Is It Safe To Use A Boat’s Engine To Drive It Onto A Trailer?

A truck and trailer backed into the water as a boat tries to powerload onto the trailer.

Everybody has probably seen the yahoo trying to show off by power-loading his boat onto the trailer. Using a boat’s engine to drive it onto a trailer to fully load it is not an acceptable practice.


Using the boat’s engine to load onto the trailer is dangerous to your equipment and the people around the loading area. It also erodes the material at the end of the ramp which leads to its deterioration. Power-loading also upsets the no-wake zone surrounding the loading and unloading ramp areas. 


Boating is fun and brings all types of people to the sport. If you are new to boating, just know that you shouldn’t try everything you see. Many if not most boat ramps have it posted that power-loading is prohibited, so lets stick to the proper way to get your boat loaded onto your trailer.



Why Do Some People Power-load A Boat


Some people power-load their boat simply because they think others are impressed by it. When you go on YouTube and search for “Boating Fails”, you’ll find that a large percentage of “fails” take place at the launching and loading ramps. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Boat ramps are usually busy and we feel pressure to get launched or loaded quickly and get out of the way so others can have their turn.
  • Boat ramps are usually busy and some people find this as a great opportunity to show off.
  • Not many boaters have figured out the best way of loading their boat onto the trailer.
  • The boat owner brings out different people for a day of boating, but they are not trained to assist in the process of loading and unloading a boat.


While those are generally the reasons for the struggle at the ramps, it is the boaters that don’t think of the impact and risk of using the boat’s propulsion system to force the boat into place on their trailer, that are the subject of this article/lesson.


This is in no way aimed at those who very slowly and controlled, propel their boat up to the trailer, then use the winch to actually pull it into position. We’re speaking about the boaters that drive it all the way up to the bow roller.


Here is a quick 36 second video showing just a few examples of people overestimating their boating skills when it comes to loading a boat onto a trailer. While this makes me laugh a bit, I feel a little bad for new boaters who think this is skill that they need to learn.


Really, if you have the time to do a YouTube search, this will give you a real laugh and teach you what NOT to do (oh and like and subscribe to my YouTube channel that I’ve started up 🙂 ).


  • I have seen people get hurt from the boat driver making a mistake while power-loading, and end up hitting someone.
  • A boaters tow vehicle can get severely damaged by the boat jumping the bow roller or breaking it off from hitting it so hard.
  • I’ve seen people damage their skeg and prop on the ramp when power-loading.


What people don’t see, is the damage being done under the water to the ramp itself. A hard surface ramp has to sit on the lake bottom. Every time someone applies power to the prop at the ramp, the lake bottom and supporting material is being washed away.


A graphic showing the damage created to the ground under the water from boats powerloading onto their trailer.


Not just the material at the very end gets washed out, but that heavy current of water caused by the prop will also suck out the material from under the ramp. So if you come across a boat ramp in poor condition, it may well be partially caused by people power-loading their boats.


A graphic showing that powerloading washes awy the ground behind the boat ramp and trail falling into the hole as well as the boat getting grounded on the the pile of propwashed soil.
MN Department Of Natural Resources


Try towing a boat out of the water after your trailer wheels fell into a hole! You may not even be able to get your boat over the mounded up lake bottom (notice the image above showing the lake bottom material moved into a pile and leaving a giant hole) to reach your trailer. Actually, you first notice a problem when you launch your boat and hit the pile when you are backing your boat off the trailer.



Proper Way To Load A Boat Onto A Trailer


Ok, so you’ve seen how not to load your boat onto its trailer. Now lets look into a smarter and safer way to get your boat back onto the trailer without a bunch of grief and risk.


  1. When it is your turn at the ramp, slowly drive your boat up to the dock.
  2. Trim your outboard or outdrive all the way up.
  3. Have everyone get out of the boat (leave all the gear in the boat).
  4. Tie a rope to the bow cleat and another rope to a cleat at the back (stern) of the boat.
  5. Have one person hold the boat while a person who can back up a trailer goes to get the tow vehicle (it is best to unplug your trailer lights before backing it into the water).
  6. Keeping the boat out of the way of the reversing trailer, alert the driver once the trailer is in the water with about 1/4 of the bunks or rollers stick out of the water.
  7. Have the tow vehicle driver stay in the vehicle or apply the parking brake and get out.
  8. Holding the two ropes, push the boat outward and then use the ropes to pull the boat slowly forward onto the trailer keeping it centered over the bunks.
  9. Once the boat hits the bunks, attach the winch to the bow hook and winch the boat forward until it is securely tight against the bow roller of the trailer.
  10. Attach the safety chain to the bow hook and slowly drive the tow vehicle forward.
  11. If the boat is sitting centered on the trailer, then proceed to the tie down area to ready your boat for travel.


While most people don’t go boating by themselves, some do. Loading your boat onto the trailer can be done by one person also. That person would have to tie off the boat to the dock and go get the tow vehicle, then back it into the water. After setting the parking brake, get out and untie the boat.


They can do the same process of guiding the boat onto the trailer and winching it into place. Once they pull the boat out to the top of the ramp, they should get out and verify that the boat is on the trailer properly before proceeding to the tie down area.


If your boat didn’t get centered on the trailer the first time, you may have had your trailer too far into the water. You can just back down the ramp until the boat is just floating enough to reposition it.


Here is a video from Boat US. This is the foundation that I used to get my boating license, which would be a great article for you to read because a boating license is required in most states.


The tie down area is where you can unload all the gear you need out of the boat for travel. Once tied down, test that the trailer lights are functioning properly and get on your way.



Floating Your Boat Onto The Trailer Is Correct


Not only are you setting a good example for others at the boat ramp, but your boat ends up on your trailer without any damage. Everyone is safe and happy from a great day on the lake.


Remember to be patient and don’t let any impatient person sway you into making a mistake. Everybody has a turn on the ramp and the more you focus on what you are doing, the more efficient you become at the process.


To provide a couple pointers to you:

  1. The person who is going to be the one to get the tow vehicle and back it down the ramp, should first go somewhere to practice maneuvering the trailer into position. With this experience, it will make for a much more comfortable time at the ramp.
  2. Back up using your mirrors. This is a skill that you will be glad you developed.
  3. Prepare your trailer to accept your boat, before heading to the ramp.
  4. be sure everyone knows their part for getting the boat on the trailer, before bringing the trailer to the ramp.


If you do these 4 steps, you’ll find your boat ramp experience to be stress free. Float your boat onto the trailer and only powerload if absolutely necessary.




I bought my first boat while in high school 1981. I had more hours working on it than using it in the water. I can't count how many boats I've had since, but I really enjoy reviving boats. I've had so many boats that I could never use them all. Once I fix a boat up, I play with it a couple times and sell it. My goal is to use my many years of experience, and help as many people Begin Boating.

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