We know it can be difficult to trust a third party to transport your most prized possessions. Boats have special meaning — there’s a reason we name our vessels! While you’d probably rather do the boat hauling job yourself, the reality is that many transports are just too complicated for the average boat owner. 

The good news is there are many options for boat transportation — and while it won’t be cheap, there are ways to save some money. With so many options, it can be difficult to know how to select the right transporter. You can’t hire someone that will do a shoddy job, but you don’t want to overpay a dishonest transporter either. 

From preparations to qualities of a great transporter, our boat shipping guide offers a quick rundown of the most important aspects of the transportation process. 

Hauling a boat like this won't be too tough.

Why Should I Use a Boat Transporter?

Because it’s so expensive to ship a boat long-distance, it may be tempting to save money by hiring a transporter that doesn’t specialize in boat shipping. While it will be lighter on your pocketbook initially, in the long run it could cost you more due to damage, fraud or delays. 

Circumstances That Call for Boat Hauling

There are many reasons a boat owner would need to ship a boat. Maybe you’ve saved up for your first boat and purchased it from an out-of-state dealer. Or you went to a boat show in Miami, fell in love with a yacht and now have to get it up to Wisconsin. Perhaps you own multiple homes and don’t want to tow the boat yourself. 

Whatever the reason, boat hauling is an in-demand industry with many experienced professionals. 

Convenient and Cost-Effective

  • Many boat owners don’t own a trailer; sometimes it doesn’t make financial sense to purchase a trailer for a single move. 
  • While it can cost thousands of dollars for long-distance boat hauling, boat trailers can cost even more! 
  • After the move is complete, you’ll need to take storing the trailer into consideration.

Secure

  • Professionals transport boats every day and have a wealth of knowledge.
  • While you’re capable of towing your own boat, you’re not an expert.
  • Reputable boat hauling businesses have licensing, insurance and a surety bond in case there’s an issue.

Efficient

  • Boat transporters know the road — they’ll take the quickest routes or the roads that are safest for boat transit.

Shipping internationally is a whole different topic and could fill up its own Resource Center post. This article will stick to domestic shipping in the United States.

Large yachts can make for a difficult boat hauling job.

Qualities to Look for in a Boat Transporter 

Great boat transporters share several qualities. Keep an eye out for these when you’re in the market for hiring a boat-hauling business.

  • They never cut corners and always ensure they follow the best practices every step of the way.
  • Experienced boat transporters have good working relationships and connections with local marinas.
  • They understand local ordinances — for instance, in California you cannot transport oversized boats through major city limits between 9 AM and 3 PM. 
  • Boat transporters should have the proper permits from the Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Authority and the Federal DOT. If they aren’t transparent about sharing their permit status, look elsewhere for your boat hauling needs. 
  • You can always use the DOT website SAFER to look up MC and DOT numbers.  
  • Tracking information/GPS information is provided so you always know their location along the route.
  • The transporter has experience shipping the type of boat you own.
  • The business has obtained licensing, obtained a surety bond and has insurance. 

Licensed

Boat transporters must obtain licensing in the state from which they operate. Be sure to ask them to provide proof of their licensing. If there is any hesitation ‌it’s probably a good idea to look for another transporter. 

Bonded

When a boat transporter has obtained a bond, it means you receive reimbursement if something goes wrong with the transport. The transporter buys a surety bond which covers up to a specified amount to cover damage.

Insured 

Being insured is pretty straightforward –- it means the carrier has an insurance policy in case of accidents or other issues. The quality of their insurance can vary, so consider purchasing additional insurance if necessary. You can also use the SAFER website to look up a transporter’s insurance policy. Remember, the boat hauler needs carrier insurance because basic liability insurance won’t cover your boat.

The Difference Between a Surety Bond and Insurance

What’s the difference between insurance and a surety bond? In simple terms, a bond covers contractual obligations and it’s a requirement for licensing. Insurance covers third-party claims of injury or damage. A transporter doesn’t need insurance to earn a license. 

For you, the customer, the main difference between the two is that insurance covers a greater amount of damage than a surety bond. The business owner must pay back the bond to the issuer. Insurance won’t need to be paid back as long as the premiums are paid (though those premiums will go up if there’s a claim). 

Hiring a Boat Transporter Through a Marketplace

One way to hire a boat transporter is to shop around or ask the boatyard for recommendations. An alternative to traditional boat hauling companies is hiring a transporter through a peer-to-peer marketplace like CitizenShipper. There are different types of transporters on the marketplace:

  • Independent drivers that own a trailer and transport boats on a part-time basis.
  • Independent drivers that operate as a DBA or LLC, effectively running a small boat shipping business.
  • Larger companies that use CitizenShipper as a broker to find additional customers. Because of competing bids on the marketplace, you’re often able to leverage a lower quote on CitizenShipper.

Questions to Ask When Considering Boat Hauler Quotes

Like in the section above, the qualities of a reliable boat transporter include due diligence, connections with local marinas, transparency about permits and experience. There are other things to look for when you’re reviewing pricing quotes on a marketplace like CitizenShipper. 

  • How does their profile look? Do they have a detailed About section? What kind of special badges or offerings do they display on the profile?  
  • Do they specialize in boat transportation?
  • What payment methods do you accept and when do you require payment?

We recommend you avoid upfront payment, but if the transporter is a good fit for your needs and requires payment before hitting the road, make sure you use a secure payment method like PayPal, Square or Apple Pay. 

That way, if there’s some sort of issue or in a worse-case scenario, fraud or scamming, you can dispute the payment and get your money back.

Don’t Base Your Decision Solely on the Lowest Quote

One advantage of hiring a transporter through a marketplace like CitizenShipper is that they compete for your business. But it’s important to remember that you often get what you pay for. Sometimes the best fit for your needs isn’t the driver quoting you the lowest price — it’s one with more relevant experience or superior equipment.

Don’t let this happen to you!

How To Prepare for Boat Transportation

Once you’ve hired a transporter, it’s time to prepare your boat for the trip. When it comes to shipping a boat, there are three personas: the boat owner, the boatyard and the transporter

  • Preparation for transport is the responsibility of the boat owner. 
  • Sometimes the boatyard will perform the preparation. 
  • Most boat transport companies don’t prepare boats for transport. 
  • The transporter often offers advice and ensures the preparations are properly performed. 

Interior Preparations for Boat Hauling

Boats aren’t designed for road travel, so you need to make sure to properly prepare the interior for transport. This prevents damage to critical components of the boat while driving. 

  • Batten down all interior cabin items.
  • Batten down hatches.
  • Secure and lock any locker doors.
  • Lock the cabin and keep the key with you.
  • Drain water tanks and run the fuel tank down to empty. 
  • If it’s the winter and the boat will travel through cold weather, drain water from the water systems and add RV antifreeze.
  • Disconnect the batteries and tie down the electric cables to prevent contact.

Exterior Preparations for Boat Hauling

  • Secure all exterior hatches.
  • Remove canvas covers.
  • Cover windows and windshields.
  • Use canvas covers.

Ensure the Boat is Free of Zebra Mussels

There are some basic steps you can take to avoid getting zebra mussels. When you transport a boat from one body of water to another, you must remove all water from the vessel and ensure it’s free of this invasive creature.

If the boat hits a checkpoint in transit and has zebra mussels, authorities place it in quarantine. This will throw a serious wrench into your transportation plans and could cost you a lot of money.

Costs of Boat Transportation

The cost of boat transportation will vary greatly based on a number of factors. The size of the boat, the type of boat, the driver’s equipment offerings, the distance traveled, any special circumstances that make the haul more difficult, insurance needs and more affect the cost. 

Size of the Boat

If you’re transporting a simple fishing boat, jet boat or a small sailboat, the transportation process will be relatively straightforward. As long as the transporter is licensed, bonded and insured you won’t run into any extra issues or costs. 

  • Larger vessels like houseboats and yachts can be more complicated. 
  • If they exceed the state-mandated width they’ll require state-issued permits, safety flags and an “Oversize” banner to alert drivers. 
  • Even larger boats may require flashing lights and escort vehicles. 
  • The largest boats that exceed the lane width will have restricted driving hours, require escort vehicles and the route may need to be approved by local authorities. 

Trailer Type

The type of trailer being used for the transport also affects the price. Some boats require specialized trailers because of their size or shape. 

  • Will the boat be transported on a trailer, in an enclosed trailer or on a flatbed? 
  • If it’s transported on a large flatbed trailer, it may need to be transferred to a smaller tow vehicle that can navigate residential streets. 

Other Cost Considerations

  • You should inform the driver of any other items that will be transported off of the boat so they can prepare for the additional trailer space. 
  • Will the transporter make custom cradles? While most boat shipping companies have adjustable trailers that will accommodate most boats, some offer trailers built specifically for your boat.
  • Will the transporter shrink wrap the boat for you?
  • You may need to purchase additional insurance if the transporter’s policy is insufficient. 

Conclusion

When it comes to transporting a boat long-distance, there’s a lot to consider. A boat can be a very large item to ship, so there are many steps that must be properly taken to ensure it arrives safely and without damage. 

When you have a boat transportation need, a marketplace like CitizenShipper is a great way to get a competitive price from an experienced boat hauler. From individuals operating their own small business to larger organizations using the marketplace to find more customers, this is an excellent, affordable alternative to traditional transportation companies. 

Post a boat shipment on CitizenShipper today and get quotes from boat-hauling experts!

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Published by Matt Matasci

Content Writer at CitizenShipper

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