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How to Back Up a Boat Trailer? – 6 Quick and Easy Steps

Written by Anthony Roberts / Fact checked by Jonathan Larson

how to back up a boat trailer

Have you seen any video collection of boat ramp fails? You might find those clips funny, but I feel for those guys. You can avoid damaging your boat, trailer, or tow vehicle if you know how to back up a boat trailer safely and correctly.

Avoiding costly damages to your boating rig is easy if you know how to launch your watercraft safely into the water. If you are unsure about the correct procedure, I will help you sort things out.

The process is straightforward, and you can start enjoying your boating adventures as soon as you master these six easy steps.

Things You Will Need for This Tutorial

The only thing you will need for this guide is patience. Most of the boat ramp mishaps are due to people not taking the time to back up their boat trailers as slowly and methodically as possible.

I also recommend practicing your boat trailer backing up skills in a safe place. You can use traffic cones or other objects to simulate a boat ramp’s perimeter. I suggest practicing backing up from a turn until you are confident enough to bring your boat to the pier.

I must reiterate that constant practice can help you ace this task.

Steps for Backing Up a Boat Trailer


Step 1. Position your tow vehicle and boat trailer some distance from the water’s edge.

Backing up a boat trailer requires the perfect alignment between the tow vehicle and the trailer. I often advise people to estimate their vessel and boat trailer’s length. For example, if you have a 19-foot truck towing a 24-foot boat, you will need at least 45 feet of backing up space.

Position your vehicle and trailer so that it forms a “T” with the water’s edge. Ensure to straighten the wheels and that the trailer and tow vehicle are aligned.

Step 2. Inspect the ramp and surroundings.

Get off your tow vehicle and check the ramp for rocks, small stones, twigs, broken glass, and other debris. You will not want to back up your boat trailer over these obstacles because they might puncture your trailer tires. Check the sides, ensuring there are no obstacles or objects you might hit when backing up.

Step 3. Adjust your tow vehicle’s side mirrors properly.

You will want a clear line of sight to the water when backing a boat trailer. That is why it would be best to adjust the side mirrors’ angle to get an excellent view of the sides. Make sure you can see the trailer’s sides from both mirror’s inner portions.

Sit behind the steering wheel in your most comfortable position, and check the side mirrors’ angles. The outer portions should be clear of obstacles while retaining the trailer’s outer edges on the mirrors’ inner sections.

Pro Tip: Roll down your windows for a better view of the side mirrors.

Step 4. Shift into reverse and slowly back up your truck.

Grab the steering wheel at the six o’clock position with one hand for better stability. Shift the gear into reverse and cautiously step on the gas. Maintain your hand’s placement to keep the wheels as straight as possible. Look at your side mirrors left and right as you back boat trailer into water.

Try to go as slow as possible down the ramp, constantly checking the sides. It might take a while before you launch your boat into the water. Trust me, slow and steady is worth the wait and effort.

Step 5. Make tiny adjustments in your steering as you move the trailer back.

When backing up, your steering wheel movements are opposite of where you want the trailer to go. For example, suppose you noticed the trailer is moving to the left. In that case, you have been turning your steering wheel to the right.

Pro Tip: You might want to put a Post-It on your steering wheel to remind you of your steering movements. If unsure, you might want to stop your vehicle and put on the parking brake. Get off the truck and inspect your progress.

Step 6. Launch the boat.

Continue backing your trailer into the water until you see your watercraft start to float. Activate the parking brake before releasing the motor and bow eye. Alternatively, you can get into the water and pull the boat off.

Before you do these things, it would be best to observe a few boat launching tips.

  • Remove all ropes and tie-downs, except the winch hook.
  • Tie a line or cable to the boat and store it inside to make it easier to secure your watercraft at the dock.
  • Place everything you need for your water adventure into the boat.
  • Install and secure the drain plug.
  • Unplug the boat trailer’s incandescent lights before your boat hits the water.

Once the boat is floating in the water, secure the line to the dock to prevent it from drifting. Slowly drive your tow vehicle up the ramp.

Here is an exciting video from Salt Strong describing how to back a boat trailer down a ramp.

Backing Up a Boat Trailer Through a Turn


The steps for backing a boat trailer down a ramp from a turn are similar to reversing straight. However, you will maneuver your boat trailer around the bend first before you can drive it straight into the water.

Remember what I said about driving your tow vehicle in the opposite direction of where you want the boat trailer to go? It works like a charm in this instance, too. So, you must steer your wheel to the right to turn the trailer to the left and vice versa.

You can observe the steps I outlined above once you are in a straight line perpendicular to the water’s edge.


Learning how to back up a boat trailer is easy if you adhere to the six easy steps I outlined. I strongly recommend practicing these steps first before you head into the water. It should give you the confidence and peace of mind you will need when backing up your boat trailer down the ramp.

Kindly share this tutorial with your acquaintances if you find it useful. And if you have comments, questions, or feedback, I would also gladly answer them. You can always get in touch with me, so please do not be shy. Also, check this guide to find out the correct way to load a boat on a trailer if you need!

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