mates had the iconic Sandman panel van. I noticed that he reversed it using only the mirrors. When I quizzed him about it he said that he’d learnt from a truckie that the best way to reverse is using mirrors only. I’ve followed that advice ever since and have found it effective and reliable.

My house sits at the top of a steep rise and my driveway has an S-bend in it. If this ‘mirrors’ method allows me to back the boat and trailer into my garage, it will certainly get you down a wide, straight boat ramp.

As you get older your trunk and neck won’t rotate as well as they used to, so it certainly helps if you don’t have to twist 180 degrees and try to control a vehicle and trailer at the same time. The most important point to remember with this method is that the trailer will go the opposite way to your hands as they pass over the top of the steering wheel.

Assume you’re sitting normally in your car seat facing forwards.

When reversing, to turn the trailer to the right, turn your steering wheel to the left (anti-clockwise). Just think opposites. Use all three mirrors but watch the right hand trailer wheel through your right hand car mirror.

When you’re dead straight you should be able to see the mudguard and maybe the tyre in the side mirror, depending on the width of your car in relation to the trailer. Once the trailer is going in the direction you want it to, back off the steering wheel a bit, so you don’t over turn. The key to backing is small movements of the steering wheel rather than large ones. As soon as you see, via the mirror, that the trailer is responding, then it’s time to back off a little by turning the wheel in the opposite direction ever so slightly.

Once the trailer is going in the right direction, straighten the wheel up again and check in your middle mirror that the trailer is straight. As you continue to back, watch each side mirror in turn for any sign that the trailer is turning to one side (the mudguard and wheel will appear more in that mirror than the one on the other side). Make minor adjustments as soon as you see a change in direction.

The great thing about this method is that it can be done with less than a 90-degree turn of the head rather than trying to be a contortionist and turn around completely to have a look.

Another practice that helps to keep the trailer going where I want it to, is to use the lane lines, edge or concrete joins on the boat ramp as a guide. Looking through the side mirrors at the lane line will help you keep the trailer at a set distance from it as you go down.

At night, on a poorly lit ramp, I always leave the navigation lights on in the boat until I have backed down the ramp. They illuminate the lane line and improve my understanding of where the trailer is.

The key to successful backing of a trailer is practice. The best place to practise is a quiet, straight piece of road where there are no obstacles such as cars or kids. Once you can back the boat trailer in a straight line for 100m, start practising backing around a slight curve, because not all boat ramps are straight – especially on the approach. Phase two is to go to the boat ramp on a lousy day and practise backing down to the water.

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