Decide On a Pontoon Boat Trailer with This Breakdown
Choosing the right trailer for your pontoon boat is almost as important as choosing the boat itself. This is the equipment you'll use to load and launch. It'll be what your boat sits on during the winter for, depending on your region's climate, what could be several months.
It'll be what carries your pontoon on long hauls. But before purchasing, there are lots of details to consider.
I've broken the trailer down into component features. Each one can vary based on the make and model of trailer, so be sure to investigate these features on any trailer you're considering buying.
Your Boat's Weight
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is the total weight the trailer can support. Be sure you've taken into account the entire weight, including the engine and fuel.
The average pontoon boat's weight can vary, and you want to know what type of trailer can handle yours in particular. The weight will dictate how many axles you'll need in order to properly support it.
Types of Trailers
Single axle trailers are generally more cost-effective than multi-axles. They're easier to move and can turn tightly into hard-to-reach spots like garages or storage facilities.
You can even move them by hand manually if you need to shift to reach something that's blocked in your garage. Obviously, they require less maintenance as there are fewer tires and axles to tighten.
This video demonstrates the features of one single axle trailer example.
Multi-axle trailers (more than one set of axles) lack the dexterity of the single axle trailer, but they're much better equipped to handle long hauls and wear and tear on the road.
They're more stable and will keep you and your boat safe if you lose one tire to a blow-out.
Here's one example of the multi-axle option:
A tandem axle trailer (which has two sets of axles) is sufficient for most pontoons. My folks own an Avalon Entertainer and carry it with a 25' 2014 tandem MFI Trailer. MFI makes good quality trailers and come in all varieties and sizes.
Take a look at this tandem axle trailer to get a sense of what they look like:
Also known as scissor trailers, these type of trailers make it so your pontoon is saddling the trailer, not sitting directly on it.
The main reason you might consider having this type of trailer is that you want to launch in shallow waters, but I say it's best to locate a marina with a deeper launch instead.
The other reason is having the flexibility to move a variety of pontoons. If you ask around, you'll find that most 'tooners prefer bunk trailers (more on that later).
Center lift trailers have bad road stability when it comes to long hauls. If you're a novice and unfamiliar with trailering, you face the real risk of your boat tipping.
This video will give you a thorough walkthrough to the scissor trailer concept.
If you're looking for a smooth-riding trailer that absorbs shock on roads full of potholes, you might want to consider one of these types of suspensions.
The most commonly used is a leaf spring suspension. These are more easily repaired than torsion axles, but in turn, require more maintenance. However, they do have better shock absorbency.
This is basically a rod inside a square tube used as a spring. These require a bit less maintenance. However, when they need repairs they're more difficult.
Most people I know prefer radial over bias-ply tires. This is for multiple reasons, but the main takeaway is that bias-ply tires have narrower footprints, which means less grip on the pavement.
Radial tires are wider and grip the pavement better, on top of being better constructed and longer-lasting overall.
As I mentioned, most prefer radial tires, but bias-ply are all right for local trips and if you're not doing too much trailering.
They have a sidewall flex to the tread, which means your tires can slip, and they're generally not built to be as strong as their radial counterparts. The only upside is that they tend to be cheaper.
Gliding On and Off
There are two types of bunks: Dry bunks and carpet bunks. Regardless of whether they're carpeted or not, trailer bunks are typically made of long pieces of wood.
Using treated wood was once very common, but due to the change in methods of treating lumber, most manufacturers today won't use treated wood.
Previously, wood treatments contained copper sulfate and were known to tarnish pontoon tubes. The threat of discoloration outweighs the effort to occasionally replace the wood. So, make sure the bunk won't damage your pontoon in any way before purchasing.
Carpeting is an inexpensive and affordable way to cover the bunks. It's generally lightweight and can easily be applied with staples.
This DIY process is fairly straightforward and I've helped my dad reapply carpet to bunks numerous times. A good quality trailer uses a 14 ounce carpet which has a rubber back. This is very durable, marine-grade and typically applied to bunks to assist heavier boats that would tear normal carpets.
Some prefer not to have their 'toons sitting on carpeting for long periods of time, since carpet can still absorb some water and retain moisture.
Instead of leaving your boat on a carpeted surface, you can install plastic glides or "caps" to your bunk trailer. This helps glide the trailer on while also keeping it off the carpet. It's a great pontoon trailer accessory to have.
I've seen a few questions here and there about rollers for pontoon trailers. Although they're hard to come by, you can modify a bunk trailer. Most 'tooners, including myself, would discourage you away from rollers.
Pressure points against the 'toons could create small pock marks. If you're insistent, I'd suggest first contacting your pontoon's manufacturer and asking their advice.
Types of Frame Metals
When you have your Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR), know that the weight is specified for each axle, indicating the amount of weight that each axle can bear.
Try not to confuse this with the GVWR mentioned earlier. Though they look almost the same, the difference is based on the weight of the entire trailer vs. the weight on each individual axle.
Aluminum trailers are much lighter than steel, which can be a consideration for fuel economy. Aluminum is the better trailer material if you take your boat out on coastal water.
It stands up great to salt and isn't easily corrosive. When it does corrode, it doesn't produce an unsightly rust. Instead, the metal oxidizes as white.
One disadvantage is that aluminum trailers do have the highest cost. This might be a deciding factor if you only take your pontoon in fresh water.
Galvanized steel simply means it has a coat of zinc applied. Although it does resist the abuse of seawater and salt, it can still rust. This means in order to maintain the galvanization, it's ideal to rinse it clean with fresh water after loading and launching.
You can also get the steel hot-dipped, which means that after the frame is welded, it's dipped in a galvanization solution.
Steel trailers are more expensive than aluminum trailers, but they're also heavier and stronger. If you don't have to launch in ocean water, this might be a good fit.
Some like painted steel trailers because they can be custom-matched to your pontoon. Although I do appreciate this aesthetic, I find durability to be more important.
Once again, salt water is a big no-no for painted steel. In saltwater, the paint will begin to chip and you'll end up needing to refurbish the boat paint. If you're in fresh water, by all means, paint it whatever color you want.
Brakes and Lights
Electric brakes are generally frowned upon because most people have the common sense not to mix water with electric components in a normal household setting. There's also worry about rust and corrosion from time spent in and around the water and you don't want to play games with brakes.
Although there are a few manufacturers out there like Cequent Performance Products that makes marine-grade electric brakes. These are more resistant to water damage and are perfectly safe to use. High-quality electric brakes would be my recommendation.
A surge break system works the same as a car's brakes, with hydraulics, and they're self-contained inside the trailer. They don't need to have connections inside your car as they function on their own.
Keep in mind that most regions require you to have some kind of brake system you can control from within your car meaning that surge brakes alone would be a no-no. They perform when the car has begun to slow, creating a small delay.
This also means you'll need a longer distance to stop your heavy boat and trailer. They're reliable but complex to set up, maintain and repair.
Brakes for Multi-axle Trailers
You could be required by state law to have brakes installed on every axle. In fact, even if it's not required, it's highly recommended by trailer manufacturers. Take this into account when considering trailers.
If you launch in salt water, there are some things you need to pay attention to as far as attached wires are concerned. You don't want the tail light wiring to corrode away, so tinned copper wiring is crucial for coastal waters.
LED lights are waterproof, durable and able to outlast incandescents. Check to see if the trailer has covers to protect the bulbs and doesn't leave them exposed when you launch and load underwater.
Make it a good habit to perform a thorough check-up on your trailer before the start of the season. Keep a container of galvanized spray to re-coat any chipped away spots where you notice rusting. Take a clean cloth and wipe away any corrosion.
Use boat de-salt to clean and flush engines if you use your pontoon in salt water.
Apply grease (dielectric grease, to be exact) to incandescent light fixture sockets.