Towing your boat

The standard BR20 trailer

The BR20 UK trailer, on which this article is based, is made in St Clears, Wales by CLH Trailers.  It is a standard unbraked trailer with a swinging cradle and rollers and weighs about 200 kg. With a GRP BR20 on board, the whole thing weighs slightly less than 750kg, the legal limit for an unbraked trailer in the UK. To put this in perspective, this is within the towing capacity of cars as small as the Fiat 500 or VW Polo, however check your car’s handbook. There are virtually no caravans that weigh less than 1,000kg. Nevertheless, for some cars, or if you plan to leave equipment in the boat, the total weight of trailer and boat may require a braked trailer – see the end of this article.

Advantages and disadvantages

The CLH trailer’s main advantages are:

  • Because the BR20 is so light and has such a shallow draft, the trailer only needs to be reversed into the water until the bottom of the tyres get wet – the hubs need not be immersed, which avoids all sorts of longer term potential problems with worn and overheating bearings
  • The swinging cradle helps recovery of the boat single handed in cross winds and cross currents.  It does this by swinging the boat around as it is winched in, until it lines up with the rollers on the trailer backbone
  • As long as they are correctly adjusted and lubricated, the numerous trailer rollers make winching up the boat quite easy and support the boat well once it is winched all the way up to the winch pillar snubber block
  • As already noted, the trailer is fairly light and fits the overall lightweight towing package that typifies the BR20.

Launching into shallow water

As supplied, the trailer’s disadvantages (all of which are fairly easy to remedy) are:

  • The winch strap tends to bunch to one side of the winch drum as it is reeled in and because the winch itself has exposed gear teeth, these can chew up any part of the strap that strays over to that side.  It is possible to avoid this by guiding the strap with one hand and winching with the other but this makes the process more difficult.  The winching process was not helped on earlier trailers by the fact that the winches were mounted off centre – make sure that yours is bolted through the correct leftmost holes (facing aft)
  • The telescopic registration plate brackets at the back of the trailer are quite low and can get caught when maneouvring over bumpy ground or on and off car ferry ramps.  The solution is to retract the brackets before tackling such gradients
  • Because the registration plate is low and below the boat, anyone following close behind (or in France, very close behind) may not necessarily see your indicator signals; and if you forget to remove the registration plate before reversing into the water, the chances are that you will waterlog your trailer board electrics before you remember
  • The standard oriental cross ply tyres supplied on the trailer wear out quite quickly.  To avoid premature wear, tyre pressures need to be kept at a strict 36 psi
  • A possibility that the metal brackets holding the forward wobble rollers can foul the forward part of the chine runners under the boat.  This can make it harder to get the boat off the trailer and can also cause banging when towing the boat over bumps.  Adjusting the position of the wobble roller struts (move them forward) and the winch pillar (move it aft) should clear the problem
  • The telescopic nose wheel pillar is a little flimsy

Suggested improvements

Improvements that you can make to the trailer without undue expense include the following:

  • Replace the cross ply tyres as soon as they wear out with heavier duty radial ply ones.  TrailerTek in the UK supply complete 10″ wheel assemblies but make sure that the new wheels have the correct PCD for your hub
  • Rather than replacing the winch strap every time it is chewed up by the gear teeth, replace the winch itself – a brake hand winch normally used for lifting comes with an enclosed gear guard
  • Some owners use Dyneema line instead of a winch strap – less dangerous to onlookers than wire in the unlikely event of it snapping
  • Abandon the low slung telescopic registration plate struts and instead attach the plate higher up, to the back of the rudder
  • Use a net instead of a boat cover to stop the boat’s contents (if any) bouncing onto the road in transit.  This avoids the inevitable flapping of a boat cover at speed, keeps customs officers happy that you have nothing to hide and allows thieves quickly to confirm that there is nothing in the boat worth stealing.  Nets4you in the UK supply a heavy duty cargo net (2.5m x 4m) complete with bungee cord that fits the BR20 perfectly.

Long distance towing tips

General long distance towing tips:

  • Before starting out, check that everything is secure, tied down as it should be and well protected from chafe (household sponges and rags are useful for this).
  • Using a torque wrench if you have one, ensure that the wheel nuts are greased and tightened to 65 lb/ft  (88Nm) and that the nuts and bolts on the tow hitch have not loosened
  • Double check that the nose wheel pillar is tightly retracted as it can vibrate undone in transit
  • Check that the trailer lights all work properly
  • Check that the security chain is secured to the back of your vehicle and attach a line vertically from the boat’s towing eye to the trailer to stop the bow bouncing up and down on the trailer over bumps
  • After 30 minutes of towing, stop and check everything again (including whether the wheel hubs are hot, indicating wear) and do the same every time you pull over for other reasons, such as refueling
  • To avoid fishtailing, keep the trailer nose weight to more (but not much more) than 30kg , put heavy items (outboard, anchor, etc) inside your vehicle and avoid the temptation to load the boat up with luggage
  • To compensate for the extra weight of the boat behind the vehicle, drive significantly more slowly than normal (your legal speed limit will in any case probably be lower) and allow extra journey time for this.  You will put less strain on the engine and brakes and it is much more relaxing to be overtaken all the time instead of having to wind yourself up to overtake slower vehicles.
  • Try to load passengers and luggage evenly in your vehicle so that it is well balanced and your headlights are not pointing at the sky
  • Adjust your vehicle tyre pressures to the recommended amount for towing  (usually more pressure in the rear tyres)
  • Try to travel on motorways as much as possible, even if it means paying tolls – it is much more relaxing
  • Add at least 20% to whatever your car GPS calculates as your projected journey time
  • Audiobooks (especially long unabridged ones) are a great way of making long journeys seem to go faster
  • Open the boat drain plugs when towing to allow rain to drain out but remember to do them up again before launching
  • Get good quality vibration free towing mirrors (such as the Milenco Aero 2) for both sides of your vehicle
  • Invest in a good quality registration plate board with bulbs that do not break at the first sign of bouncing, vibration or rain; bring spare bulbs along anyway.  Anything based on the Radex 5800 light cluster, such as the board sold by Rooster Sailing, should fit the bill
  • Make sure that you have a fully inflated spare wheel, spare wheel bearings (whole hubs may be cheaper and less fiddly to fit), a ratchet strap (normally a legal requirement to help stop the boat coming through the back window on frontal impact, rather than to stop it falling backwards off the trailer)
  • You will also need good quality wheel and hitch anti-theft locks, a wheel brace, a small hydraulic jack, a tub of lithium grease, a can of WD40, a can of silicone spray (to lubricate the rollers) and some rags
  • Having a tow bar on your car means that the car has been modified. Make sure your insurer has been informed and it is shown on your car insurance documents.  This is necessary even if the tow bar was fitted when the car was new, unless the tow bar is a standard part of the vehicle.
  • Get breakdown insurance that covers recovery of both the car and the trailer
  • Make sure that your boat insurance covers towing and that you are covered for your time abroad
  • Expect to pay large amounts of money for anything that involves a car ferry
  • If towing through France, you will need 80/90 kmh speed limit stickers on the back; in Switzerland you will need to buy a motorway vignette (sticker) at the border for your car and another one for the trailer; if towing in Italy, you will need a red and white striped sign on the back that indicates that you are a long load with items projecting out at the back (see photo below); and if towing anywhere abroad, don’t forget your country of registration sticker (GB or whatever) and headlight direction converters (eg from lhd to rhd)
  • Check the regulations of all countries that you drive through, as they differ from country to country.  For example the French now require you to carry calibrated breathalysers and several countries require you to carry luminous vests, a first aid kit, spare bulbs and fuses, warning triangles etc
  • Documentation that you are quite likely to need during or at the end of the journey includes your original boat sales invoice (to prove to the Greeks in particular that you have paid your VAT), a boat registration document (the Greeks like to see a UK SSR certificate), your boat insurance certificate, your vehicle registration document with insurance certificate, your driving license(s) and possibly your RYA certificates if you have any
  • When you finally get to your launch site, give your hubs time to cool down completely as dunking them accidentally in cool water can make them suck water into the bearings.  Spend time rigging the boat while you wait.

As long as you are well prepared, towing over long distances need not be at all stressful and you certainly feel that you have travelled when you finally arrive.

Towing in Italy

Graham W    November ‘12

Some notes on Braked Trailers ( e.g. for the Baycruiser 20 )

Swallow Boats supply the same unbraked CLH trailer as used for the BR20 for towing the BC20.  Although the wood/epoxy BC20 is particularly light in weight,  being a cabin boat which is likely to be equipped for cruising, it is easy for the 750kg legal limit for boat plus trailer to be exceeded.  It is also possible that the manufacturers specified unbraked towing limit for your car is less than 750kg.  In either case you will need a braked trailer.

CLH can supply a larger single braked axle roller coaster trailer specified for1400kg gross weight (although note that your car may be limited to 1100kg). Alternatively it is possible, at a cost, for CLH to convert your unbraked trailer.  The latter involves replacing the axle with a braked axle with 13 inch wheels and radial tyre.  The tow hitch is replaced with one designed to actuate the brakes when the towing car decelerates. It may also incorporate a tow hitch lock (although note that many insurers require that a wheelclamp be also used to secure the trailer when not in use).

The larger wheels have higher pressure tyres (the maximum is marked on the tyre wall) for example 65psi.  This may be beyond the capability of your 12V tyre pump (even if it claims otherwise). An example of a more substantial pump is the Ring RAC900.

Trailing to Swallow Boats in West Wales

Your car plus trailer is probably more than 40 foot in length! The map below shows  a route coming from the M4 which avoids some of the more difficult roads in West Wales.