By Brett Becker
10 Ways to Save Money With a Boat on a Trailer
Keeping your boat on a trailer can help you save money, leaving more cash for what’s important—like being out on the water with your family.
Trailer boats can range from center consoles to bow-riders to bass boats—and that’s why they’re among the best-selling types of boats on the marine market, right? Yes, they serve a lot of different purposes, from pulling skiers to getting you out to that secret fishing spot. But did you know a trailer boat can also save you money over one that isn’t on a trailer? It’s true. Some of the money-saving advice we’re going to outline requires some planning and some requires skill, but all of them are possible only if your boat is on a trailer. Either way, keep these in mind and keep more of that cold hard cash in your wallet.
1. Fill Your Fuel Tank on Land
This should be obvious. If you trailer your boat to the water, there’s no reason to fill up at a marina where prices are often up to a dollar more per gallon. My apologies to marina owners, but boat owners need to save where they can—and this is one of the biggest cost savings you can use before heading out for a day on the water.
2. Get a Swing-Away Tongue
If you get a trailer with a swing-away tongue, you might be able to fit the rig right in your garage and save the expense of having to buy a canvas cover for outdoor protection. It also could mean the difference between parking it at home or at a storage facility. Plus, if you do have to store your boat at a facility, the spaces are priced by length; if you can deduct a couple of feet by swinging back the trailer tongue, so much the better.
3. Size for a Single Axle
This one might require some planning before you even buy a boat. However, if you’re looking at a trailer boat in the 16- to 20-foot range, a single axle trailer will save you money in a number of ways. First, it costs less to buy, whether you’re shopping new or used — tandem axle trailers always command a premium. Second, there are fewer components to service. Replacing two tires is far cheaper than replacing four, and servicing one axle costs less than servicing two. Heck, just think of the money you won’t have to spend if you get a single-axle trailer with a swing-away tongue!
4. Store at Home
Here’s how important home storage can be: real estate agents sometimes use RV storage as a selling point. Now, I live in coastal Southern California, where you’re either fighting for space or paying dearly for it. Even though I shopped around and found a reasonably-priced storage facility, I still resent my narrow driveway that won’t fit a boat on a trailer, and I especially resent writing a check for storage to the property management company each quarter.
5. Comparison Shop for Storage
You’re already saving a bundle compared to boaters who have to rent a slip, but if you can’t keep the trailer at home, remember that all storage facilities are not alike. Obviously, you want to be sure it’s a secure lot, but if you compare them, you’ll often find that there’s a significant disparity in pricing. For example, I found a locally-owned lot to store my boat which is secure, but looks like a place where people put their boats to forget about them. Nothing in there seems worth stealing. It’s cheap, at $75 a month for a 20-foot trailer. It doesn’t have push-button electric gates and it may not be visually appealing but it’s close to the house and 25-percent less than the next cheapest price I found.
6. Tire Covers for Longer Life
Trailer tires are probably the least well-engineered tires on the planet. Three years is the recommended replacement interval, even if there is tread left on them. Why? Maybe it’s a tire company conspiracy, but it’s been my experience that they just don’t last. That said, you can spend $20 for a pair of covers that shield your tires from UV radiation while the trailer sits in storage, and they do keep the sidewalls from dry rotting prematurely.
7. Use Public launches
Plan ahead and look for public launches in the areas you like to go boating, which usually have a nominal fee. If you don’t do your legwork ahead of time you could find yourself at a private marina, which charges an arm and a leg to use their ramp. If you live near a private marina and don’t have a public option consider getting a season pass, which could save you money in the long run.
8. Consider a Diesel Tow Vehicle
The initial cost may be greater, but you’ll get much better mileage towing with a diesel powerplant. Is this a good choice for you? That depends on how often and how far you tow, and how you use the vehicle when you’re not towing. But take this into consideration, before you buy.
9. Do Your Own Trailer Maintenance
I freely admit that I loathe working on trailers, but I hate writing checks to a trailer shop even more. Here’s where a couple of the tips we’ve suggested earlier can begin to snowball. By sticking to a small boat and a single-axle trailer, maintenance is greatly simplified. Doing one axle’s worth of brake and bearing service isn’t too bad a job. Just think about the other poor saps with dual axles — or worse — triples.
10. Ramp-Flush Your Trailer
Whether this is possible depends largely on your location. When I used to live in Florida, we had the option of going boating in the ocean, on the Intracoastal, or in the numerous inland lakes and rivers. When we’d go boating in saltwater, we’d always stop at a boat ramp on a lake or river on the way home, and just dip the trailer down into the water. That practice did a couple of things. One, it prolonged the life of the trailer brakes by thoroughly flushing them. Two, it reduced water waste because we didn’t have to flush the brakes with garden hose once we got home.
- Brett Becker is a freelance writer and photographer who has covered the marine industry for 15 years. In addition to covering the ski boat and runabout markets for Boats.com, he regularly writes and shoots for BoatTrader.com. Based in Ventura, Calif., Becker holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in mass communication from the University of Central Florida in Orlando.