By now you may be familiar with trailering and docking your pontoon boat. But what about taking her free range on long-distance hauls?
It’s one thing to launch at the nearest local marina, but if you’ve ever had the desire to explore a different lake or region, there are extra steps you need to consider before your big trip.
Transporting a Pontoon Versus a Standard Boat
It’s no doubt the pontoon is a bit less aerodynamic than a V-hull. Lowering the bimini top and some suggest, yes, even removing windshields, can reduce the drag on the road.
I remember helping my folks with windows once and, in my opinion, we thought it turned out to be a bit overkill. It’s more the beam of the pontoon that you need to pay attention to. You need to pay careful attention to turns, being cautious not to hit a curb or (as I have been known to do) take out a stop sign.
Prepare Your Trailer and Vehicle for Transport
The basic maintenance of your vehicle shouldn’t be ignored on these hauls. Have the transmission and cooling systems checked by a mechanic.
Tires and bearings
Check all tires on the trailer and the vehicle that will be doing the towing. Make sure they all have good tread. If you’re unsure, have them replaced. Make certain they’re properly inflated, checking the pounds per square inch (PSI) recommended by your vehicle’s service manual. And don’t forget to check the spares and grab a jack as well.
Many pontoon boat trailers have smaller wheels, which means you need to pay careful attention to the tires and bearings. Grease the wheel bearings, and maybe even repack them. Using a lug wrench or socket driver, tighten the lug nuts to ensure nothing is loose.
Verify the lights on the trailer are working. Every time you reverse your trailer and launch into water, you chance dunking the lights under, shortening their life.
Always be aware of your blind spots and the cars passing around you. If your vehicle doesn’t have dual side view mirrors, you can always attach them with convex mirrors or a universal clip-on trailering mirror.
Making local trips, it’s common to rely on the trailer hitch just as it comes. On longer trips you’ll need to attach the ball to the hitch using chains for extra security.
Secure Equipment and Bimini
Hit the right pothole and that inflated towable will blow away. Worse, it could cause an accident and potentially harm those behind you. Securing all your equipment is necessary, especially when you’re moving at 55+mph along the highway instead of the usual pace. Secure everything down, even if you don’t think it could fly away. I’ve seen numerous highway accidents caused by this type of negligence, and all of them could’ve been prevented.
And if you haven’t bought one yet, check out this comparison of covers. The same goes with the bimini, which should be folded and tucked in the boot. It’s also a good idea to pull over at service stations from time to time and regularly inspect all snaps and straps to ensure the cover can’t fly off.
Check Stowage and Weight Distribution
Fishtailing and Bucking
Fishtailing can lead to jackknifing and can become very dangerous. In order to keep from becoming jackknifed, it’s important to distribute the weight evenly on each side.
Also, make sure that most of said weight (roughly 75%) is located forward of the trailer’s axle. The reason behind putting 75% of the weight in front of the axle is that if you place too much weight behind the axle it can affect steering altogether.
And just as you don’t want fishtailing, you also don’t want bucking. A well-built trailer will have front and stern tie downs. Invest in a set of ratchet straps to help tie down and prevent bucking, especially on boats with heavier engines.
Take a test drive
Once you’ve secured your equipment and stowed your gear away, take a small drive on the nearest highway to get a feel for the weight distribution. Even better—take your pontoon to a weigh station. It’s important to know your vehicle’s weight limit and that you’re not putting too much stress on your transmission.
It’s crucial to have a vehicle that can haul the pontoon’s weight, but if the weight is over the limit, consider leaving less important items behind at home for this trip. Also take a look at our guide to gauge what an average pontoon boat weighs.
Plan a Route and Review Trailer Laws for the Road
Plan a route
It’s stressful enough to pull a trailer. Think of how difficult it’ll be to maneuver it when you’ve taken a wrong turn and have to navigate narrow streets. Or come upon road construction. Planning a route ahead of time will prevent any added stress.
Check the states you’ll be crossing through. Each state has different rules of the road and trailering regulations in place when it comes to pulling a boat.
For instance, while most states allow an 8’6” beam, any wider could mean having to apply for a wide-load permit. A great place to check state trailering laws is at the BoatUS website. At the link, select the state or states you’ll be passing through and choose the drop-down menu “Trailering Laws” to learn more.
Are you insured?
Insurance is also something to consider. Be sure to check the fine print of your insurance policy first. Some policies have road towing insurance and some—but not all—auto insurance policies cover damage to anything in tow.
If still uncertain, call your insurance provider to learn more about coverage (both on the road and at your destination’s body of water) if something were to happen. Just to be safe.
Park at Hotels and Take Overnight Precautions
If you have a long enough drive that requires overnight accommodations, it would be wise to plan ahead and reserve a hotel with ample parking and a well-lit parking lot.
When you check in, ask the front desk if you can get a room overlooking the lot; I know it gives me ease of mind and lets me sleep better knowing I can glance out the window.
Back the boat into a space that could prevent it from being removed from its tow, with the tongue facing away from the lot. And should you unhitch to grab a bite to eat, be sure you can’t be blocked in by other vehicles while you’re away.
Secure valuables and double-check all locks. You can even purchase a lock for your hitch.
Stay Attentive to Weather and Wind Advisories
Know your terrain and climate conditions
Hauling during strong winds or over high elevations can be challenging. Drivers of large vehicles, such as tractor-trailers, know when things are bad enough to pull over. It’s safer if you do also. Take a break or spend the duration parked somewhere if weather’s looking nasty. It’s not worth it and causes everyone around to be uncomfortable and uneasy if you begin swaying into their lane.
Even if there aren’t strong winds, the drafts that larger vehicles make can throw you sideways and into another lane. If a larger truck passes on one side, the wind pressure will push you toward the other only to swing back even harder. In order to compensate for this effect, prepare yourself by steering slightly to the side where the larger vehicle is approaching and then away again to counterbalance. Anticipate the moves of other vehicles on the road and be alert.
Clean and Remove Invasive Species and Hitchhikers
You never know what kind of hitchhikers might’ve attached themselves to your craft. But these clingy, non-native species—and sometimes unforeseen larvae—could bring real danger back to your own region. They can harm the fish and other living beings in the waters you call home. I’m always very careful about this with pontoons, small kayaks and even firewood.
Follow this basic set of rules, provided by Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers, to reduce the chance of contamination: Clean all visible mud, plants, fish and animals. Before transporting, eliminate water from all equipment. Make sure everything’s clean and dry. Visit their website ProtectYourWaters.net to find out details and learn more about aquatic hitchhikers.
While driving, remember to leave enough room between yourself and the vehicles ahead of you so you can stop in time. Watch your mirrors and use turn signals. And don’t slam on your brakes. Use common sense on the road. Above all—don’t be intimidated to make the trip!