The 9 Best Boat Trailer Rollers
Shoreline Marine 3-Piece Bow Rollers
Tie Down Engineering Wobble Rollers
Attwood Black Rubber Boat Trailer Keel Roller
Choosing reliable boat trailer rollers can be harder than it seems. If you’ve ever had cheap rollers on a boat trailer you know what we mean. Even ones that seem durable may only have a limited lifespan and if a roller breaks the fear that your boat will be damaged as a result is ever present. Plus it just makes it that much harder to move the boat as a result. Of course, the type of boat you have can greatly affect your choice when it comes to buying new rollers. Let’s take a look at some of the best boat trailer roller options on the market
Why Do You Need a Boat Trailer Roller?
Rollers are there to offer you a few advantages. First and foremost, they roll to make moving your boat easier. The heavier the boat, the more useful those rollers become. Just like a conveyor belt, they roll to allow the smooth transition of your boat in and out of the water.
On the trailer itself when the boat is secure, the rollers also offer stability. They keep it balanced and supported. That means less chance of damage and scrapes overall because of how rollers are made and shaped. Without rollers, or at the very least bunks, getting a boat on and off a trailer would be both difficult and potentially dangerous.
Can Boat Trailers Be Used Without Rollers?
You’ve probably seen plenty of boat trailers that had no rollers on them at all. This comes back to the age old question of bunks vs rollers. Both can do the same job, more or less, but have different pros and cons.
Bunks don’t offer the same smooth and fluid motion that rollers do. But they do offer added padding and cushioning that you may not get when you choose rollers. Also, bunks can often be cheaper overall than rollers. Of course, there’s such a great range of prices it’s hard to say for sure one is always cheaper than the other. As with anything, higher quality means higher prices. You can get some rollers much cheaper than bunks and vice versa.
Rollers are a much better option when dealing with heavier boats. They make that transition in and out of the water easier. That being said, because rollers have moving parts they are just not as durable as bunks. They will inevitably need to be replaced sooner so you’ll spend more time swapping them out. They may also require maintenance that bunks won’t. Again, moving parts have the possibility to break or freeze up. Rollers that don’t roll are obviously problematic.
A little routine maintenance ought to make sure your rollers keep doing what you need them to do. Quality rollers that are kept clean and in good working order should reasonably last you for years.
Things to Consider
As you’ve seen, rollers come in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors and materials. There are some strengths and weaknesses to each.
Types of Rollers
Some rollers are flat, some are shaped like spools, some are long and some are thin. What gives? Different rollers have different benefits and, of course, may be better suited to some boats rather than others.
These rollers are wider at the ends and narrower in the center. This allows them to line up the keel of your boat evenly. This reduces wobble and keeps the boat in line as you load and unload in the water. If you’ve ever tried to get a boat into chopping water with some wind blowing with a self-centering keel roller and then again without one, you’ll know the difference. These can be very helpful.
These are the ribbed kind of rollers that look almost like gears. They’re designed to minimize markings on the hull of your boat. They provide the least amount of resistance of all rollers and work best on a boat with a hoist or trailer winch to help load the boat. At the same time they’re especially good at cradling the curves of a boat to ensure a smooth journey whether that’s on and off the trailer or when you’re traveling with the boat in tow. They can more easily distribute the weight of your boat because of their design which causes less potential wear and tear overall.
As with many parts of your boat and the trailer, the color is less a functional thing and more a personal choice. That said, when it comes to trailer rollers there is a small amount of concern that can be given to color beyond just aesthetics. For instance, a black rubber roller may leave black smudges on your hull. This is especially true for cheaper roller and fiberglass boats.
Blue trailer rollers are often, but not always, HDPE polyethylene. These are tough, strong and reliable. Red trailer rollers may be polyurethane. That said, these are not hard and fast rules. Always check the specs of your trailer rollers to make sure you know what they are, just in case. And then, keep in mind, lighter colors may be more prone to discoloration than others.
There are a few materials that you’ll find trailer rollers made from more often than not. These are not the only materials but odds are most of the ones you’ll find will fall in here somewhere.
HDPE polyethylene rollers
HDPE stands for high-density polyethylene. This is a strong and sturdy plastic and is what many of those hard, blue rollers are made from. It’s a great choice for aluminum boats and can keep them secure as it is fairly resistant to cracking.
These are often red in color and are softer than the HDPE rollers. That makes them ideal for fiberglass hulls. The HDPE rollers are a little harder and run the risk of doing more damage to fiberglass than these rollers will. Using urethane rollers with aluminum vessels isn’t the best idea because there’s more potential for damage.
Poly-vinyl rollers are also fairly common and tough as well. It can stand up to the environment fairly well and withstand things like cold, salt and even gasoline well. At the same time, it will be fairly gentle on your hull. PVC is unlikely to leave marks on the hull, regardless of whether your boat is aluminum or fiberglass, so you won’t need to polish it up after loading it on the trailer. .
Black rubber rollers are some of the oldest kinds out there. They’re cheap and they’re not fancy but they do get the job done. That said, there’s a reason they’re so cheap and that you don’t always want to use them with pricier boats.
Rubber rollers don’t have a long shelf life, especially out in the elements. UV radiation will break them down in time and they can become stiff or brittle and break apart exposing the metal within. Some cheap types of rubber will also leave marks all over the hull of your boat, especially fiberglass boats. These black smudges can be a real pain to clean off as well.
If you want a very cheap boat roller however, rubber will often be many times less expensive than the alternatives.
As with anything on your boat, you’ll want to make sure you have the right size. The roller shaft in the center of the roller needs to fit properly in your trailer. Replacing rollers means knowing what size can actually fit on your boat trailer. They come in different sizes like ½ inch and ⅝ inch so you need to know what your trailer accommodates before buying. The rollers themselves will also come in different lengths and widths and you’ll need to measure your trailer first to guarantee the right fit. How a roller measures up in the long run definitely depends on whether it was a good fit.
Some trailer types don’t accommodate some brands of rollers very well and vice versa. Always double check sizing before you commit to buying.
Swapping out rollers has been a challenge for many boaters simply because of size difference between manufacturers. Yes, if something is advertised as 3 inches it should be 3 inches no matter who manufactures it. But if you compare the same sized roller from 4 different companies you’re going to find discrepancies for some reason. Maybe that’s something manufacturers can get together one day and figure out. But until then, it’s up to you to make sure your measurements are precise. It’s the only way to minimize the risk of a slightly off-sized roller.
Keeping your rollers running properly is obviously important. Rollers don’t typically need to be lubricated or maintained vigorously but the more care you put in the longer they’ll last. Lubricating the roller shafts can help stave off corrosion and keep things running smoothly and cleanly.
That aside, try to keep the rollers clean. A quality set of rollers should be able to handle the elements without needing to be cleaned too often. But be aware of how some cheaper rollers handle the weather. Over the seasons, shifts from hot to cold and back can take a toll. Likewise, UV radiation can break down some materials, especially rubber.
As with any product, a warranty is the kind of thing you want whenever possible. If nothing else, it gives you peace of mind. But when it comes to boat trailer rollers, warranties are harder to find than you might think. Not every company offers them and, in many cases, they’re not really relevant. Consider a rubber roller that may cost less than $10. You wouldn’t expect a warranty on something like that, anyway.
That aside, some companies do stand behind their craftsmanship and offer up a warranty to cover the roller for several years. You may never need to cash in on it but it’s a sign that you’re working with a well-crafted product so it’s something to consider.
Changing Boat Trailer Rollers
Replacing rollers on your boat trailer is not all that hard. If you’ve never done it before it may not be readily apparent what to do at first.
Your rollers may be held in place on a trailer bracket by something called a cotter pin or roller pin that needs to be removed. Once removed, the roller spindle, which is basically a steel tube, can be pulled out and the roller itself can come off. This is not true of every kind of roller, however. Some have caps on the end of the roller shaft that will need to be pried loose. You can get in under them with a pry bar and pull the shaft out. This frees up the roller and both can be replaced at the same time.
With keel rollers, you will need to fine tune how they sit a little bit before installation is complete. The best way to do this is with your boat elevator slightly at the bow. You’ll need the bolts on the roller mounting bracket loose enough to make adjustments. You can shift the rollers around a bit until they offer a snug fit against the boat. Then you can tighten everything up to secure it all in place.
Any time you install new rollers, it’s best to give them a quick test run. Tow your boat a short distance to see how things settle in and then inspect the boat and the rollers on the trailer. If anything needs to be moved, now’s the time to do it.
The Bottom Line
Boat trailer rollers can make boat launching so much easier. A good set of rollers can ensure you can get your boat loaded with minimal effort and greatly reduce wear and tear. Just make sure you’re using the right rollers for both your trailer and your boat. Double check on sizing and invest in the rollers that you feel will work best for your vessel. As always, stay safe and have fun.