Really, it sounds like a good gig; traveling from one seaport or harbor to another. There are all kinds of boats that need to be moved around: small, fast boats; houseboats, sport fishing boats, sailboats, and yachts of all sizes. Other than pulling a boat on its trailer from the house to the lake or river, transporting larger boats can be relatively straight-forward or very involved.
Basically, boat hauling comes in two dimensions: (1) Transporting the family weekend fun machine from the house to the lake, river, or to a new home, and (2) hauling oversize houseboats, yachts, and sailboats cross-country.
Dimension 1: Assuming the family boat is no wider than 8 ft. 6 in. (102 in.), and less than 12 ft. high, then it is legal to tow that boat through most states. There are several exceptions. In New York, New Jersey, and Hawaii the maximum width is 8 ft (96 in.), and in North Carolina, boats up to 10 ft. wide are permitted—just don’t leave the state. Some states allow loads to be as much as 13.5 feet high.
Still there are some practical considerations when towing a boat on a typical boat trailer long distances over the national Interstate system. Most light boat trailers are designed for relatively short trips to the lake. Prolonged, high-speed travel can quickly wear tires and wheel axles can overheat. Also keep in mind that the typical snap-on cover used for a boat in storage may not stand up to the constant 60-70 mph wind of prolonged highway driving.
Many such small boats will easily fit on a flatbed or in an enclosed trailer if the owner chooses to ship it rather than tow it. This saves wear and tear on the trailer and boat, and if it is in an enclosed trailer, there no concern about the cover.
Dimension 2 applies to transporting any boat that is oversize, i.e., more than 102 in. wide and/or more than 12 ft. high. If you are comfortable and experienced hauling oversized loads, driving the hauler is relatively routine. However, in addition to obtaining the necessary oversize permits, the details of preparing the vessel for loading and transporting it securely can be numerous. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume that all boats are oversize—either more than 102 in. wide and/or more than 12 feet high.
Like any over-dimension load, pre-trip planning and preparation, including obtaining the necessary permits, are essential for a successful haul.
Oversize boat hauling is a specialized service and truck owners and operators should be aware of practices and requirements that are particularly important in boat hauls.
There are differences between hauling an oversize boat versus an oversize piece of machinery.
First, boats are designed to float in water—the water provides an even support system across the hull of the boat. Boat hulls must be supported at specific points along the hull.
Prior to transport, it is important to stow any loose items and detach accessories on the decks or boat cockpits. This includes any chairs and cushions as well as antennas and electronics (navigation devices, depth finders, etc.) and any heavy items that are not securely attached to the boat.
Hauling oversized boats is regarded by states pretty much in the same manner as any other oversize load, i.e., permits are required, and there are usually insurance requirements—specified by each state. One item unique to boats is inspection for the presence of Zebra mussels, an invasive freshwater mollusk that is becoming a nuisance in North American lakes.
The answer is a “qualified” yes. For boats that are not oversized, i.e., not more than 8 ft. 6 in. wide (8 ft. in New York, New Jersey and Hawaii) or more than 12 ft tall, an owner can load up his boat and go just about wherever he wants. Owners of private boats may have to stop for a Zebra mussel inspection.
For larger, oversize boats, an owner can tow the boat provided he obtains the oversize permits and is licensed to operate the tow vehicle. The operator will also have to meet insurance requirements of each state through which the boat is transported. If the total weight of the vehicle and boat exceeds 26,000 pounds, the operator will have to obtain IFTA and IRP permits.
The first considerations are the tires and axles. Boat trailers used to “take the boat to the lake” are designed for the relatively short haul from home to the lake or river. This usually does not include long distances at interstate highway speeds. Tires and axles may overheat and fail. Before any long trip, replace any suspect tires and bearings. It is a good practice to stop after about the first 30 minutes of highway driving and check the wheels and axles for excess heat. If the axle is too hot to touch it is in danger of failing. Continue to check tires and axles periodically during the trip. It is a good idea to have spare tires and axles for long hauls.
Also, snap-on boat covers can come “unsnapped” at highway speeds. Obtain a special cover designed for highway speeds—these covers have straps that fasten around the hull. Shrink wrapping boats is a good alternative provided the shrink wrap is designed for highway use.
Finally, double check your insurance policies for the vehicle, boat, and liability insurance. If that snap-on boat cover comes off and causes and accident to vehicles behind you, you could be liable for the damages.
The owner, or agent representing the owner is usually responsible for all preparations (and usually selecting the operator who will make the haul)—unless the driver is the person who contracted to complete the haul, in which case the driver becomes the responsible agent.
Like everything else in this discussion, “that depends.” A basic flatbed trailer may be sufficient for many boats. Taller boats may require a lowboy trailer. Some high-performance speed boats can be carried inside a standard box trailer when mounted on a cradle that holds the boat tilted on its side, in which case it would not be an oversize load. This tilted support can also be used on a flatbed. Finally, boat hauling can be a very specialized business using specially designed trailers, some of which can be backed down a ramp into the water so that a large boat can be driven on the trailer, much like small personal boats at a lake launching ramp.
Large houseboats are one type of boat commonly transported by truck. Houseboats range in width from 8 ft 6 in. (purposely built for ease of transport) to widths of 14, 16 feet, or more. Some of the wider, and longer boats can weigh in excess of 40,000 pounds, making it “over-weight” too. Larger width boats also tend to be taller, and prior to preparation for shipment, will easily exceed 12 to 13.5 feet maximum height for highway loads.
Large houseboats are either built on pontoons or wide, shallow draft, boat hulls. The height from the road surface to the top of the roof over the “house” will usually fall under 12 feet. However, most such boats may have antennas, flying bridges, etc., that extend above the 12 ft. limit. If the maximum height exceeds 12 ft., and cannot be reduced, then very careful routing, and additional permitting and safety procedures, including escort vehicles, will be required to avoid overhead hazards. Using a lowboy trailer can solve some potential over-height problems.
Antennas, masts, flying bridges, etc., are usually removable and can be stowed and secured somewhere on the boat or trailer.
Modern yachts have more complex hulls that cannot simply rest on their keel. Most yachts will require a custom-made cradle that fits the shape of the hull.
There are several ways to load the boat on the trailer. Some boat yards have specially designed long forklifts that can lift smaller oversized boats and place properly on a trailer. For larger boats, marinas may use a sling lift attached to a hydraulic or electric travel lift or crane. The sling is lowered into the water and the boat is maneuvered into the sling. Once properly positioned the travel lifts the boat and roles (is driven) forward up out of the water on tires that straddle the trailer, lowers the boat ono the cradle, and the sling is released.
A third possibility is a hydraulic adjustable trailer that can be rolled into the water at launch ramp. The houseboat is driven directly onto the carpeted pads on the trailer. Using a fifth wheel truck, the trailer and houseboat are pulled out of the water and made ready for transport. Hydraulic trailers allow the boat to be loaded at marinas that have a launching ramp, but no travel lift. It can save hundreds of miles just to reach a marina with a travel lift. The houseboat is blocked and strapped down to the trailer, ready to be hauled. The reverse procedure can be used to launch the houseboat at its new location.
Weight is an important consideration. Proper preparation may avoid an overweight condition. Prior to loading or departure, all fuel tanks and water holding tanks should be emptied. Removing items such as fishing gear, cookware, and other heavy items that can be shipped separately may avoid an overweight fee. Also, valuable electronics should be removed, packed, and secured or transported separately.
All antennas, flag staffs, masts, etc. should be demounted and stored in the boat. Any structure on the boat that extends above the top of the main boat, including any accessories, flying bridges, etc., should be detached and stowed. Any lose items including deck chairs, other furniture, etc., should be secured and protected—placed in the cabin. Keep in mind that things on a boat are not designed for highway speeds and the associated winds. Small boats—dinghies—on top of the boat being hauled can become flying objects once on the road. These and everything else not stored inside the boat must be secured.
Some states will require a boat to stop and be inspected for zebra mussels and other biologicals on the hull and in bilge water. Other than that, oversize load boats are treated the same as any other oversize load.
The average cost to transport a boat runs from a low of $1.00 per mile to $3.00 per mile. Shorter trips cost less per mile. Longer trips and larger boats may cost $3.00 per mile or more. The price of fuel is a major factor in cost, as well as any requirements for escort vehicles and route surveys. Any boat more than 45 feet long will require additional permits and fees and the rates will be higher.
If the destination is accessible by sailing, this is certainly an option—but probably not the most economical, expeditious, and perhaps not the safest.
Consider a boat to be moved from Boston to Miami—a cruise down the east coast seems simple enough. First compare fuel costs. For the sake of comparison, along the east coast both gasoline and diesel fuel are running about $3.00 per gallon (June 2019) at marinas. Truck diesel fuel in the eastern United states is running a little more, at $3.10 per gallon. A typical large houseboat gets about one mpg. The cruising distance would be about 1400 miles. A typical barge-type houseboat with a single engine, cruising at about 8 mph, will consume about 1 gallon per mile under good conditions. This would require 1400 gallons of fuel (about $4,340), and more than seven days to make the trip. Add to that the cost of food and supplies, and perhaps a professional crew to make the cruise.
A truck move will cost about $2.00 per mile, the inland truck trip would cover about 1,550 miles in four days at a total cost of $3,100. There could be added fees for oversize load permits and tolls, but the boat would be shipped safely with less concern for weather and no chance of the boat experiencing engine or navigational difficulties.
Yes. As an example, a 40-foot aluminum houseboat hull will weigh about 32,000 pounds, but the same craft built of fiberglass will run closer to 44,000 pounds. Weights affect the type of trailers that can be used, and additional fees charged by states for additional weight.
Consider the hazards when choosing an overland carrier. In addition to truck and trailer insurance, most haulers have “cargo insurance” that covers losses due to the carrier’s negligence. If a boat is damaged by the actions of another vehicle and driver, the damage to the boat is on the boat's insurance (or hopefully on the other driver’s insurance). Vehicle operators should make sure their insurance is current and adequate. Boats being hauled are likely valued at hundreds of thousands, or easily, millions of dollars.
That would be a coordinated effort between the owner and the shipping agency.