For longtime trailer-boaters, backing up a trailer is second nature. They have “game,” as my son calls it, thanks to years of experience and muscle memory.
It’s poetry in motion, a ballet of truck and trailer that allows them to quickly launch the boat and load it later while less-experienced boaters weave about and waste time. Once home, they whip around the trailer to put it away without a second thought.
How these veterans first learned this skill varies. In my case, a salty Texan named Guy Skinner coached me as I struggled to get my new 22-footer lined up at the launch ramp some 33 years ago.
I told him I had been trying a technique I read about of placing my hand at the bottom of the steering wheel, but I was still working to perfect it.
“I move my hand in the direction I want the boat to go like this,” I said as I wrenched my neck around to look out the rear window of my pickup truck.
“F—k that,” Skinner said. “Turn around, and I’ll show you the easy way.”
It’s in the mirrors—your side-view mirrors, Skinner taught me.
“If you want to back up straight, whenever the trailer appears in one of the mirrors, turn into that mirror to straighten it out,” he said. “It’s that simple.”
No wiser words were ever spoken to a trailer-boater. Based on the mirror method, I quickly mastered the skill of maneuvering a trailer. Here are five things I learned along the way.
Turning in Reverse
After this premise becomes ingrained in your brain, you can flip the theorem, turning the trailer in the direction you want by spinning the steering wheel in the opposite way. Once the trailer is pointing the way you want, turn back into it to straighten out. After a while, this will become innate, something you do without even thinking about it.
Using the side-view mirrors saves your neck and back. It is far more comfortable to face forward and use the mirrors to look back. I have a friend who can’t physically turn around to look out the rear window due to a bad back, and so the mirror method is a godsend for him.
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Take your rig to an empty parking lot to practice backing up using the mirror method. Pick a spot where you want to put the trailer, and hone your skill.
Read Next: Avoiding Boat Trailer Breakdowns
The mirror method of backing up is easier with medium- to large-size side-view mirrors. Most trucks and SUVs feature moderately sized mirrors as standard equipment, but if you are buying a new tow vehicle, keep the mirror size in mind and think about opting for large ones.
Watch the Front
Another advantage of the mirror method is that you can more easily watch the front of the vehicle as it swings back and forth while backing up a trailer. This can be critical when backing into tight spaces, such as a driveway with the wall of a house on one side and a fence line on the other.