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How to Guide for Pulling a Boat

Pulling A Boat Header

By Makenzie Crutcher on July 11, 2022 in Life Hacks

If you’re the boat operator, the carefree-wind-in-your-hair feeling doesn’t come without the daunting tasks of towing, launching, and eventually loading the boat. However, with just a little preparation, you can feel confident through every step of the process!

Towing the Boat

Our first step is towing the boat to the water, and don’t brush this step off, it’s important. You’ll need to check your vehicle, the trailer, and the boat before heading out to the lake!

  • Prepare Your Vehicle

Check the towing capacity of your vehicle. If you have your owner’s manual handy, this is a great place to start. However, if you’ve misplaced it, there’s no need to fret. The Automobile Association’s website features a helpful chart for different car manufacturers. For each model car, they list the towing weights for both trailers with and without brakes.

Factor in the weight of the boat and trailer when determining if your car can carry the load. Don’t try to round up with your vehicle’s capacity as that can cause long-lasting damage to your ride and risk to your passengers.

  • Check Your Trailer

Next up is your trailer. A little housekeeping can go a long way here. Check the trailer’s tire pressure and confirm that both the brake and turn indicator lights are working. Then, make sure your boat is secured tightly. End your trailer check by confirming your brakes work correctly.

Once your trailer is prepped and ready, make sure you know how to safely tow a trailer.

  • Check the Boat

Now’s a good time to remove any loose gear that you usually store in your boat. These items should be secured in your boat’s lidded cargo hold, or in your vehicle. This is the perfect time to confirm you have everything you’ll need for the day. provides an extensive list of must-haves for boating:

- Lifejackets (One per passenger)

- Anchor

- Air horn

- Flashlights

- Documentation like boat registration and boater education cards

- Fire extinguishers

- Basic tools

- Flares

- Handheld radio

Before you take off, check fuel and oil levels to make sure you have enough for your trip, or pack extra to refuel on shore. Also, do a quick battery test to ensure it is fully charged!

Launching the Boat

We’re getting very close to the exciting part of this whole excursion! Luckily for us, and you, CURT has a solid plan for launching your boat successfully. Walk through the steps with us below!

1. Load the Boat and Plug the Drain

Before approaching the landing, put your gear and anything else you’ll need onto the boat. Scout Boats starts with a similar list to but adds several items: sunscreen, bug spray, extra rope, a first aid kit, a sharp knife, motion sickness medicine, and plenty of water.

Then, remove any extra safety straps and install your boat’s drain plug. If you’re unfamiliar with drain plugs or how they work, check out Buckeye Marine’s video!

2. Position Your Vehicle

Positioning is key here. You want to make sure you have a straight shot to the water. CURT recommends you, “Drive up next to the boat landing, parallel with the shoreline. Then, turn away from the boat landing so your vehicle and trailer are perpendicular with the water’s edge.”

3. Back Up…Slowly

Just like the tortoise, slow and steady wins the race. By keeping everything straight, and maybe calling on a friend for an extra set of eyes, you should be able to just carefully move back up towards the water. If you’re at a public launch ramp, pay extra special attention to other boats and people in the area.

Looking for more tips on how to back up a trailer like a boss? We’ve got you covered.

4. Stop Before the Front of the Trailer is Underwater

At the front of the trailer is the winch. If you’re unfamiliar with what a winch is, we’ll tell you. According to Mortons on the Move, “Winches are any machine or tool that uses a rope or cable to pull, hoist, or haul.” So, in the case of your boat, the winch is that crank at the front of your trailer that hooks up to your boat.

You want to stop backing up BEFORE the winch goes underwater. A good way to ensure you ease into the water is by tapping your brakes.

5. Reverse Until the Boat Floats and Unhook the Winch Strap

Once the back AKA stern of the boat begins to float off the trailer, it’s time to unhook the winch strap. Since it should be mostly submerged, this should be fairly simple.

Pro Tip: Be sure not to back up too far as this can cause damage to your vehicle.

Pro Tip: Put your car in park AND set the emergency brake when you are on the ramp. This is crucial since you’re on a slippery incline!

6. Guide the Boat off

Now you need to guide the boat off the trailer and into the water. Once you’re ready to guide the boat into the water, have a passenger hold onto the tow rope or hook it up to a nearby buoy while you park the car and trailer.

We don’t want your boat floating away!

7. Find a Parking Spot

You did it! The hard part is over, and the boat is successfully launched. So, drive your vehicle slowly up the ramp and find a spot to park it for the day. Now, you get to enjoy a day on the water!

Note: If you’re using a private ramp, this one is probably irrelevant for you – but still make sure to park your vehicle on a flat, dry surface while you’re out in your boat.

Loading the Boat

We know you’re probably tired, sunburnt, and ready to get home at this point. Stay with us a little bit longer though because we have to load the boat back onto the trailer.

  • Approach the Launch Dock

Now it’s time to let the trailer driver hop out to go retrieve the car and unload any other passengers if you’re right by the dock. Make sure to have the driver stay in because it’s important that you idle up to the ramp when it’s time.

  • Slowly Back the Trailer into Water

Slowly back into the water, put the vehicle into park, and set your emergency parking brake. The trailer should be at a depth that allows the boat to float over 2/3 of the trailer. If you don’t do this, you’re going to have to pull a very heavy boat using the winch.

  • Load Boat onto the Trailer

As with the rest of this process, going slow is key. Idle the boat onto the trailer bunks. Try to align the front AKA the bow peak with the trailer bow.

Pro Tip: If you’re using a shallow ramp, lift your propeller to prevent damage.

  • Attach and Tighten Winch Strap

Clip the winch strap to the front clip and use the winch to pull the boat up snugly to the post. Then, secure the safety chain.

  • Pull Away from the Landing Dock and Secure Gear

Once you’re on dry land, you can secure all gear that stays in the boat and unload any that rode there in the car.

Additional Info

Hang on, we only have two more pro tips for you.

Pro Tip #1: Unplug lights when backing a trailer into the water unless you have submersible lights. Over time, water can damage the wiring and cause short circuits.

Pro Tip #2: Load all your items into the boat prior to backing down the landing dock to make the loading process easier.

Discover Boating lists a couple of cool things to have on your boat – towable tubes, snorkeling gear, cooler, Bluetooth speaker, waterproof camera, binoculars, handheld mister fan, and an inflatable raft. So, pack up your items and avoid traffic jams on the launch ramp.


Now you’re all set for towing, launching, and loading your boat. When in doubt, add an extra set of eyes in the water to make sure everything goes smoothly.

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Makenzie Crutcher is the Brand Strategist for Say Insurance. She graduated from Westminster College with a degree in English, emphasis in Literature. Prior to joining Say, Makenzie was an insurance underwriter specializing in policy risk analysis. Having nearly a decade of experience in the insurance industry, she brings a unique perspective to the Say marketing team. Makenzie loves to use her industry expertise and charismatic personality to bring everyone the scoop on Say!