Last year my Snipe traveled more than 10,000 road miles on its Frankentrailer, taking me to sailing adventures in Florida, San Diego, and Iowa—as well as to several local regattas in the northeast US. Since packing up after an event is definitely not the fun part, Kim and I have developed a system that saves us time and effort. Here are six tips that will hopefully make your next road trip more about the sailing and less about the loading and unloading.
1. Check Tongue weight
This should be about 10 percent of the overall trailer weight. If it’s too heavy, the trailer will sway. If it’s too light, the hitch will clank against the receiver. Tongue weight is adjusted by moving the boat(s) forward or back on the trailer.
The Frankentrailer doesn’t seem to care where one boat is loaded, but with two it’s quite particular. After some trial and error, I’ve discovered that it will ride very happily if I can barely lift the tongue. Conveniently, this translates to the boats’ bailers just opening forward of the aft trailer bunks. (That means the boats will drain if it rains hard enough to get water under the covers.)
Once you’ve found the perfect spot for your boat on your trailer, put a mark on the frame that aligns with the bow—and remember, anything less permanent than paint will probably wear off before the next time you load.
2. Tie down the boat: Wide and tight straps
Ratchet straps are the best way to tie down the boat because you can make them tight enough without damaging the rails. I leave them attached to the trailer when not in use (unless the trailer will be stored in a particularly light-fingered area). I also make sure to loosen the straps as soon as I get to my destination, even if I’m not unloading the boat right away.
I use a BoatBuckle as my forward strap, since it makes tightening/loosening easy. They stretch a lot when new, so make sure you check a new one very frequently and re-tighten if necessary. Also be sure to set it up so the strap, not the buckle, is riding over the rail.
If you have to tie down your boat with lines, use a large diameter and make sure to pad the rails with carpet. Recycled firehose (which might be available for free from your local firehouse) also works well; it’s fairly weatherproof and you can pass the line through the middle.
Straps are much easier and better for the boat.
3. Secure mast and dolly
Like any veteran Snipe sailor, I have a large bag of tiedown lines too short or too tired for boat use that are perfect for attaching my two masts and Seitech dolly to the trailer frame. The trick is to be consistent, and not to undo any more knots than you have to. Here are a few tips:
Leave the lines tied to the trailer where you used them last.
Tie knots that will be easy to untie again. You should never have to cut a line to remove it.
Lines will only get looser underway, so tie them as tight as possible.
Try to minimize chafe by not running lines around sharp corners or over rough welded areas.
Tie off loose ends so they don’t flap underway, which might cause damage and will definitely look sloppy to the cars following.
4. Hitch it up
Every boat/trailer/car combination will be slightly different, but here are the basics needed for a successful and safe tow: hitch/receiver (with something to keep the one from bouncing off the other on the first bump); light plug; safety chains/wires. Again, having a repeatable system to attach each of these saves time, and it also makes it more obvious when something is not in its proper place.
5. Check the lights
I saved these for (almost) last because they are usually the first thing to fail, even on trailers that don’t go in salt water every weekend. They can also be the hardest thing to fix in 10 minutes, especially if lots of people are standing around “helping.” (And remember to be considerate of your boat park neighbors; don’t block the driveway, hoist, or ramp while you’re checking your lights.)
Everyone has a different comfort zone for trailer lights; mine is “one light is working.” (All lights working is obviously the best.) Even if you don’t fix a light problem before you go, it’s still a good idea to check them; that way you’ll know whether the car behind you will be able to anticipate your next move.
6. Road checks every 1,10, 100 miles
Here’s a rule I learned from coach (and trailer light guru) Gary Bodie: when trailering, always stop to check everything at 1, 10, and 100 miles. I’ve adapted that to a more realistic scenario; I try to make sure I stop once in the first 50 miles, and then I do a complete walkaround (testing every line and strap) at every rest/gas/pee stop. I retie anything that is loose or flapping, and I also feel the trailer bearings to make sure they aren’t hot. That way I’ll hopefully catch a small problem before it leaves me stranded by the side of the road.
Happy road trip, and we’ll see you at the next regatta!