Rack storage vs trailering: Which is better?

If you have a trailerable boat and have been thinking of joining a boatel or rack storage marina, here’s some things to keep in mind. Let’s look at trailering first. One of the biggest pluses is being able to enjoy boating in different parts of the country. We’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 Sarasota, FL 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 nearly always cheaper than buying it on the water.

But, 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 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, 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, don’t forget 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.

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. 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. 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.

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.

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.