How to back a boat trailer

How to back a boat trailer

There is nothing more embarrassing than pulling up at the launching ramp and trying to back the boat on to the ramp but the trailer has a mind of its own and keeps heading off in the wrong direction. And there always seems to be a crowd watching, just waiting for you to screw up.

Why is a trailer is so difficult to back up?

The answer lies in the design of the ball hitch which attaches it to the vehicle. This ball-and-socket connection allows a trailer to turn along with the vehicle that it’s towing. Without this feature, a vehicle towing a trailer would be like an extremely long single vehicle, and making a turn would require a couple lanes of traffic. But that same joint can also make backing up a trailer really difficult. It provides the straight line you’re trying to achieve in reverse a place to break. Suddenly, the trailer you’re towing juts off at an angle. At its worst the trailer can actually double back around until it and the car are touching sides, which is called jack-knifing.

It shouldn’t be allowed to come to that

Such scenarios can be avoided with a bit of practice. It is a question of training the mind to steer in what appears to be the opposite direction to what is normal. The trailer goes in the opposite direction to the car. A good approach is, when preparing to back up, to place your right hand on the bottom of the steering wheel (6 o-clock position). Now, simply move your hand in the direction that you want the rear of the trailer to go. If you use this hand position, it will all but eliminate turning the wheels the wrong way while backing up. If it pivots in the wrong direction, turn the wheel gently in that direction.


Left? Right? Get a feel for your trailer

So if a trailer is going to the left as you’re reversing and you want it to go to the right, turn the steering wheel counter-clockwise. When you are approaching any kind of back-in situation, the job will be a lot easier if you set yourself up to back to the driver’s side. You will be able to see the trailer and the site much better in your side mirror, and can also glance back over your shoulder and see the rear of the rig. The approach is important and it is better to take a long run at it so you approach the target on your right side. If there is room, swing wide and pull well up ahead to get a straighter shot. It’s a lot easier to back up in a nearly straight line, adding small corrections. Avoid trying to back into a spot by starting with a sharp 90-degree turn. For example, if backing into a driveway pull into the space across the road to get a straighter shot.

Ask a friend to help

It’s a good idea to have a person you trust outside of the vehicle to help direct you and alert you when you’re approaching an object. If something unexpected happens, stop the vehicle and figure out what needs to be done before taking any action. Don’t be afraid to get out and look to see where you are. It’s better to stop numerous times to check where you are than to pay to fix damage to your trailer or someone else’s stuff. Short trailers are more manoeuvrable and responsive, and so are more difficult to reverse. Longer trailers are more forgiving of mistakes, but will take more work to get around a corner. Try learning with a long trailer, then attempt a small trailer. Whenever you are learning be sure to take it slow.

Practice makes perfect

Or at least practice makes it easier. Before you begin using your trailer in real-world situations, take it to an open area, like a large parking lot. Practice backing up until you have a feel for the procedure. You might also take some orange cones or other markers to challenge yourself. You’ll find that backing a trailer gets less difficult the more you practice.

Backing a trailer requires preemptive motion of the towing vehicle to move the trailer in the correct direction. A pre-planned route is required, keeping in mind the direction of the trailer, the direction of the towing vehicle.
Place one hand on the steering wheel and turn your body and head to watch behind you and at your trailer.
Turn the wheel to the right to make the trailer go left (as you are looking toward the front of the vehicle). Another way to look at it is, the bottom of the steering wheel directs the trailer.
The most common backup is a right angle. If possible, back the trailer to the driver’s side not the passenger side, which is harder to see.
Place your hands at the bottom of the wheel and as you reverse adjust the steering wheel to keep the trailer travelling in the right direction.
It is important not to get the truck and trailer jackknifed, so do not let the turn go too far.