Don’t Trail Behind: Boat Trailer Tips, Tricks & Regulations

There isn’t anything quite as nerve-wracking for a novice boater than having to load or unload a boat on a new trailer in front of a crowd of people congregated around the local boat ramp. The stress can be doubled if said group is waiting for you to get out of the way so they can get their boats in and out of the water as well. Here are a few tips and tricks to look like a pro when it comes to transporting your boat via trailer as well as a handy overview of Maryland DMV’s trailer regulations so you can avoid tickets and enjoy the waterways safely.


If you have yet to tow your boat at all, it’s a good idea to get some practice reps in backing up a trailer with a boat loaded on it into an empty parking lot before attempting the feat on a bustling ramp. Once you’ve got the hang of it on dry land, you can head on over to the marina with your head held high.



When backing into the ramp, make sure to allocate extra stopping distance. The added weight of a boat and trailer can unexpectedly increase your vehicle’s momentum, and you’ll require that extra cushion for conducting turns and maneuvering around objects due to the added width and length. Line up the trailer and vehicle before gradually backing down the ramp, as it’s harder to back down at an angle Keep in mind when backing up, a trailer moves in the opposite direction that you steer. It’s advised that you steer from the bottom of the steering wheel, as this guides the trailer in the direction you are actually steering.


First things first: Get your gear water-ready before you attempt backing down a busy ramp. This means putting drain plugs in place, untying all straps except the bow strap and loading any fishing or other gear you’ll need in the vessel beforehand. Make sure you back the trailer deep enough into the water so that its fenders are just above the waterline. This should provide enough space to float the boat off the bunks and keep the tow vehicle from submerging its tailpipe and potentially flooding the engine. Don’t forget to put the vehicle in park and set the emergency brake—you’re trying to launch a boat, not a vehicle too! Unlatch the bow strap and use a rope to walk the boat back down the dock if there is one, or climb in and power rearward until you clear the surrounding boaters.


After you’ve finished a great day out on the water and the time comes to get your vessel back out of the water, you’ll need to be able to safely and efficiently load your boat back onto the trailer. Once again, back up your trailer so that just the bunks are submerged. This should enable to boat to float onto the bunks without overshooting the winch. Bunks are designed to assist in aligning the boat—if there is a lot of water covering them, it can be challenging to set the boat on the trailer properly. Steer your vessel onto the bunks so that you simply require a few cranks of the winch to cinch it up. Then, turn off the engine, secure the bow strap and raise the propeller so it won’t drag on the ramp when pulled out of the water.


The last thing you want spoiling your perfect day of boating is a pricy ticket. Here’s a handy guide to Maryland’s trailer laws to make sure you are compliant.


  • All trailers must be equipped with parking bakes adequate to hold the vehicle on any grade on which it is operated.
  • All trailers with a registered gross weight of at least 10,000 lbs. must be equipped with brakes on all wheels.
  • Trailers not exceeding 3,000 lbs. need not have brakes on all wheels, provided that the total weight of the trailers does not exceed 40% of the gross weight of the towing vehicle when connected to the trailer and the combination of vehicles is capable of complying with braking performance requirements.
  • Trailers between 3,000–10,000 lbs. need not have brakes on all wheels, provided that the trailer has 2 or more axles, is equipped with brakes acting on all wheels of at least 1 of the axles, and the combination of vehicles is capable of complying with braking performance requirements.



  • Every full trailer shall be equipped with a tow bar and means of attaching the tow bar to the towing and towed units.
  • The tow bar and means of attaching the tow bar to the units shall be structurally adequate for the weight drawn; be mounted properly and securely, without excessive slack, but with enough play to allow for universal action of the connection; and have a suitable locking device to prevent accidental separation of the towed and towing vehicles.
  • The mounting of the trailer hitch of the towing vehicle shall include sufficient reinforcement or bracing of the frame to provide sufficient strength and rigidity to prevent undue distortion of the frame.
  • Every trailer and semitrailer equipped with a tow bar and any special mobile equipment being towed shall be coupled directly to the frame of the towing vehicle with 1 or more safety chains or cables, and the chains or cables shall be connected to the towed or towing vehicle and to the tow bar to prevent the tow bar from dropping to the ground if it fails.



  • Every trailer shall be equipped with at least 2 rear tail lamps that emit a red light plainly visible from at least 1,000 feet to the rear.
  • Trailers manufactured before June 1, 1971 shall have at least 1 tail lamp that emits a red light plainly visible from a distance of at least 300 feet to the rear.
  • Every trailer shall have either a tail lamp or separate lamp that illuminates the rear license plate with a white light from a distance of at least 50 feet.
  • After July 1, 1971, every trailer shall carry on the rear, either as part of the tail lamps or separately, 2 or more red reflectors visible from all distances between 100-600 feet behind the vehicle.
  • Every trailer manufactured after July 1, 1971 shall be equipped with electric turn signals on the front and rear of the vehicle.
  • Trailers and semitrailers 80 inches or more in overall width shall have: on the front, 2 clearance lamps, 1 at each side; on the rear, 2 clearance lamps, 1 at each side, and after June 1, 1971, 3 identification lamps grouped in a horizontal row, with lamp centers between 6 and 12 inches apart, and mounted on the permanent structure of the vehicle as close as practicable to the vertical centerline; on each side, 2 side marker lamps, 1 at or near the front and 1 at or near the rear; and on each side, 2 reflectors, 1 at or near the front and 1 at or near the side.
  • When mounting of the front clearance lamps at the highest point of a trailer results in those lamps failing to mark the extreme width of the trailer, they may be mounted at an optional height, but must indicate the extreme width of the trailer.
  • Front, side, and rear clearance and identification lamps shall be capable of being seen at all distances between 500 and 50 feet from the front and rear, respectively.




Post by Port Annapolis

On an impeccably landscaped 16-acre site, Port Annapolis Marina features over 250 deep-water slips in the shelter of Back Creek, conveniently located, just off the Severn River.

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