Boating and water sports are activities enjoyed across North America. The benefits of being near water offers psychological, behaviour and emotional healing to those who participate in any number of boating activities but safety when travelling to and from your boating destination is sometimes overlooked. Recreational boating is a way of life for many. Lodge owners, knowing that folks in the north love being on the water continue catering to watersport enthusiasts, which requires copious travel to, and from, difference lakes and rivers throughout the year.
Boat Trailering Safety first
Higher volume of boaters on the roads these days, especially first-timers, means that boating safety is more important than ever, starting with travel. Greenhorn boaters are not used to trailering large watercraft behind their vehicles, and pose a hazard if not informed on the ins and outs of boat trailering. I have safety tips I learned in my years of boating and fishing across Canada and the US. Having fished in every province over the past five decades, I learned some crucial safety lessons (often the hard way) about boat trailering, along the way.
First-time boating travel
My first big boating adventure, as a boy, traveling over 600 miles into northern Quebec on a fishing trip to that province’s largest lake; Mistassini. Getting to the ‘Mighty Mis’ was half the battle and we quickly discovered that boat trailer safety is crucial, especially on long trips. Approximately 200 miles into our journey, a loud ‘snapping’ sound from the boat trailer was heard, and felt, from inside my Dad’s 1974 GMC pickup. A leaf spring on the boat trailer snapped due to excessive boat weight, from items we stored there for the trip. Luckily, we were close to a marina at the time and managed to replace the broken spring. Lesson learned about overloading your boat during travel. There are other factors to consider when hauling watercraft.
Boat trailering safety
The point is well take that your biggest safety concern, when heading-out on the road with a boat for the first time, is trailer safety. If you have never towed a boat/ trailer before, you must ensure that your tow vehicle ‘towing capacity’ is adequate for the trailered boat you wish to haul. Your boat & trailer weight together with gear etc, often called ‘packaged weight’, should never be more than 90% of your vehicle’s towing capacity, and preferably less. For example, if your vehicle has a towing capacity of 5000 pounds, never tow a trailer with packaged weight heavier than 4500 pounds, at the absolute maximum. The heavier you go, the more dangerous it becomes, as I discovered first-hand.
Boat/trailer carrying capacity
Boat trailer ‘carrying capacity’ is an important concern, one that most enthusiasts know very little about, me for example, on my infamous trip to Mistassini Lake. Essentially, the total weight your boat trailer can sustain, safely and efficient, while towing is called the carrying capacity. This is referred to as Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) and is stamped on every boat trailer. To determine the total weight your trailed boat can haul, take GVWR minus the weight of the trailer itself. As a simple rule of thumb, a single axel boat trailer is rated to haul approximately 3000 pounds (GVWR) and weighs approximately 600 pounds itself – the carrying capacity of this trailer would be 2400 pounds (3000 lbs – 600 lbs). Keep in mind; this 2400-pound capacity includes your boat, engines, fuel tanks and any/all gear stored in your boat during travel.
Understanding boat weight
Understanding and calculating total packaged boat weight is important as you quickly realize that piling more gear in your boat such as additional fuel, could put your boat trailer (& boat) at risk. The average 50 horsepower outboard motor weighs approximately 250 pounds, and inboard/outboard motor fuel weighs about 7 pounds, per gallon. It all adds up quickly so it is important to know with some degree of accuracy, what your packaged boat weight is, versus boat trailer carrying capacity. Do the math every time you travel!
Boat trailer tires are your ‘connection to the road’, which means that proper tire inflation is crucial. The sidewall of your trailer tires shows the ‘maximum psi’ and, therefore, the pressure your tires should ALWAYS be inflated to. Never underinflate or overinflate since your boat trailer is meant to be set at maximum tire pressure at all times. Keep your boat trailer tires covered when not in use to prevent drying, and watch for uneven tire wear, which might indicate a wheel bearing or axel issue. Good trailer tires with proper inflation make for a safer trip!
Always ensure your boat is seaworthy by inspecting it regularly for signs of damage. Carry a tool kit, safety flares, whistle, life jacket, life ropes and other equipment required for your size boat. While on the water after dark, ensure your lights are functional and bring a flashlight. Consult the Canadian Coastguard Guidelines for details on essential safety equipment, and for more information call the Boating Safety line 1 (800) 267-6687. For more information on boating safety in the Unites States, visit the US Coast Guard website.