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Tow and launch your boat safely

Tow and launch your boat safely

With over 850,000 registered boats nationwide, over 1 million people with boat licences and an estimated 5 million people who go boating each year, being on the water is one of the most popular forms of recreation in Australia.

With this amount of maritime activity going on around the country, boat towing and handling safety is a major issue.

Here’s some tips on what you need to know if you’re planning to tow and launch a boat.

1. The towing capacity of your vehicle

Towing a boat trailer is nationally regulated and there are limitations on what a vehicle can tow.

You can find the tow rating in the vehicle manufacturers handbook.

The rating will include both a trailer weight capacity and a trailer weight ball capacity.

Both of these ratings must not be exceeded.

2. The type of tow bar and maximum load capacity of the coupling

For safe towing it’s mandatory to use a properly designed and fitted towbar with a certified weight rating.

The load capacity of the towbar and the trailer coupling must be equal or greater than the load mass of the trailer.

3. How to do safety checks before and during the trip

Regular maintenance is essential for safe driving and towing.

Boat trailers often sit idle and are then immersed in salt water before sitting idle again - it’s a recipe for rust and wheel bearings are always vulnerable.

Make sure you inspect the trailer tyres for pressure and condition and check the wheel nuts on your vehicle and trailer.

Make sure that safety chains are correctly connected and the trailer brake and light connections all work and number plates and registration labels are visible.

4. What to check before leaving

Make sure the boat is secured safely and correctly and if there's an outboard on the back, make sure it’s tilted up, secured and the propeller covered.

5. How to correct a sway

If your trailer starts to sway, it's potentially a very dangerous situation, so stay calm and avoid braking or trying to correct the wobble.

Instead take your foot of the accelerator and gradually slow until the sway stops.

When the sway is corrected pull over and check your load making sure it’s evenly distributed within the trailer and that heavy items are placed over the axels.

6. How to slow and brake

Give yourself heaps of time and space to slow down when approaching traffic, lights or a junction. 

Use the gears on the tow vehicle for engine braking.

This is especially helpful for maintaining the control you need on long descents.

7. How to launch

Boat launch failures can be disastrous.

Careful preparation is the key to launching and if you’re not confident with reversing a trailer consider practicing in your driveway or somewhere quiet before heading to the slipway.

Check the local tide tables to make sure you have enough water for launching and look at the conditions on the water to see whether it’s safe to launch.

Make sure your tow vehicle can handle the slope of the boat ramp.

Rear wheel drive cars can struggle on slippery ramps while front wheel drives suffer from wheel spin if the weight of the trailer is excessive, so make sure you are prepared for the terrain and your load.

Good to go

It takes time and experience to feel confident towing and launching a boat - if you're a beginner consider doing your first launch with someone who's done it before.  

And remember, before you set off, make sure you have boat insurance and car insurance!

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