Buyers Guide – Boat Trailers

This is a buyer’s guide aimed at helping people buy trailers that are suitable for their boat and will cover:

  • Legal Towing weights
  • Bunked or Break-back
  • Wheel Size
  • What to look for

Legal Requirements

Driving test
 Passed before 1/01/1997

All car drivers who passed the test pre 1/01/97 have the right to tow trailers up until the license expires for any reason.

As this gives you a combined weight of 8.25 metric tons you will be limited by your vehicle curb weight when towing a boat or the maximum gross weight of the boat trailer.

Driving Test Passed after 01/01/1997

If you passed your test after this date then you will need to take the B+E car and trailer test which includes:

  • Vehicle safety questions
  • An off-road reverse maneuver
  • A controlled stop
  • Uncoupling and coupling of the trailer and driving on the road

The practical driving exam will include roughly ten minutes of independent driving. This is designed to assess your ability to drive safely while making decisions independently.

Un-braked/ Braked Trailer 

No un-braked trailer is allowed to have a plated gross vehicle weight of more than 750 kg and hence these are only suitable for small or very light boats.

If the trailer has working brakes then you will need to look at the car/vans maximum towing/train weight. This information is normally in the vehicle handbook but can also be found online.

Note: Un-braked trailers must have a secondary coupling, such as a chain, which is connected securely to the towing vehicle when it is being towed.  This coupling must be tight enough to stop the trailer’s tow hitch from hitting the road if the car/van becomes uncoupled.


Bunked or Brake-backed or basic

In reality there are 3 types of trailers. The most simple has only a few pairs or rollers and is the cheapest of the 3 different styles. Many of these will also have been made by an enthusiast or will have been made for another purpose, with the rollers being added much later.  Remember that Center rollers do not stop your boat falling off the trailer and hence you need at least 1 roller contact point for each side of your boat.

This type of trailer is by far the hardest to launch and recover and should only really be used where there is no tide or current i.e. lake/ loch, canal etc. Note: If you need to recover your boat from the sea or a river a minimum of 3 people will be required as you will need to line the boat up with far more accuracy than the other trailers. This obviously gets harder in bigger waves and stronger currents.


These trailers are designed for boats and have at least 1 moving cradle (moving parts attached to the frame) at the back that swings up and down to make recovery a lot easier. Most trailers of this type will also have at least 1 more cradle that will move to hold the boat as it is recovered and will have at least 8 pairs or rollers per cradle.

The best models have lots or pairs of rollers on at least 2 cradles and for most people they are the easiest to launch and recover. Obviously the down side of this is that they are the most expensive type of trailer.


These trailers have 2 long strips inside the frame for the boat to rest on. This works well for lighter boats or when recovering from deep water as the boat is dragged up into position using the winch. Obviously if the boat is heavy or in shallow water it will be harder to pull the boat all the way up due to the friction caused from boat on the side holding bunks. Also as there is no moving cradle on these trailers are not as easy to use as lining up the boat can often be a problem in the sea, rivers etc.

Wheel Size

 Most people don’t even look at the wheel size when buying a trailer and yet this has a huge impact on the towing experience and cost of spares/ replacements.

If you buy a trailer with small 10 inch wheels you should be prepared for a difficult tow as the wheels will bounce into every pot hole.

The best size we believe is 15 inches as this is a very common size for other vehicles i.e. caravans, cars etc. and hence are cheaper to buy. They also take a higher pressure, so bigger boats can be towed in comfort and they handle pot holes better than most other sizes.

What to look for

Below is a quick sanity check before buying a trailer

1: Is it the right length for your boat?

2: What type of trailer is it and is this suitable for your needs?

3: Does it have a solid or inflated (for sandy beach use) jockey wheel?

4: Is it braked and do the brakes work?

5: Size of wheels?

6: Twin axel (most stable and higher legal towing weights) or single axel (easy to move)?

7: When tapped ALL OVER with a hammer does it sound/ look solid?

8: Does the winch work properly?

9: Is there play/ movemnet in the wheels when you pull and push them whilst holding the top of the wheel i.e. are the bearings in good order?

10 Are the tires legal and is there a spare?

11 Do you have straps and a suitable light-board?

Although this is not a full list it will help with making sure that the trailer meets your basic needs and that you dont get overtaken by your trailer wheel!

For more information please call: 01475 744 215 or CLICK HERE

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