Around Xmas there are many families heading off on holidays with the boat in tow. However, it helps to follow some important dos and doníts if you want to avoid the tears, says Gary Earl.
Travelling in a car is simple enough, but adding a boat to the equation makes quite a difference. This is why undertaking the road trip with boat in tow requires a bit more planning and organisation than the visit to the local boat ramp.
Having your boat in tow is great - it opens up wonderful possibilities for adventure and exploring new waterways along the way. Especially along the east coast of our great country the amount of rivers, creeks, streams and estuaries is impossible to count. And that’s not counting the numerous hinterland dams and lakes you can reach by road. The amounts of side-trips you can make are endless.
The road trip starts at home, well before the starting date. Several weeks before you will need to work out the gear you need to take, and the route of travel and caravan parks/motels you will be staying.
You will need to book accommodation ahead, especially if the trip falls across school holiday periods. In fact, you may have to book way in advance if its summer school holidays!
Apart from the trip you need to make sure you have a few necessary spare parts for boat and car, plus tyres for the boat trailer as well a fishing gear. You also need to carry sufficient fuel tanks and an esky. All these items take up space and can be worth a couple of month’s wages, so make sure they are secure in the boat or car.
And I mean SECURE not just from blowing out of the boat, but being pinched by thieves. When travelling with an open trailer boat you’ll be surprised just how often things can get knocked off.
A trip I did from Newcastle to Tweed Heads a few years ago certainly bought home the issue of security when trailing a boat. I was towing an open 4.7m runabout and decided to check what I had aboard. Laying out all the electronics like the sounder, radio, GPS unit, mobile phone and camera I was surprised to find was over $2,000 worth of gear.
If I added the value of all the tackle and fishing gear I was carrying over five thousand dollars worth of gear!
Sadly security is as big a cause for concern for the trailer boater. It means you’ve got to either lock all your gear into the car, or transfer it all backward and forwards to the motel unit. This can be a real pain if you’re moving on each day to a new location.
If you’re camping you’re generally with the boat so the security situation isn’t such a problem. However, if you’re staying in accommodation such s motels and the like, the car and boat can be some distance from the room due to the design of the car park.
Keeping the boat and car together outside your unit is a big help – however it’s only recently motels have started to come to terms with this requirement. It is a good idea to ask them in advance if they cater for such parking.
Actually I’ve found some motels do provide extra space for boat parking and are advertising the fact. This allows you to keep the car/boat within ear shot of your room.
I feel more comfortable knowing the boat is close, especially when it is not lockable. It doesn’t stop the most brazen thieves however, if it’s outside your room under lights it’s safer than down some dark corner of the parking area. The latter is just an ‘open invitation’ to shop night!
Larger boats with cabins don’t have quite as much problem because they have a lock-up cabin. It means the valuables can be stowed within the cabin.
Another main concern is the proper placement of gear inside the boat. It’s OK to stow things in a boat when driving locally on back roads. However, hit the highway and things change. You are travelling much fast and passing semi-trailers can create tail winds of cyclonic force that suck things up out of the boat it seconds.
Empty buckets or cans not tied are the first things to go. Remember that two vehicles passing in opposite directions will cause a wind gust of over 200km/hour. You only have to tow a boat, or a caravan to know how this causes the rig to sway about. So the message is – tied things down very securely if you don’t want them to blow away.
A QUESTION OF LOAD
As an oyster farmer a few years ago I soon learnt what a heavy load can do to a boat in tow. A heavy load in the cockpit can put tremendous pressure on the trailer tyres.
A heavy load meant we couldn’t go any faster on the freeways than about 80km-90km/hour. If you went above this speed a tyre would blowout. And this was after we’d chanced up to tyres with the highest-rated walls.
The ply of the tyre walls makes a huge difference when a lot of weight is of concern. And let’s face it; many times boats ARE overloaded when they are being used to carry gear on a camping holiday trip.
Trailer bearings can also be demons on a long trip. Especially when you are do lots of visits to the water, then driving on it can cause bearing failure. The bearings expand as they get hot on the road, then shrink as they sudden hit with cool water.
Ideally you should try not sinking the wheels so the bearings get wet. However, that is not always possible – especially with bigger size boats. However, with smaller boats it’s often easier to do this and keep the bearings dry and longer lasting.
Tail-lights on the trailers are another area of concern. I’m going to say straight off I haven’t seen too many submergible lights that last. I know a lot of trailers are now fitted with them, however those people who use boats commercially will have lights above the waterline, or detachable.
Keeping in mind saltwater and lights are a bad mix I prefer the latter approach. Admittedly taking lights on and off can cause problems with the globes and wiring. However, I still think it’s still better to have removable lights.
Travelling new roads can bring up problems you won’t incur when towing on home tuff. Aerials and rods sticking above cabin level can easily be taken out by a tree or low bridge. So it’s best to fold down rods and aerials down till you’re actually in the water.
After a long day on the water it’s easy to be lazy about taking off rods and folding down the radio aerial. However it can be an expensive little exercise if they’re broken before you get home.
What puts this story in mind was the time I was travelling down the Pacific Highway following a number of competitors in a fishing competition. It wasn’t long before I started to see gear littered on the road. I picked up fishing rods, buckets, two livebait wells and even a spare wheel! These items had literally flown out of boats!
Outboard motors can sometimes create a few problems too when travelling longer distances. Bigger motors say 60hp – 200hp power generally isn’t a problem because their weight sits them firmly on the transom.
However, smaller size motors under this size tend to jump and move about if are travelling over bumpy roads. You can’t really leave them in the down position as this means they’re too close to the road!
Some people use wooden chocks but the best answer for securing these motors is a bracket holder. It holds the motor in the tilt position and secure.
When I travelling at every stop for fuel, food etc I walk around the boat checking the chains, light fittings, tie-downs etc. I also look at the wheels for signs of grease that indicate the bearings may be spitting out. In short, you need to make sure nothing has come loose or is about to fail.
I often tie the fuel tank up in the nose of the boat, to even up the load. There might me some danger during a crash with 30 Litres of fuel up front. However, at least the rig is better balanced this way and handles more safely on the road.
Going north recently I found many towns near the water had one or two motels catering for trailer boats. The advent of regular fishing tournaments is helping this trend and it makes life easier for the family trailer boater as well.
I hope I’ve pointed out most of the major pitfalls of the road trip. However, at the same time let me say taking the boat on holiday is worth any of the hassles involved. Besides giving you your own fishing platform it opens up lots of ways to entertain the family from cruising to swimming, skiing and diving. Best of all its all FREE entertainment and it gets you away from the crowds.
You can always find seclusion on the water, away from the rat race even in summer holidays. That’s what I like about trailer boat holidays and why I keep doing them.
On my last trip I took a portable DVD player along with a car battery so the kids could watch movies in the evenings, while I fished and crabbed on the boat. That worked beautifully and made sure everyone enjoyed the trip.
That old fishing fable that the grass is greener elsewhere is probably true. Travelling and using your boat is such a great past time for all the family, and it doesn’t have to cost a mint either. Most popular tourist destinations have free barbecues and camp grounds will have all amenities’ you need.
Information centers will also provided free maps of waterways, not only road maps, and some carry brochures on fishing in their regions.
Remember if you’re new to an area check for any new marine parks. Some have only recently been added, but the local tackle shops will have maps to show you where the no-go areas are located.
Good luck and have fun!