Ten things we’ve learned trailer boating

Guest perspective/Tim Plouff

Forever seeking more adventures on Maine’s coastal slice of heaven, we often comment about all of the bobbing boats waving at us from their moorings whenever we slip out of one of our favorite launch harbors. If you have a mooring do you boat more, or less? Is your season longer than mine, or less?

My conclusion is the latter on both counts: I think our little Sea Ray 215 Express Cruiser gets us to more spots, more often, and isn’t that the goal? To get out on the water?

Purchased slightly broken in in 2005, our Sea Ray now has over 970 hours on its 5.0-liter V-8. The engine purrs, my navigator has never missed the trailer on a retrieval (no matter what the tide is doing), and we have two logbooks full of coastal Maine adventures. We’ve replaced the tandem trailer tires once, probably eight or more tongue jacks have been consumed, and we’re on our second inflatable, as well as our second chart plotter. The anodes are unchanged, the bunks on the galvanized trailer are the same, and the original bottom paint has only seen some touch-up. The trailer might be the weak link in the whole process, as four flat tires (one an exciting highway blow-out) plus some disc-brake issues necessitate constant attention. The LED lights are great but still fail, and why are trailer hubs still an issue in this era of self-driving cars? Our next trailer will most likely be aluminum.

While we don’t fish at sea, and probably should, we’re shocked that more folks aren’t with us at the ramp on those Top Ten days that we all live for. We generally have a great crew that knows their roles and everyone helps, with multiple hands making shore chores more convenient. Trailer boating is fun, easier than you think (less expensive, too) and opens up Maine’s coastal islands to visits that the other 99% of people totally miss out on.

While it would be easy to say that our boating has only been a bucket of roses – and, for the most part, it has – proper planning, preparation, and precise maintenance have contributed to the lessons we’ve learned, and the lessons we’ve avoided. Here are 10 we’ve learned.

You need an inflatable

1. If your goal is to be on the water, and you aren’t fishing, you will grow weary of dock-to-dock motoring. Give yourself and your guests something to look forward to – an island adventure! Literally, hundreds of Maine’s islands are publicly accessible through easements, public trusts, or outright public ownership. And each and every island is different – trust me on that. There are trails and beaches, granite ledges to explore, tidal pools, quarry swimming holes, sea birds, seals, more beaches, sea glass and occasionally the “gift shops” are open with treasures that no mainland entrepreneur is offering. To properly land at these discovery experiences, your access will be greatly improved by towing a dependable inflatable, dinghy, or other watercraft that provides access without damaging your boat’s gelcoat.

Become an island association or trust member

2. Join the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA), or contribute to one of the land trust organizations that step up to secure public access to these granite museums at sea, like Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT). Key to successful island hopping is exploring the right islands. Stopping on a private island is more than rude – it’s trespassing. Knowing where to go, where to anchor, which islands have campsites – all of this accessible information is available for serious boaters seeking a temporary Shangri-La.

Get charts and a chart plotter

3. You need both. Do you have a Garmin or is your cell phone helping you navigate on land, and are they essential to finding things? Yes, but neither will work on the water, unless your Garmin is some new hybrid model that contains both land and maritime mapping, which might make for a cumbersome unit. Maine has few of the choppy inlets and river situations that create the sandy shoaling that plagues boaters in the Carolinas. We have strategically placed granite ledges. And fog. Since you have invested your hard-earned money in your personal boat (your yacht!), a boat you obviously like and want to use, you should avoid becoming the highlight of the local news by placing your pride and joy atop the submerged ledge in front of that 2,000-person wedding party. Trust me, everyone in the party has a cell-phone camera and would love to mock your stupidity, or misfortune, however nice your partner is commenting about these things. Chartplotters are relatively cheap, and really help. Charts are even cheaper. Don’t leave home without them.

Know your limitations

4. On your first voyage of the season, don’t head for Monhegan because the weather is great and the seas are perfect. Calm seas rarely last all day, and every mariner worth his salt knows that conditions can change suddenly, even if you’ve been sleeping with your handheld radio for a week in an attempt to absorb the nautical forecast through osmosis. Believe me, that look on your navigator’s face as she keeps shedding salt spray from her face on a “beautiful day” will have lasting ramifications.

TowBoatUS and Sea Tow

5. I’ve never called them and don’t want to, yet this has always felt like the old axiom, “better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.” Here in Maine TowBoatUS costs about $150 a year. Without insurance, their appearance on your behalf, before doing anything, starts at a cool $500. You do the math. We’ve helped several boaters who ran aground, but have never stared at the stern of another boat pulling us, and don’t want to.

Keep a logbook

6. Thirteen years of adventures are chronicled in my books. Tides, ramp conditions, parking, islands we visited, boat issues; it all helps to keep track of what was great and was one-notch down from great. No point in returning to places that have nice ramps with parking a quarter mile away.

Wash the boat and trailer

7. Sounds silly, right? You just left the water and now you need to wash both the boat and the trailer. Unlike in lake boating, cruising the coast of Maine is very corrosive. Salt water loves to destroy anything metal – trailer brakes, trailer tongue, trailer lights, truck wheels, boat cleats, your stainless rail, your outdrive, your engine risers and exhaust manifolds, and, well, you get the idea. We have a 35-gallon plastic water tank ($110 at Tractor Supply) in the bed of our truck. With a small Honda water-transfer pump, we have a portable car wash. Rinsing and wiping salt from the Sea Ray, the trailer, and the inflatable helps to insure a longer service life while our Chinese fire-drill exercise entertains the landlubbers (human crows) that line the docks. My boat smiles, too.

Befriend a competent mechanic

8. Andy Graham at Port Harbor Marine in Holden, Maine, owns my boat with me. At least that’s what I tell him, even if he never gets to use it. I try to take care of my boat visually and mechanically, listening when it talks to me, feeling any changes in the vibrations, engine revolutions, or how it handles. Andy keeps it running like the Energizer Bunny, addressing planned maintenance and repairs before catastrophe strikes. With over 650 hours added to our 21-foot Sea Ray over the last 13 years, this 2000-model looks and runs great. Thank you, Andy.

Know the tides

9. Or, at least have a clue when the tide is coming or going. If nothing else, you’ll be able to pretend to your guests that you know what you’re doing. If you don’t follow the tides, and your selected boat ramp is only a mid-tide-and-above launch site and it’s close to low tide, you’re going to have an embarrassing wait. We’ve successfully pulled off some low-tide launches and retrievals that others may not attempt. Having the portable truck-and-trailer wash helps my confidence when the truck’s tailpipe is burbling. Because the salty assault of rust never sleeps.

Use your boat

10. Don’t be a prisoner to the weather forecast, but be smart. Some of our best days at sea are often when the shore forecast is less than Top Ten. And vice-versa. Practically every day on the water is a Top Ten day.

Trailering our boat up and down the Maine coast has been rewarding and extremely enjoyable, with countless memories shared with family and friends. Instead of questioning the cost of gas or boat maintenance, we’ve proactively managed both to create fun experiences. So do yourself a favor and get some Salt Life!

Tim has been trailer-boating with the 2000 inboard-V-8-power Sea Ray 215 Express Cruiser Tegoak (“place of breaking waves”) since 2005. He writes the weekly “On the Road Review” automotive column for “The Ellsworth American,” while his day job is as wholesale oil and gasoline sales manager for Dead River Company.