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5 Different Types of Boat Trailers

A photo of small fishing boat in a boat trailer spotted on the docks.

With a good trailer, boat owners have more flexibility in transporting their boats to different locations. Visiting various bays and lakes makes it possible to enjoy your boat a lot more, which means you’ll be making more awesome memories. Of course, you need the right vehicle like a pickup truck or SUV to actually use a boat trailer.

There are also different kinds of boat trailers, all with their own reasons for being a good choice for your boat. If you’re looking for a bit more info on these types of boat trailers, I’ve got you covered! 

Let’s look at the boat trailers that you can use as well as what you need to keep in mind when choosing a trailer.

1. Bunk Trailers

An aluminum bunk trailer for a boat isolated in a white background.

Typically, bunk trailers use two (or more) long boards (also called bunks, hence the name) to support the centerline of the boat’s hull. One board will brace either side. 

They are covered in fabric that protects the boat from scratches and damage and also helps it to slide on and off the trailer. This fabric may have to be replaced after a few years of use.

Bunk trailers are ideal for towing boats of 20 feet or smaller. They can also be used to store bigger boats, but aren’t recommended for towing any boats that are longer than 20 feet.

2. Float-on Trailers

A float on trailer with a boat lifted ready to take off to sail in the sea.

This is the name given to big bunk trailers that are completely submerged in the water to let the boat it carries float or be driven. These are great for loading and unloading your boat in deeper water.

Generally, these are the best trailers for aluminum boats thanks to their designs and thin hulls. Just make sure you know the depth conditions you’re going to deal with and have ensured there are no rocks or other obstacles in the way of the boat and trailer.

3. Roller Trailers

Zoom in photo of a rusty roller trailer in a water to pick up a boat.

As the name of these trailers suggests, they have multiple sets of plastic or rubber rollers that can support the weight of your boat. The rollers can be mounted on pivoting bases in some cases.

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Roller trailers make it a lot easier for you to slide your boat on and off the trailer and transport it with ease. If you’re regularly towing your boat in and out of various waterways, you may want to choose this type of trailer.

4. Keel Rollers

A zoom in photo of a trailer with a black keel trailer roller on the center of a trailer.

Keel rollers are v-shaped and positioned along the center of the trailer. Similar to bunk trailers’ bunks, they are made to support your boat’s keel.

5. Rib Rollers

Zoom in photo of four yellow ribbed rollers in a trailer for smooth picking of a boat.

These are smaller than keel rollers and are there to support the outer portions of your boat’s hull. Some of them have ribbing or treads on them that help provide better traction for slippery and slim boats. Others can be slick, so you have better and faster launching. Sometimes, rib rollers and bunk trailers are used together, but you’re more likely to find them on roller trailers.

Important Information to Know Before You Buy a Trailer for Your Boat

There are several elements and factors to keep in mind when you go out and buy a new trailer for your boat. As someone who knows how much of an investment a boat is, I know that transporting them safely is very important. That’s why it’s essential that you keep the following factors in the back of your mind while shopping around.

Brake Calipers

The brake calipers are used to press against the brake pads as well as the brake rotor and slow down the vessel. You have to take note of the trailer’s brake calipers and your specific boat’s size. Typically, small boats have brake override systems that come in the form of a cable that can put pressure on these calipers when you hit the brakes.

But with bigger boats, you need to have a trailer equipped with an electric hydraulic braking system that is battery-powered. Such systems consist of small brakes on the wheels of the trailers and help to increase the brake sensitivity. This is important when you’re transporting large boats.

Trailer Weight

The weight of your trailer is important, and you’ll have to do some calculations and measuring when planning to tow a boat. In order to get the total weight and ensure a safe towing experience, you need to know the weight of your vehicle, trailer, and boat. 

The total weight must then be compared to your vehicle’s towing capacity. You should be able to find this information on the vehicle’s VIN plate. Make sure that the total weight of the car, trailer, and the boat does not exceed this amount.

See also  Toyota Tundra Towing Capacity (I Own a 2021 Tundra and Fishing Boat)

When choosing your boat trailer, make sure it will bring your total weight to less than the value on the VIN plate.

Related: How Are Boat Trailers Measured?

Suspension

Zoom in photo of a spring trailer suspension.

You will have a choice of torsion suspension, and spring suspension. Both are reliable, but they also come with their own drawbacks. Which one you choose depends on your preferences.

Torsion

With torsion suspension, the axles consist of thick rubber cords that are hidden in the axle’s tubing. When your wheels go up and down, these cords compress and thus give you an even wheel suspension. This way, you get a smooth driving experience.

There are fewer moving parts because torsion axles are mounted on the frame, which also enhances the overall suspension. It is also much less likely to corrode thanks to the axle tube being galvanized outside and in and no bare metal is exposed to the elements.

However, boat trailers with torsion suspension can be expensive and are also more costly to replace or repair. Also, there is no impact distribution, so the effects of uneven terrain will be felt by the wheels.

Spring

Spring suspension is used quite commonly and is seen as very reliable. In addition to performing well, boat trailers with these suspension systems are also more affordable. They are less stressful for the tires but still provide a smooth and steady ride.

Leaf springs can absorb the shock from sudden changes in terrain such as potholes and uneven ground. Also, every tire is given its own set of springs for a better experience. Boat trailers with this suspension system are ideal for people who will be traveling over uneven terrain a lot.

The one negative aspect of these systems, however, is that they can wear out faster and require more repairs. You can also expect quite a bouncy riding experience with empty loads.

Tow Vehicle Capability

A zoom out image of a Jeep car pulling a trailer with a boat on it from the river.

It’s vital that you make sure your vehicle can actually tow a trailer before you go out and buy one. You should also know all about the car’s compatible hitch systems.

You need to know the maximum loaded weight, size, maximum tongue weight of trailer capability, and tow rating of your vehicle.

Lights

You will find one of two kinds of lights on your boat trailer: LED or incandescent. Some incandescent lights are submersible and made with sealed gaskets so they’re protected against water.

LED lighting lasts longer because they’re a lot more durable and the bulbs can withstand the shock of rough roads better.

Tires

A photo of a boat trailer with heavy duty trailer boat tires with small pontoon boat on it.

It’s also important that you know boat trailers need unique tires that are called ST, or Special Tires. These tires are designed for use on boat trailers and can handle heavy loads with ease, even when used on tough terrain.

See also  How Are Boat Trailers Measured?

Tongue Jacks

Jacks are equipment that goes a long way towards making your boat trailer experience much easier. With tongue jacks, you can hook and unhook your boat trailer easily and also move your trailer around without struggling. 

You’ll find that trailers that come with brakes on them will also come with a good tongue jack. The size of your boat trailer will determine the capacity of your jack, as well as the type of jack.

There are three types of jack and if your boat trailer does not come with the one you like most, you should be able to upgrade it.

Single Wheel Tongue Jack

This type of tongue jack is limited to a capacity of 1200 lbs (or less). You use these jacks on a trailer that has a capacity of no more than 5700 lbs.

Dual Wheel Tongue Jack

Because this type of wheel jack makes it easier to maneuver larger boats and trailers, they’re quite popular.

Foot Jack

Zoom in photo of a black trailer tongue foot jack.

You’ll find that foot jacks, which have a foot instead of a wheel on the bottom, are able to handle higher capacities. For this reason, they are more common on large trailer boats and are ideal for boats you won’t normally be able to move on your own.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What Is the Best Material for a Boat Trailer?

You may wonder about what kind of material is best when it comes to boat trailers, and aluminum stands out as the top choice. It is lightweight but still strong and durable and boasts a good weight-to-strength coefficient.

What Type of Trailer Is Best for a Pontoon Boat?

If you have a pontoon boat, you’ll be better off with a bunk-style trailer, especially if you plan to boat more than ten to 15 miles down the road. Other trailers may not work as well for you.

How Do I Know What Size of Trailer I Need for My Boat?

In order to accurately determine the size of trailer you need for your boat, you have to calculate the boat’s total weight (which includes the fuel tank and engine as well as the body), and your personal gear. It can take a bit of math, but it’s important that you ensure you get the right-sized boat. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask the salespeople for advice.