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How to Back Up a Boat Trailer – 5 Steps to Remember

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

how to back up a boat trailer

Back Your Boat Trailer With Ease In 5 Simple Steps

  1. Adjust the side mirrors to see the trailer
  2. Align the boat trailer to the launch ramp with small adjustments
  3. Back into the launch ramp
  4. Back boat trailer into water until the boat stern is afloat
  5. When retrieving the boat, keep a third of the trailer above water

Launching the boat is one of the more challenging things beginning boaters need to learn. But the process of backing the boat trailer is probably the step that many get nervous about the most. It’s the fear of making a mistake that results in damage that is so concerning.

In this short guide, we’ll go over how to back up a boat trailer in easy and simple steps. We will also take a look at some important tips to make the process of launching and retrieving a boat much more manageable. Keep reading.

What You Will Need

Aside from your boat, your tow vehicle, and your ramp, you will need a rope to secure your vessel and a winch cable.

Steps to Back the Trailer


Step 1: Adjust the side mirrors accordingly

Before backing the boat trailer, make sure that the boat trailer is visible from your side mirrors. This is important for you to be able to check the alignment of the boat trailer. Be sure that the boat trailer is aligned to your vehicle first.

Adjust the angle of both side mirrors. The trailer should be visible from the inner side of both side mirrors. After setting the side mirrors to the appropriate angle, it’s all set to go to the next step.

Step 2: Align the boat trailer to the launch ramp

There is usually a long space to the ramp, so make good use of this space. Make sure that the area is clear of obstacles before proceeding. One of the most important things to remember is to avoid oversteering and adjusting the wheel too much.

Another important point is how to go left or right with the trailer while backing it into the water. Remember that when going in reverse, steering in one direction will result in the trailer going in the opposite direction. More on this can be found in the tips section below.

Step 3: Back into the ramp

Once you’re ready, back the trailer into the water. Just make sure that the boat is ready for release and the winch is already loosened or released. Also, make sure that the rope attached to the boat is secured by a helper or tied to the dock.

One thing to consider when backing into the water is to keep the wheels of your vehicle out of the water. This is to ensure that your vehicle is secure while supporting the weight of the trailer. It is especially dangerous to get the wheels wet if your vehicle is on rear-wheel drive.

Step 4: Back the trailer until the boat stern is afloat

When the stern is afloat, there is a risk for the boat to float away, which is why securing the line to the boat is important. How much the stern floats is also an important consideration. If the trailer is backed into the water enough, the boat will drift off the trailer.

You can choose to back the trailer just enough for the engine’s propeller to work in the water. You can then get on the boat after releasing the winch and run the boat in reverse to clear it from the trailer. This way, you can avoid the boat drifting off.

Step 5: When retrieving the boat, submerge two-thirds of the trailer

During boat retrieval, how deep the trailer is in the water may change. The level of the water may be different from when the boat was launched. One way to gauge the distance needed is to check how much of the trailer is submerged.

Keeping a third or a quarter of the trailer above water should be enough for boat retrieval, even if more of the boat was submerged during launch. This is true whether you’re pulling the boat onto the trailer with a motorized winch or if you’re driving the boat onto the trailer.

Useful Tips


Below are a few tips to make backing the trailer more manageable. Also included are a few boat launching tips that can help make the process easier.

1. Practice

Give yourself some practice before attempting the real thing. The best thing to do is to try to familiarize yourself with how the trailer reacts to your turns. Find a large and clear space where you won’t bother anyone and test out different things with the trailer.

Give yourself time to learn how certain adjustments turn out, then try it out for real. Backing the trailer is all about getting used to the motions, and it’s something people get better at doing as they repeat.

2. Hold the steering wheel from the bottom

One of the more confusing aspects of backing a boat trailer is how turning the wheel in one direction results in the trailer going in the opposite direction. However, this is only true if you’re holding the wheel from the top.

By holding the wheel at the bottom, you will be able to steer the trailer in the same direction as the wheel turns. Turn the wheel to the left and the trailer will go left. Holding it this way also makes it easier to do the next tip on this list.

3. Make small steering wheel adjustments

When backing a trailer, it’s better to keep your adjustments minimal. Oversteering will cause you to have to realign the vehicle and trailer, which may result in having to start over from the beginning. Make small adjustments to get the trailer in the right spot.

4. Use carpeted trailer bunks

If you’re using trailer bunks instead of rollers, make sure to carpet the bunks. Having carpeted bunks will allow the boat to deploy much more easily and will make retrieval easier as well. The carpet can also help protect the bottom of your boat.

5. Install trailer guideposts

Installing guideposts to the trailer will be helpful, especially for beginner boaters who are still getting used to the process of boat retrieval. Knowing where to steer the boat is helpful because much of the boat trailer will be submerged in water.

6. Always secure the boat with a line before deploying

As mentioned above, attach a line to the boat and secure it. Have someone hold the line or tie it to the dock before deploying the boat. This is all to ensure that the boat doesn’t get away from you. Without this, you may have to go for an unplanned swim, or the boat can end up colliding with something.


Many beginners end up struggling with how to back up a boat trailer, but after reading this short guide, you now know what things to work on to get a better handle on this task. Just remember to practice, give yourself time and opportunities to learn, and you’re all set.

Did you find this guide useful? Please share this with other people having trouble with backing up a boat trailer as well and leave your comments below.

Remember to boat safely.

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