Boat Shipping Guide #1: Preparation

CitizenShipper CitizenShipper · Updated February 23, 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.

This is part one of our Boat Shipping Guide series.
For part two, click here: Challenges.
For part three, click here: Equipment.

What to know before you start

When looking to dip your toes into this market, you should know who it is you’ll be catering to. There are four main reasons why a customer will want you to transport their boat:

  1. Weather – Bad weather can harm a boat, and good weather makes you want to go sailing. Bad or good, boat-owners will need a driver like you.
  2. Moving – Homeowners employ drivers to bring their possessions from one house to the next. And that includes their precious powerboat or dinghy.
  3. Maintenance – During winter, some boat-owners take advantage of the ‘break’ time to prepare their ‘water houses’ for the coming season. More work for boat transporters!
  4. Selling – This is probably the most common reason to transport a boat. Either it’s being taken to a dealership or second-hand boat seller, or to its new owner.

And here’s what you’ll need to provide to your customers. Every boat shipper needs a commercial driver’s license, a motor carrier number, commercial liability and cargo insurance, as well as a suitable vehicle. You can find out if your vehicle has the right capacity for each job by referring to the info from the manufacturer:

  • Towing capacity: a tow vehicle must meet the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the trailer being towed.
  • Hitch: a hitch assembly must also meet the GVWR of the trailer being towed.
  • Tow ball size: a tow ball must match the coupler/actuator requirement based on trailer capacity.
  • Tow ball height: 18” to 21” from the ball centerline to the ground.
  • Trailer electrical connection: a 4- or 5-pin flat pigtail connector is needed if no surge brake is equipped, and a 7-pin round is needed without.



If your registered weight is more than 10,000 lbs, you’ll need a United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) number. You’ll only need to apply as a “registrant,” not a commercial carrier, since you are an individual. The Department of Transport number is free and used only to purchase some states’ permits. On some routes you may not need a DOT number at all. If you plan to transport boats only once in a while, you may also qualify for an exemption under 49 U.S.C. § 13506(b)(2).

You need a full driver’s license to tow any substantial vehicle, boats included. A full car license will let you trailer boats weighing more than 750kg. You can use a non-commercial class license along with the state permit to trailer boats in your state.

  1. Non-Commercial Class A License: This permits you to trailer other vehicles (including boats) not exceeding 10,000 lbs on a truck that weighs 4,000 lbs or more.
  2. Non-Commercial Class B License: This permits you to haul other vehicles (including boats) not exceeding 9,000 lbs on a truck that weighs 4,000 lbs or more.

In most states, your regular vehicle insurance will be enough. However, some states have more specific requirements. Indiana and Ohio have specific forms that need to be filled out and sent back to the states directly. Texas does not require insurance from an individual but they do require a $10,000 surety bond. You can find out more about the surety bond here, and get the form here. Each state must approve your application form before you can purchase a permit from them.

That’s the boring bit. Now to get started.


Experts recommend that a person hired to transport a boat should be in charge of the process of hauling, nothing more. That means the responsibility for proper preparation lies in the hands of the boat seller/owner. It is sensible for each driver to make sure the customer understands the law before booking. After the booking, you can ask the customer a few questions to verify they know what preparing a boat means.

Below is a checklist of what you need to verify. It can be a great tool during negotiations because it shows you know your stuff, and the customer is more likely to accept a higher quote.

  • All electronics, anchors, hailers, horns, antennas, propellers, flag masts, outriggers, canvas, screens, cushions, lights, windshields or any item that extends beyond the stated length, width or height of your vessel should be removed, packed and securely stowed away to prevent damage.
  • Batteries and electronics must be disconnected and stowed away securely.
  • Cabinets and cabin doors should be locked.
  • The hull’s drain plugs should be removed and all fluids drained from water systems, air conditioners, pumps, etc. Pro tip: During winter months, RV antifreeze will prevent damage to those systems.
  • All water tanks must be empty with only a minimum of fuel in the fuel tank (ideally less than a quarter full).
  • If the boat is delicate, tarps may need to be applied. These form an extra layer of protection from road debris that can chip the paint of the boat.
  • When transporting a powerboat, make sure that the windshield is strong enough to withstand a buffeting wind. Confirm the seal is tight and the screws have not corroded.

For boats longer than 30 feet, preparation might be supervised or inspected by a licensed marine surveyor, unless it has not come straight from a dealership.

boat shipping guide - safety and security

Safety and security

After preparation, it’s time to focus on safety in transit:

  • Smaller boats have less storage space available, so some bits and pieces may need to travel inside your vehicle. Keep them equally secure.
  • Make sure that the trailer is structurally sound. That means no cracks, brakes in good condition (if the weight requires them) and lights are working. If you are using a customer’s trailer, ensure it has a spare tire and the date of its annual inspection is still within acceptable limits. The trailer should also be properly registered.
  • Check trailer tires for wear, dry rot and air pressure. Be sure the tread is not worn down and there are no cracks, bubbles or gouges in the rubber.
  • Secure the boat strongly to its trailer, front and rear. Heavy straps are absolutely necessary. Without them, the boat is likely to bounce against (or off) the trailer.
  • Check the condition of the boat cover and how it is secured. Some new vessels are shrink-wrapped, so make sure there are no tears.
  • Before you set off, be sure to take photos and document existing damage to avoid litigation for damage you were not responsible for.
  • While traveling, check the straps and the bow eye whenever you stop. Re-tighten if necessary.
  • Always use two safety cables or chains crisscrossed between the car and the trailer coupling. Crossing the chain prevents the coupler from detaching from the car. Leave enough slack in the cable to allow for proper turning, but not so much that it drags.


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For part two of our Boat Shipping Guide, click here: Challenges. For part three, click here: Equipment.