For many new sailors, the purchase of the first boat also brings with it a steel, wheeled contraption, involving bearings, grease, lights, and electrical wires, designed to transport their craft over land at speeds unheard of on the water—the trailer. There are many reasons why the allure of trailer sailing is a powerful one. By merging boat and automobile, varied sailing grounds beckon, and the fact that the whole operation can be stuffed into the garage, parked in the driveway or the backyard, allows one to circumvent slip fees. As trailer sailors generally have smaller boats, this can likewise mean reduced maintenance fees. Then too there is the possibility of racing in one-design regattas that may be located just up the interstate, or of secluded weekend getaways. Small vessels mean big sailing fun for small sailing dollars.
Trailer sailors own a unique blend of boats that range from 10 feet on up to about 26 feet. The physics involved in transporting a sailing vessel over land are obviously a bit different than those of their water-based brethren. Rig in this instance isn't a term limited to the mast, as automobile-towing capacity enters the sailing equation. When in the market for a trailer vessel, the tow vehicle—whether yours, borrowed, or rented—is a central component. A vehicle's towing capacity is identified in the owner's manual and is known as the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. Lighter duty vehicles should not exceed 75 percent of the vehicle's tow rating. While this may seem fairly straightforward, the tow weight includes the weight of not only the boat, but the trailer, some which can weigh up to 1,000 lbs. And since many trailer boats present a tempting catchall for weekend-warrior gear, the weight can balloon. Plan on 50 to 100 pounds for an outboard, several hundred pounds for gear, and a hundred pounds or so for tankage.
If you're lugging lots of gear, try to distribute it evenly throughout the boat, rather than concentrate it in one end. Now to get this several-thousand-pound thing moving at 60 mph and coming to a halt, to say nothing of driving up a wet ramp, requires a vehicle up for the task. We won't go into specific recommendations here, suffice to say towing is hard on a vehicle, and the bigger the boat, the bigger the vehicle must be. Consult your owner's manual, trailer tongue weight, towing weight, and don't cut corners!
Before getting underway ensure that everything is secure, including safety chains and the coupling lock, and that the boat is all the way up to the bow stop. Double-check the lights and the brakes, and that tire pressure is up to specs. Once moving, take those corners wide, and leave lots of room to stop, and lots of room between you and the car in front of you.
Once you get to the boat ramp, the task of raising the mast will be foremost on the list. The techniques vary from boat to boat. Regardless of whether you use a gin pole and a halyard run through a block back to the winch in the **** pit, or if there's another heave-ho technique that your prefer, always make sure there are no power lines in the vicinity. Also make sure that the main hatch is closed to prevent any one handling the mast from falling down. Have all cotter rings or pins nearby and easily accessible. Keep the mast straight on its way up or down. If you feel like you might be shorthanded, don't be afraid to ask for help.
If you're among the uninitiated, backing a trailer down a ramp to launch the boat can be intimidating. Practice and patience will be needed. There are a number of techniques seasoned trailer drivers may offer, but probably none is better than the lesson experience will inevitably teach. Probably the most often cited maxim is to place your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel and move it in the direction you want the trailer to go. If the trailer is getting away to the left, turn the wheels of your vehicle to the left. Trial and error is also an option. If you find yourself momentarily confused, turn the steering wheel all the way in either direction. Back a little and watch which way the trailer moves. If the trailer is moving in the right direction, keep going. If it gets out of hand, pull forward a bit and the trailer will come back to true with the vehicle. If the trailer is not going in the desired direction, stop, and turn the wheel all the way in the opposite direction, and proceed. Contrary to belief, you are not steering the trailer, you are pushing it around with your vehicle. The pivot point is on the trailer ball. Take your time the slower you go, the easier it will be to correct.
While in the beginning trailer sailing is apt to seem a little more involved in terms of transportation and set up, once you get your procedures down, a host of destinations beckon. Best of all, you will never be shackled to just one marina again.