Backing up a boat trailer can be a challenge

I have hit the subject of backing a boat trailer before, but after watching boaters attempting to launch their boats Fourth of July weekend at one of the marinas, I can see that subject could use a little more attention.

I know it can be funny watching people trying to back a boat trailer down a boat ramp and for some, backing a trailer of any kind comes as easy a popping the top off of a bottle of your favorite beverage. However, for others it can be an almost insurmountable challenge.

I can go back to the time to when I was fishing and hunting the bayous of southeast Texas on an almost daily basis as I had none of the problems then that life tends to dish out to mankind as the years roll by. The only bad thing about that period in my life is I was too dumb to realize the meaning of freedom from earthly concerns. But I digress.

My father built a 15-foot plywood boat which he built with my inept assistance, but was an advanced learning experience for me. Upon completion my father bought a brand new, in the box, Mercury, Mark 30, outboard motor. It had four cylinders with two carburetors. As my father was a welder, there was absolutely no consideration given to buying a trailer; he built one. He also built the trailer hitches that went on his car and mine. We did purchase the hitch balls from the local Western Auto store.

At first I did acceptably well backing the rig down the boat launch. Later when I became overconfident I jackknifed the trailer and as I was always going rather fast, even in reverse, I twisted the hitch off of my car. That got to be a not too uncommon occurrence for me as my father would just weld on a new one and it cost me nothing except the inconvenience of getting the boat back home.

It became so common that my friends who were going out with me would drive their car so we would have a backup right at hand. One day my father said he wanted to drive my car to work at the shipyard and put a new hitch on it for me. Elated, I condescended.

He worked nights, so the next morning I went out and there on the back of my two door hardtop, 98 Oldsmobile, complete with 1957, Olds, J2 engine with three factory carburetors, was a brand new hitch, but It was a little different from the others he had installed. This one was one inch thick and four inches wide with the ball mounted in the center. As I admired his work, dad came out and said, “That’s spring steel and welded to your frame. You jackknife this one and you’ll tear the a** end out of that car before you break the hitch.” That is when I started paying attention to my backing the boat down the ramp, and doing it at a civilized speed. I might also mention, I have never since jackknifed a trailer. So let me pass on a few tips for anyone who may have a problem in the trailer backing department.

One trick to backing a boat trailer down a boat ramp is to put your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel. If you want the trailer to go left move your hand in that direction. If you want the trailer to go to the right then move your hand in that direction.

Try to practice in a parking lot, like on an early Sunday morning, when no one is around. Especially your spouse or fishing buddies. Hysterical laughter can be distracting, until you get the hang of backing.

Try to practice in the vehicle that you will be using to tow your boat, and use the side mirrors, because most of the time the rear view mirror can be obstructed when you are towing a boat.

Be patient, back slowly at first because you have to get it etched into your brain that when backing a trailer everything is backwards to backing without one. Before you know it you will be backing down just like the local bass pros.

I keep specifying backing boat trailers but this is basically true for backing just about any trailer and that includes travel trailers. The main difference with travel trailers is your rear view mirror in the middle of your windshield is useless, so you need to make sure your outside mirrors on both sides of your truck are up to the task of backing.

It is a shame that in our society we should have such a bumper crop of thieves. Because of that fact I must mention another reminder, and there is a real need to bring it up. Put a lock on the trailer hitch. I know of people who have come back from fishing and there was no trailer hooked up to their vehicle. That happened to my son once on the Texas City Dike. It is not uncommon and can happen anywhere.