If you don't like backing up a boat trailer or it makes you nervous, don't worry, you're not alone. There always seems to be an audience when you're backing up a trailer especially at the boat launch when everyone is anxious to get out on the lake. If you can, go practice in an open field or an empty parking lot. Remember that if you find this difficult, don't panic or feel bad, absolutely nobody gets it right the first time.
Here is how to do it.
1. Get someone to spot for you
If possible it is best to have help. Have someone spot for you. Remember, safety has to come first, never have them go behind the trailer and stop backing up if they do. I always think "what if ?". What if your spotter tripped or what if you hit the gas instead of the brake. Always keep your spotter in sight. Be sure that you can see them in your mirrors. Agree on hand signals before you start. When showing how close the trailer or vehicle is getting to it's mark.
I like to have my spotter stand facingthe mirror showing the distance with his/her hands apart (like showing how big a fish you caught), slowly closing their hands as the trailer approaches its mark. I also like to use the term driver or passenger side for directions instead of left or right. This eliminates confusion and arguments.
2. Walk the area
Take a few minutes to walk the area where you are backing to. Try to get an image in your head of the layout. Notice any dangerous spots or obstacles that you definitely want to avoid like a post or drop off. Pick a point of reference beside where you are heading to. The dock is good one it is usually square with boat launch. Throw down some blocking or a life jacket or something noticeable if you need to.
3. Your trailer is like a wheel barrow
Now lets back up that boat trailer. Have you ever pushed a wheal barrow? To get it to go left your handles have to go to the right. Your trailer is the same. To get your trailer to go one direction your ball hitch or rear of your vehicle has to go the other. This means that as you backup to get your trailer to go to the drivers side you turn your steering wheel to the passenger side. WHAT! How are you going to keep this straight when you're feeling the pressure of a line up at the boat launch, your 6 year old has to pee and you can hear your teenager rolling her eyes?
Imagine the shape of your boat on your steering wheel.
The back of boat is at the bottom and the front of boat is at the top, put your hand at the back of trailer (bottom of steering wheel), now just steer your boat. To make the trailer go left, move the bottom of the steering wheel left, to make the trailer go right move the bottom of the steering wheel right. This also makes your steering corrections smaller than having your hands at the top of the steering wheel. I talked to numerous professional drivers and they all said that the biggest mistake beginners make is over steering and backing up too fast. Go slow, make small corrections. If you do turn too sharp just pull ahead a bit to straighten out and start backing up again.
Also remember that the longer the trailer is the easier it is to back up. So when you're having a hard time backing up a small boat trailer, don't feel bad, it just takes practice. The longer your trailer the longer it takes for trailer to catch up to vehicle corrections. It is easier to back up a 50 foot semi.
4. Get lined up with the swerve maneuver
If I am backing up my boat at an angle I will look over my shoulder out the drivers window until I am able to get my boat lined up to back up straight. This is why, if you have to back your boat at any angle, you should pull up in the direction that will let you back your boat towards the divers side so you are not backing up blind. See illustration for the swerve maneuver to help you align your boat.
The red arrows indicate the front wheels direction as well as the back of truck and trailer direction.
Drive along the right side of the road but before you get even to your back in spot start to swerve toward it.
As you pass your spot start to pull away again.
As the back of your boat lines up stop. Start backing up. Turn the bottom of your steering wheel left so that your trailer will pivot left.
As you get close to aligning your trailer, now is the time to counter steer to straighten out, not when it is lined up. Don't forget to keep an eye on the front of your vehicle when you're watching behind you. You don't want the front to swing over and hit something while you're watching behind you.
Ease off on counter steering and straighten out.
Your trailer wheels are your pivot point
so be aware of this to get your alignment.
Line up straight. If you go too far simply pull ahead a bit to straighten out.
5. Use your side mirrors
When you can start backing straight back use your side mirrors.
To back up straight keep the same amount of trailer visible in both left and right mirrors.
Remember, take it easy, hand on the bottom of your steering wheel and make small corrections. Keep an eye on your spotter.
6. Launch your boat
Launch that boat, park your truck and trailer and go sailing! Remember that with practice this will just get easier.
If you enjoyed this post, I'd really appreciate it if you could help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook. Thanks & Cheers! Daryl