Boat Shipping Guide #3: Equipment

CitizenShipper CitizenShipper · Updated January 16, 2024

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As our marketplace grows and grows, we’ve seen a big increase in demand for boat shipping. To be a boat transporter, all you need is a willingness to travel long-distance, a responsible attitude to boats big and small, and a little expertise. It’s exciting work: Less competition means more money in your pocket, and as your experience grows, so does your market share. It’s a boom time for boat shipping, so here is some basic advice on how it works, and how much you can earn.

Types of Trailers

Perhaps you’ve completed your first shipment and want to scale up your operation! The first piece of equipment you’ll want is a boat trailer. The basic types of trailers and expected costs are detailed below.

A primary consideration when choosing a trailer is its weight limit. This means its capacity to support a given boat. It is important to take into account the boat’s wet weight. A boat’s wet weight includes the weight of water, oil, fuel, safety equipment, anchors, etc, on board. To calculate the necessary trailer capacity, tot up the weight of the boat, the engine, a full fuel tank (approximately 7 lbs per gallon), full water tanks (if applicable) and your personal gear (use 10% of the boat, motor, and liquid weights for this category). Then check if the trailer can support it.

Next you’ll need to verify if the trailer is long enough to carry certain boats. Choose one that’s at least two feet longer than the longest boat you plan to haul.

A basic flatbed trailer is the right length for many boats. Taller boats may require a lowboy trailer. For drivers keen to specialise in boat shipping, a hydraulic trailer is the best option available in the market.

Hydraulic trailers are widely recommended by shipping experts for powerboat and sailboat transit. They save a lot of time and money in the long run. Hydraulic trailers boast a variety of features to help with loading, moving, unloading, launching and blocking.

When choosing one, the most important metric is keel pressure. Boat manufacturers will tell you that 70% of a boat’s weight rests on the keel. Some trailers use keel pressure and some use pad pressure to support a boat. But without keel pressure problems can arise, like oil canning or hull twist. The more expensive trailers with keel pressure cost around $150,000, down to around $60,000.

Types of Straps

Boat tie-downs are designed for normal highway driving. The purpose of most boat tie-downs is to strap the lightest object to the heaviest object, meaning you will want a tie-down with a break strength that exceeds the weight of the lightest object.

For example, if your boat weighs 4,000 lbs and your trailer weighs 2,000 lbs, you will want to choose a tie-down strap with a break strength that exceeds the weight of the trailer. This ensures that the boat does not jump off of the trailer if you run over bumps or potholes. Boats above 10,000 lbs require a minimum of four tie-down points. Quality straps are rated with a working load limit (WLL) and break strength tag or decal. You will want a strap where the break strength is greater than the lightest towing load. Always check to see whether the ratchet strap, hooks and other hard metal has been coated in vinyl or zinc. This not only protects the boat but it also stops the paint cracking on the hooks and ratchets.

Generally, WLL is one-third of break strength, so a 2” wide ratchet strap rated at 10,000 lbs break strength has a working load limit of only 3,333 lbs. This allows a safety factor so that when you slam on the brakes, the strap is able to hold back that 3,333 lbs. To allow that safety margin, federal rules require four 3,333 lbs WLL straps to secure a 10,000 lbs load.

Miscellaneous Equipment

Finally, here are some other costs you’ll need to be aware of as a boat transporter:

Specialized Gear – Semi-truck and lowboy trailers run for over $200K new. This equipment needs to be replaced every 800,000 miles or six years on average.

Fuel, Tires, Oil Changes – All the normal wear-and-tear maintenance for a Semi-truck and lowboy trailer can be made more expensive by flags, banners or extra damage due to overweight yachts.

Escorts – Some situations call for one, two or even three escorts. They average at $1.60/mile per escort plus expenses.

Bridges and Toll Roads – These are more of an issue for oversize boats. For example, some bridges in NYC can cost $500 for a single crossing.

Travel Restrictions – Oversize boats have limits on what days they can travel and what times of day. To make things even more difficult, each State’s Regulations are different. All of these restrict the transport of oversize boats to 75% of what a normal rig can cover in a day, so add 25% for time delays.

If the total weight of the vehicle and boat exceeds 26,000 lbs, the operator will have to obtain IFTA and IRP permits, which will increase the operating cost. All these potential costs can be factored into your quote.


Before you start making money as a boat transporter, it’s wise to hear from the professionals. Here’s what the most experienced boat transporters have to say:

“Ask your transporter how they protect the boat from damage or theft while stopped at night and inquire about equipment.”

“We have trailers that get the keel just six inches off the ground, trimming just an inch or two of height might easily save $1,000 in route surveys, permits, escorts, and extra miles. Hydraulic trailers can launch a boat, saving hundreds of miles just to reach a travel lift.”

“Shrink-wrapping is good if it’s done right, but ripped shrink-wrap flapping down the highway at 65 mph will do more harm than good”

“You really have to weigh out the cost of a delivery crew and fuel versus trucking,a boat exceeding 16 feet wide or 15 feet high, depending upon the state, adds dollars fast. Boats might be shortened by removing a radar arch, hardtop or even flying bridge.”

“The big deal is liability. Get in a small fender bender or worse – you are screwed. If you get busted for a wide load they will pull you over and not let you move until you get a permit, generally requiring 24-48 hours to get a permit.”

We hope this guide will come in handy if you decide on a boat shipping career on CitizenShipper. To add boats to your preferred categories, please visit your settings page and toggle your notifications for the Boats and water vehicles category.

Happy shipping!

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For part one of our Boat Shipping Guide, click here: Preparation. For part two, click here: Challenges.