The 10 Best Boat Trailer Guides for 2023
Extreme Max Roller Guide On System
SeaSense Trailer Post Guides
CE Smith Guide On Bunkboard
A good set of boat trailer guides can be invaluable. You already know how troublesome loading and unloading your fishing boat can be at the best of times. Doing it with broken or wonky trailer guides is so much worse. Sometimes a DIY guide made from an old 2×4 will get the job done. But sometimes you want to go all out. A quality product can ensure an easy and safe boat launch. Let’s take a look at the best boat trailer guides on the market.
Things to Remember About Boat Trailer Guides
Not every boat trailer guide is going to work with your trailer. Unfortunately, there are literally hundreds of different trailer sizes and shapes out there. You’ll need to take some close measurements to ensure the right fit and right function. Here’s what you need to look out for.
Matching Guides to Boat Trailers
There are three basic styles of boat trailer load guides. Each one has its merits. In some cases, it may just be what kind you like best. Others work better with certain trailer styles.
Roller Trailer Guides
Boat trailer roller guides attach to your trailer on a post like any other guides. The surface supporting your boat’s hull is a spinning rubber roller. These can be up to 12 inches in length. They offer firm support. Because they are rubber and they roll, they offer a smooth transition for your boat. Rubber rollers are gentle and sturdy. They tend to be a much better choice for larger boats. That doesn’t mean they won’t work for smaller boats. But as the boat size increases, you want to stick with rubber roller trailer guides.
You need to match the roller size to your boat size. Smaller rollers will be far less sturdy for a bigger boat. Another concern is visibility. The guides help you get the boat on and off by establishing a line of sight. You need to see the guides to help get your boat on and off the trailer. Roller guides tend to be harder to see than other styles.
Bunk Trailer Guides
Trailer bunks have a bunk board that supports your boat. This is what the name suggests – a wooden board. Bunk guide ons are usually covered in marine grade carpet for smoothness. This makes them less likely to scratch your boat.
They make use of an adjustable bracket that you can raise or lower so it supports and guides your boat as needed. You need more of these guides if you have longer guides. The upside is that these are typically cheaper than other guides. Also, in a pinch, these are the easiest to make on your own. You just need wood and carpet. But they can fall apart after a while as well. Cheaper bunk boards will crack or rot. The carpet can wear thin as well.
Post Trailer Guides
Post guide ons the best for helping you see what you’re doing. Like a bunk guide, they feature a vertical metal post. However, the boat trailer guide posts are typically much longer. The adjustable metal bracket can be raised quite high. That way, as you back your trailer to the water, you can easily see them.
Most posts are PVC. The plastic is sturdy but not meant to handle large boats. If you tried to use a post trailer guide with too large a boat, they could break. Ideally, these are used for smaller vessels. The kind you would have trouble seeing otherwise. The visible post makes it easy to see where the boat is and launch it successfully and easily.
When it comes to all the expenses of a boat, you can get in deep. The last thing you want to do is break the bank of guides for your trailer. That’s why many boaters opt to DIY some bunk boards on their own. They can be made for just a few dollars’ worth of wood and carpet.
If you want to buy professionally made guides, you don’t need to break the bank. For a small to mid-size boat, you can get good guides for around $100. As your boat gets larger, you’ll need to upgrade a little. That may mean bigger guides, or just more of them. You’re looking at around $100 to $150 or so at this point.
Larger guides shouldn’t cost you over $200. You can find some that cost that much, but they may not be worth the price. That’s not to say they are not high quality. But you should be able to find strong, reliable guides for less.
You’re going to be attaching the guides yourself. That means you want all the installation hardware up front. Roller brackets, u bolts, everything to get it onto the trailer. The parts need to be made of high quality material as well. A boat trailer guide is useless if it is attached with garbage hardware.
In many cases, installation requires improvisation. Maybe the bolts are too short. Maybe you need to drill new holes. This happens more than you’d think. So be ready to adapt if the necessary mounting hardware isn’t all there.
Ease of Use
This goes hand in hand with installation. Believe it or not, but many trailer guides don’t come with instructions. Or the instructions they do come with are extremely vague. So having a well designed guide is important. Some of them are so easy to figure out, you can just look at them and know what to do. Others take some figuring out. The harder they are to install, the greater the chance something might go wrong.
Likewise, once installed, they need to be pretty intuitive. That’s why something like a bunk board is such a good idea. It’s a flat, carpeted board. It’s hard for that to go wrong. The more complex a guide is, the harder it can be to use properly.
What your guides are made from is important to how they work. Some guides are made with zinc-coated steel. This offers great support. Sturdy steel can handle the weight of most boats. But remember, it can’t be used in saltwater. Corrosion will eat through this very fast.
PVC is a gentle material. It won’t scratch your boat up like steel will. You also have no worries about corrosion when it comes to PVC. However, your boat will always be tougher than PVC. That means it can break more easily, too.
Aluminum boat trailer guides are good for standing up to the elements. They are lightweight but strong. Many DIY guides are made with some simple aluminum pipe and wood for the boards.
As we’ve already mentioned, wooden boards can warp or break over time. The marine carpet can wear down as well. Rubber rolls are durable but they do wear out over time. Exposure to the elements can dry them out until they crack and break.
We recommend PVC for any posts. It’s the best material for the job. For the metallic parts you want to look at galvanized if you’re near saltwater. Zinc-coated steel can work well for freshwater. Aluminum is also a solid choice.
Some trailer guides come with lighting installed. This can be a real helping hand. Posts can change the color of the trailer lights when you reach the right depth for launch or loading. These make doing the job at a glance very easy. You spend less time worrying about whether things are lined up correctly or not. Remember, there may be other people waiting to get on that ramp. Little touches like this can speed things along. Plus, you want to get in or out of the water in a hurry too, right? When you’re trying to load or unload your boat, it can get frustrating. Especially if you’re a first timer, or people are waiting. Lights offer a real helping hand.
Any good boat trailer loading guides will be adjustable. You should be able to adjust both height and width. But how far they adjust is another matter. Some only offer a few inches of range. Others can offer a considerable amount. You want the maximum range that still offers support. If they move out too far or too high, they could lack sturdiness.
Trailer and Boat Size
The size and shape of both your trailer and boat are key. Your guides are going to be useless if they can’t fit on your trailer frame. Likewise, you don’t want to use tiny roller guides for a 50 foot yacht. And giant rollers would be overkill for a little aluminum fishing boat.
Take the size of all your equipment into consideration. Pay special attention to what you can see when you have a boat on your trailer. The guides are meant to guide. You need to be able so see them and make use of them.
Always take accurate measurements. You need to measure your boat and your trailer. You only have so much room to work with when it comes to trailer guides. If you get the wrong size, they may not fit properly or at all. Every guide should tell you the proper dimensions. Then it’s just a matter of making sure your boat and trailer can work with it.
You really need to consider your specific boat before getting the guides installed. If you have a flat-bottom boat, it needs guides designed for it. This works much differently than a v-shaped keel. If you have a 10 foot long boat, it obviously needs different guides than a 50 footer. Likewise, a personal watercraft can make do with much smaller guides.
The right size guides are important for two reasons. The obvious one is that they help you get your boat on the trailer. But the other is a matter of safety. Once you have your boat on the trailer, guides still have that important job of support. Good guides hold the boat firmly in place. If your guides are too small or loose, the boat can shift. When you’re driving, or if a wind picks up, this could spell disaster. Proper guides keep you, your boat, and other people safe. They may not seem like much, but you should take them seriously.
Check Your Equipment
Boat trailers often spend a long time sitting around. During the off season we tend to store them and forget about them. Always give your guides a thorough inspection at the start and end of every season. If you use rollers, check the quality of the rubber. After too long in the heat, the sun, or dry conditions, rubber wears out. It can become brittle and flaky. If it starts falling apart, it needs to be replaced. Old rollers can damage your boat.
Likewise, check your bunk boards. Boards can go bad without you even noticing. If the carpet holds up, the boards may start to warp and crack underneath. More than one boat had endured boards cracking around the bolts. You’re trying to load your boat and the entire board snaps under the weight. That can result in just a thin layer of carpet between your boat and the metal mounts.
Replace the carpet if it’s starting to wear thin. It not only looks better, it works better. Holes in the carpet expose your hull to scrapes and scratches.
Make sure you check the quality before use. Ideally, check the guides every time you load and unload your boat. It doesn’t need to be an in depth inspection, but have a look. Make sure nothing is broken or loose. Better to find out before your boat starts moving.
Make sure all your brackets are secure. If need be, tighten up any bolts. If things are corroding, clean them up and treat them or replace them.
Look over PVC pipes. They can crack during the cold weather or because of sun exposure. If you have cracked PVC, you should get it replaced as soon as you can.
Boat Trailer Guide Care and Maintenance
Your new boat trailer guides won’t be good for long if you don’t maintain them. For the most part, they’re easy to keep in good working order. But just like your boat or trailer, they do require some effort.
The sun, the rain, the sea, and the hot and cold take their toll. Your big concerns are rust and corrosion. This is followed by general wear and tear. Metal or plastic that bends and breaks. Wood for the boards and carpet or rubber wearing out can also happen.
Most of the trailer guides we listed work well on their own. But not all. You may find having several guide types is best. We think using poles plus either boards or rollers is a great idea. The poles provide a solid visual for you to load and unload your boat. The boards or rollers ensure it slides in smoothly. Not everyone wants to bother with poles, but they really do help. It means you can line up the boat at a glance. That gets you in and out of the water so much faster.
Always check how things are installed once the boat is in place. If it looks off balanced, then something went wrong. Your boat should be straight and even once it’s on the trailer. There should be about a 2 inch gap between the keep and the tongue plate. If it’s closer than that, you should make an adjustment.
Clean your guides regularly. You wash your boat, you wash your car, wash your trailer. Keep them free of dirt and grease. If you do boat in saltwater, always rinse the entire trailer down after use.
Use some rust protection if the guides don’t already have it. A paint job or other coating can help extend the life.
Store them properly during the off season. Protect them from both extreme cold and extreme heat.
The Bottom Line
A lot goes into making a boat trailer work properly. It seems counterintuitive sometimes, given how simple most trailers look. The wheels, the lighting, the paint, it’s all important to ensuring the trailer works. And since trailers can cost thousands of dollars, you want all the pieces to function well.
The best boat trailer guides can do a lot for you. They make launching and loading your boat so much easier. And they keep it safe during travel. As we’ve seen, you have a lot of choices. Make sure you know your measurements for the trailer and the boat to make the right choice. Make sure they’re securely installed and that you know how to use them.
Enjoy your time on the water and stay safe.