Boating Basics Online is reader-supported. When you buy via our links, we may earn a commission at no cost to you. Learn more

How to Use Trim Tabs on a Boat? – Things You Need to Know

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

how to use trim tabs on a boat

You may have heard about trim tabs and how they’re an essential upgrade to opt for when purchasing a vessel. But do you know what are trim tabs? In short, they are metal plates (often steel) attached to the boat to keep it level.

These parts are very useful when sailing at high speeds, when even small mistakes can turn into big problems like bow rises. That’s why it’s important to know how to use trim tabs on a boat.

Keep reading to learn more.

What You Need

  • Planing watercraft
  • Trim tabs (installed)
  • A large area that allows high-speed boats

How to Use Trim Tabs


  • Familiarize yourself with your setup

A standard setup will have two tabs at the stern, one on the port side and one on the starboard side, and a pair of switches on your console. One switch operates one tab and will be connected to a power supply.

Most panels will have bow up and bow down labels, and flipping the switch in either of these directions will give you the indicated adjustment. Just remember that flipping the switch for a second is enough to significantly change the orientation of your boat.

Over-adjustment can become a problem for a planing vessel, so be sure to read the manual thoroughly as well.

  • Use the tabs to lower or raise the bow

When looking to properly balance the boat by compensating for uneven weight distribution, it’s enough to look at your bow against the horizon to determine what adjustment is necessary. You’ll want the bow outline to be even with the stern.

In situations where you want to raise or lower the bow for more stability, other than the boat’s outline seen from the helm, it’s also a good idea to be mindful of how the boat feels and take it from there.

  • Adjust tabs as needed

The right adjustment may differ depending on each boat. It’s best to take the time to experiment with your setup and see how it responds. Don’t use too much trim at first; deflecting the tabs excessively when you don’t know their effects can make it hard to control the boat.

When to Use Trim Tabs

A boat with an improper balance is susceptible to all sorts of problems stemming from loss of control. You can still steer the boat, but it won’t go exactly the way it should, and this can be a big problem.

A boat in plane faces the same problems when there is no proper balance. Below are some cases where a trim tab can help.

  • To give better balance to the boat by compensating for weight shifts
  • To correct rolling, bouncing, or listing
  • To reduce wake
  • To maintain planing at lower speeds

Additional Information


1. How do trim tabs work?

While using trim tabs, you can control the orientation of your boat by raising or lowering the bow. Most often, trim tabs are used to give the boat better balance. This is done by deploying and manipulating the trim plate.

Because the trim plate for boat can be adjusted individually, you can shift the boat in many ways.

In rough water, trim tabs can improve stability but increase drag.

2. Which is better: manual trim tabs, automatic trim tabs, or fixed trim tabs?

Fixed trim tabs are useful when the boat only has problems with one speed or weight level, so it’s not as versatile as other types. Outboard trim tabs are usually fixed but are different from those used for planing vessels.

Self leveling trim tabs are more convenient because you don’t need to manually adjust trim tabs on a boat for them to work. They may also be classified as non-hydraulic or automatic options, which are best for small boats and users who prefer straightforward installations.

However, for the widest range of adjustment and control, manual tabs are recommended.

3. What are the types of adjustable trim tabs for small boats?

The common types are electric trim tabs and hydraulic trim tabs. Each has its own set of pros and cons and it would be better to check to see which would be a better fit for you. It is worth noting that electric ones are easier to install but are more expensive to repair.

4. Are there special considerations for installing trim tabs?

There are proper considerations that need to be made for every boat; these include size and installation type. Bigger boats need bigger trim tabs.

For installation, there is the transom mount, which is the standard type. The bottom mount is for situations where the standard is impractical, such as on flat bottom boat.


Now you know all about trim tabs. More importantly, you know how to use trim tabs on a boat. This is an extremely useful tool that can offer better performance to your boat, so be sure to practice using it the right way.

If you know anyone asking what does a trim tab do or how it’s used, please share this article with them. Don’t forget to leave your comments and suggestions below.

Remember to boat safely.

5/5 - (3 votes)