What's the best boat trailer?
Asking what's the best boat trailer in today's market simply comes down to your wallet. With the soaring price of different metals, some boat trailer manufacturers are scaling back on quality to make ends meet, which means a lesser product for you. You'll find this method of business in some of your lower end boat trailers so resist the urge of going cheap, as this is where you will quickly learn that not all boat trailers are created equally!
If you're just looking for a small trailer to get by on, or your boat is simply a beater to get you on the water, then by all means look at the lower end boat trailers, as there's no sense in your trailer costing more than your boat. For those with boats of value, whether sentimental or monetary, I would highly suggest you do your homework on boat trailers before jumping in blindly. Many boat trailers are pretty to look at when they are new, but what material lurks beneath that shiny new exterior can quickly turn ugly.
So what's the best boat trailer? Before I get into telliing you what boat trailer I feel is the best on the market, let's take a look at some valuable considerations that you need to be aware of before purchasing a boat trailer.
BOAT TRAILER MATERIAL
Boat trailers come in a few basic design configurations that dictate durability and longevity. There are tubular box frames, which are the most solid design; aluminum I-beam trailers, which are lighter, yet have the best strength-per-weight ration, and C-channel trailers, which are the least expensive and designed for light boats. The first thing I look at is the material that the boat trailer is made of. I have owned many boat trailers in my life, and in my earlier years the majority were galvanized. This is a steel trailer either electroplated or hot dipped in zinc. Hot dipping produces a thicker matte coating that is unmistakably gray in color, while electroplating is a much thinner coating that often has a reflective coating and can look like stainless or aluminum. Electroplating is the cheapest and last the least of the two. No matter what you do, galvanized boat trailers will corrode, and many do within the first year or two.
Personally, I do not like galvanized trailers because they can quickly look like the metal roof on your granddads 60 year old country barn. Aluminum on the other hand has won my heart over as of many years ago. I have had three aluminum boat trailers over the last 15 years, all from Rolls Axle. Each trailer has held up extremely well in every aspect. My first aluminum boat trailer, though lasted and was strong until the day I sold her, she aged in the form of slight pitting and white oxidation from corrosion, partly due to my lack of maintenance. Keep in mind that not all aluminum boat trailers are created equally either, so ensuring that your trailer is made from good grade aluminum will be on you to figure out. My current aluminum trailer has been with me for six years and was purchased new. Again, I really don't put a lot of maintenance effort into my trailers, but the Rolls Axle I have as shown in the picture above is almost as good as the day I bought her, EXCEPT for the brakes, rotors, hubs, and jack, all maintenance items. I have very little if any pitting and no white corrosion anywhere after six long years of heavy saltwater use and I just give it a decent freshwater spray after use.
BOAT TRAILER WEIGHT CAPACITY
When considering boat weight consider the wet weight. You'll need to know how much your boat weighs dry, the approximate weight of any gear on board including fuel (weight = 6.5 lbs per gallon of fuel), and add 3-5 percent to the weight for water in hull, wet gear, etc. Also keep in mind of the weight for bateries, T-Top, motor and anything else not on that spec sheet. You'll need a trailer that has the ability to tow that weight, not the weight you read from the spec sheet. Also, you'll want a buffer zone for weight shifting surges. You really don't need to concern yourself here, as the dealer should work that out for you, just ensure they do!
BOAT TRAILER HULL LENGTH.
This is not your boat length as on the spec sheet. A properly fit boat trailer measures longer than your boat. When determining boat length, do not include the extended swim platform, as boat trailers support the hulls running surface that it sits on. Remember to include the bow pulpit in your length calculations if the boat has one. The trailer bunks should come to the edge or within a few inches over the hull, but never short of the hull, as this will cause damage to your hull.
BOAT TRAILER BUNKS- Trailer bunk material is often overlooked when purchasing a boat trailer, as the core material is hidden under some type of carpet padding. It isn't until the carpet wears off or you take note of a sagging rotted trailer bunk that you begin the search for a suitable trailer bunk replacement material. In most cases, I'd have to say that the most common trailer bunk replacment material is standard pressure treated lumber from Home Depot wrapped in outdoor carpet. Unfortunately, there are several things wrong with going this route. First, the chemical, what used to be Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA) (pre 2003) is now amine copper quat (ACQ) and copper Azole (CA), which merely helps prevent insects from attacking and helps keep mositure out. It does not protect against weathering, nor is it meant for the harsh applications of this nature, and therefore will dry out fairly quick and split each time it goes through a wet to dry transformation, which then opens the door to rot. Continuous wetting and drying actions will cause warping, cracking and splintering. This wood is meant to be coated with a preservative. Furthermore, the chemicals mentioned can cause corrosion of aluminum and galvanized trailer parts.
Another material used for trailer bunks is Trex, a "green" material made from 50% recycled plastic and 50% recycled wood. The problem here is that Trex is very flexible decking material that warps and is not meant for the weight of a boat hull. Trailers do not have the support that a wood deck has, so think twice before using this material as the main support. It can be used as a topper, but be aware that it becomes very slippery!
Trying to break into the market is the aluminum trailer bunks. I do not have any experience with aluminum trailer bunks, but I've seen them around. There are some aluminum replacement trailer bunks available on the market for a very heafty price. My thought are that it seems like a good idea, but I would worry about corrosion, surface padding, and the misfortune of making direct contact with my hull at some point. If anyone has something to add on aluminum trailer bunks please chime in via the comment box below.
In my opinion, nothing beats a beefy trailer bunk made of Cypress. Cypress trailer bunks give you guaranteed strength and durability that will last the life of the boat. It is readily available in the Southeast, so if you live up north you're going to pay a premium price above what we do in the South. Cypress grows in the swamps and has natural antifungal and rot resistant features that make it ideal for boat trailer bunks. When the Cypress sapwood dies it becomes what is known has heartwood, thus it gets it incredible properties to withstand rot, insects, warpinf and splitting. If you plan on keeping the trailer for the life of the boat, spend the extra money, do it once and enjoy never having to replace them again. Be sure to wrap them in a quality marine carpet.
BOAT TRAILER WHEELS
There are few people that really pay attention to this aspect when buying a boat trailer, but this may be one area that you really thank me. First and foremost, bigger tires wear less due to less rotations per mile, and also wear less on your bearings so go bigger if you can. Try to find a tire that is common in size in case you need one when you're out and about. Take it from me, as I had 215 15's all around on a trailer that came with a project boat and blew 1 tire only to find another ready to fall apart at the treads. After stopping at 6 different tire shops along a long stretch of country highway out of Tallahasse, I realized these tires weren't common in certain places, thus leading me to finally drop a 205 tire on just to get home.
BOAT TRAILER BEARINGS & HUBS-
There comes a time for every boater to make a decision on what brakes, rotors, calipers, hubs, or bearings to replace on your trailer. For some, that question arises in as little as two or three years, and for others it could be every 10 years, as it's just a matter of what you ordered on your trailer, or the quality of material that you thought you ordered.
Because of the costs associated with a good trailer, those budget minded buyers may choose to allocate their money to other aspects, and those that do will find themselves spending too much time repairing and replacing items that could have easily allowed double or triple the maintenance free period. I am here to tell you that you'll want to do it right the first time, as it is a unnecessary nuisance that seems to always ruin one of your boating days.
There are a handful of various options, not only in material, but also in design. There are protective coatings placed on galvanized parts that extend their life span, new designs that are virtually maintenance free, and of course high-end high-quality replacements to choose from.
UPDATE: April 2018
I'm in the process of a rebuild on my galvanized rotors, hubs, and breaks, as they are all shot after 4 years and 1 minor rebuild. I was originally going to go for longevity by purchasing all stainless steel, but a friend told me to check out a new product, in which I will detail in my trailer review. It supposedly gets nearly the same life as stainless but requires no way less maintenance. I will have a separate review on that product as well that will run for the life span of the product. (End Update)
BOAT TRAILER LIGHTS- Prior to owning my Rolls Axle trailers, one of the highest maintenance items was always the lights. It never failed almost nearly every trip I was tapping on this, shaking that, or spraying some lube somewhere in an effort to get one or all to work. A lot of times it was the halogen bulb had corroded, or the socket corroded. Either the lens had a crack in it or moisture just saturated through the plastic, it was inevitable that I would be doing work on my lights regularly. Since I took ownership of my first rolls axle trailer, with the lights actually mounted on the trailer frame, I've never had to replace a light, nor have I had one go out. In fact, I've never inquired about the lights to see what brand they are, and all I can tell you is that I really don't care because they simply work and have yet to fail me. When you're picking out your trailer, ensuring that you have a good set of LED lights will certainly make your experience better, unless of course, you enjoy messing around with trailer lights when you could be boating, or home relaxing!
BOAT TRAILER JACK CRANK
Trailer winches are not created equally, and if you've owned a few trailers I'm sure you've found that out at least once, if not several times. Winches take a beating, as they are constantly under stress, wet, and trap salt, dirt and other debris between the hub and cable or strap. It seems the boat latch hook is one of the first parts to rust, followed by the bolts that anchor the winch to the trailer, and at some point the crank is going to go.
As with my 2011 Rolls Axle trailer, the crank rusted and locked up in 4 years, out of the blue it just locked up. As much as I like the Rolls trailers, the crank that was put on mine was horrible. It began getting catchy just a little bit over two years and over the next two years would collect rust chunks inside that fell into the gears and locked it up often. A few good whacks with the hammer would free it up nearly every time, leaving a small pile of rust chunks below. I've had to keep it maintained monthly, as any more time would seize it firmly, requiring removal and some sweet equity to resolve, as it did prior. Well, I managed to reinvent the crank and as 2018, it's operating better than it did in year 2, so I may be on to something new. Regardless, I'm going to look for a new trailer jack to replace this one, in which I'll also do a review on. Stay tuned.
BOAT TRAILER FENDERS
In a nutshell, the boat's weight, sum length, width, center of gravity, engines and many other other factors decide what boat trailer you can go with so take all this into account before you buy. The best place to start is to Google "boat trailer reviews, best boat trailers," or something to that nature and do your research as you are doing here on Florida Inshore Angler.
Now on to my review of the Rolls Axle tandem boat trailer, of which I feel is the best boat trailer available hands down. To be continued...