Getting Hitched

Make trailering simpler-and safer.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

One of the more bothersome but essential chores when trailering a boat is coupling the hitch on your SUV or truck to the trailer. All vehicles have a blind spot directly behind them, and that's where you need to be able to see to put the hitch ball in the right place. Being off center is not as much of a problem if you're hitching up a 300-pound johnboat rig-you can simply manhandle it into correct alignment. But when you're trying to connect with a 20-foot bass or walleye boat that may have 300 pounds bearing down on the tongue itself and an overall weight of more than 3,000 pounds, you have to put the ball in just the right place to avoid sustaining a hernia.

If you've got a fishing partner, the problem is solved-he stands aft and guides you. But often you won't have help, and that's where a bit of Yankee ingenuity comes in handy.

One easy trick is to make a guide from a wire coat hanger. Simply twist one end of the coat hanger around the lip of the coupler on the trailer, taking several wraps, so that the coat hanger stands perpendicular to the trailer tongue. Tie a small piece of cloth to the upper tip of the wire for better visibility. Now, when you back up, all you have to do is center that wire on your tow vehicle and you know the ball and the coupler are in close proximity. If you drive an SUV, you can make things even easier by bending the upper tip of the wire forward, so that it will just touch the back glass of your truck when the ball and coupler are perfectly aligned. Once you're lined up, remove the wire and you're ready to go. You can also fashion a guide out of a flexible bicycle flag. Attach it to the coupler and you're set.

There are numerous commercial trailer-hitching devices designed to solve this same problem. One of the slickest is the QuickStep, an adjustable tow bar. The device allows the ball to be moved forward and back, and to pivot right or left, so all you have to do is get reasonably close and then move the ball into position. As soon as you pull forward, the ball carrier pivots back to straight ahead and locks to center the rig. It's designed for two-inch receivers, and it can hold tongue weights up to 600 pounds, far more than even the largest bass or walleye rig would exert. (Around $100; www.onestep mfg.com; or Bass Pro Shops, 800-227-7776; www.basspro-shops.com.)

Another good device is the Hitch-N-Go. You mount an adapter, which looks like an inverted tow ball, on your trailer's hitch, slide a funnel-like capturing device into the receiver on your car and back up. If you get close enough to get the ball against the funnel, it is channeled directly into a dropped socket, where it locks automatically. (Around $200 for the base unit, or $220 for a hitch with nine inches of vertical adjustment; 877-448-2446; www.hitch-n-go.com.)