Trailering vs Rack Storage; Which is Better?

As we move into another off-season (blech) I thought I’d take a whack at a topic that applies to many boaters. Rack storage vs trailering: Which is the best way to go? In many areas of the country trailer boaters have the option of rack storing their boat instead at a ‘boatel’ facility. Is it worth the extra cost? As one who has used both methods over the years I can offer a few thoughts that might help others thinking of making the switch.

easing back on the trailer

Let’s look at trailering first. One of the biggest pluses is being able to enjoy boating in different parts of the country. I’ve towed our boat thousands of miles up and down the East coast and enjoyed boating in places as far north as Lake Winnepesaukee, NH and as far south as the Gulf of Mexico and in many spots in between. These travels have been an exciting way to see different parts of the country, make new friends and enjoy boating in new and unfamiliar areas.  An added bonus is that buying gas at land borne gas stations is always cheaper than buying it on the water.

Trailering also has its drawbacks. First, you’ve got to have a tow vehicle that is up to the job. New boaters sometimes get in trouble here because they underestimate the true weight of their boat and trailer. Then there is the question of storage. Ideally you can store the boat at your house, maybe beside or in back or even in front on the street. However many neighborhood homeowners associations have rules that require the boat be hidden from view of the street, or require that it be behind the front line of the house, or in some cases have an outright ban on boat storage. (If the latter is the case I’d suggest enlisting some support from your neighbors and getting that bylaw changed!)

If you can’t keep it at your house then you’ve got to find another way. In rural areas this may be easy to do but in more urban locales you may be looking at paying for space in a storage lot or other facility. The reality of all this is that the idea of ‘spontaneous’ trailer boating is a bit of a stretch. You’ve got to consider the time to get to the boat, hook it up to the trailer, load up your stuff, drive to the ramp, launch the boat and so on.  Also, while the boat is stored on the trailer it is subject to the elements. If this is the route you take it’ll pay off in the long run to have a cover that protects the entire boat. While not inexpensive, having a quality custom cover made will protect the boat’s finish for many years. Come wintertime, if you live in an area that gets any appreciable snowfall then you may want to get the boat shrink wrapped with an appropriate frame underneath to keep snow from accumulating on the boat. The OEM or custom boat cover you had made won’t be up to the job.

Also, for all the versatility it brings, let’s face it: trailering can be stressful. Driving requires more foresight and concentration when you’ve got your pride and joy hooked up to the back of your vehicle. Then there is the public boat ramp to consider. Maybe you’re lucky enough to be able to launch at a sleepy, out of the way ramp that doesn’t see much traffic. If not, busy ramps can be stressful places and there’s always the chance of forgetting to do something like installing the drain plug, removing tie down straps, or raising the outdrive before pulling out. Spend enough time at a heavily used boat ramp and you’ll see all those missteps and more.

Finally, let’s consider the trailer itself. It needs to be maintained with the same attention you give your boat. Wheels, brakes, bearings, tires, winches, cables and bunks or rollers aren’t ‘maintenance free’ and need your attention and time. And let’s not forget the wiring which we expect to keep working after repeated dunking in fresh or salt water.

rack storage

Turning to rack storage, perhaps the biggest benefit is the sheer convenience. Toss the family and boating goodies in the car and off you go. Some rack storage facilities will allow you to call ahead so the boat is in the water ready and waiting for you. Other places with limited dock space may prefer you arrive first so they don’t clog up the docks with boats. Either way, the convenience of this method is tough to beat.

Another plus is the reduced wear and tear on your boat. Ideally your rack facility has your boat under cover. Boats with considerable air draft may not fit in indoor racks and need to be kept outside. If it’s covered, though, keeping the sun off your boat when you aren’t using it is key to longevity of the boat’s finish. Also, even though you may be proficient and careful at the ramp, having a large forklift pickup and move your boat is a simpler way to transfer the boat from the water to its storage place. With a forklift you don’t have to worry about all those variables trailer ramps bring. Ever been to a ramp that was so slippery you barely had enough traction to pull the boat? Or had a ramp so short you backed the trailer too far and had it bottom out at the end? These variables and more are removed with rack storage, which in the end means less risk for the boat (and trailer!)

Most rack storage facilities have ground level racks close to the water that allow you to wash down the boat and remove all the gear upon returning from your day on the water. This way you can remove your gear, wash the boat down and flush the engines at your leisure. Then, when you’re done all you have to do is walk away from the boat and drive home while the ‘boatel’ staff returns your boat to its rack.

Cost of these facilities vary widely depending on location so call around. Everybody’s situation is different so to help find out if its worth it to you, I’d recommend doing a careful evaluation of the costs involved for both methods of storage. Even if you can store your boat at the house, trailering isn’t ‘free’. Evaluate the cost of running your tow vehicle at reduced mpg with the the boat hooked up. Factor in the costs associated with trailer upkeep. Ultimately, you’ve also got to consider what your time is worth. Besides your boat’s reduced exposure to the elements, the time savings may well be the biggest single advantage of rack storage.

A helpful drill may be to write out your timeline from the time you leave your house to the time you’ve cast off the lines and are underway for both methods. For rack storage, the largest amount of time is most likely spent driving there. Once there, your boat will be in the water fairly quickly. If trailering, start the clock when you leave the house and factor in the time it takes to get to the boat, get the boat loaded and get the trailer hooked up. Then there’s the drive to the ramp, the launch, the repositioning and parking, and so on. The end result of that time comparison may help determine which is the best way to go.

Both trailering and rack storage present great opportunities to enjoy your boat. I’d suggest trying both. Most rack facilities offer month to month plans so you can try it out, although the rate will be somewhat higher than signing on for a full year. In the end the best method is the one that works best for you and maximizes your time on the water.

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