Straighten up and put your steering hand in the right position
The pickup truck sat jack-knifed with its trailer on the boat ramp, driver’s side window rolled down, with a woman’s head sticking out.
She was visibly frustrated, and anyone within earshot could understand why.
“The opposite direction! Just like I told you! Turn the wheel in the opposite direction you want the trailer to go!” shouted a man in the boat, reiterating the classic instructions everyone who has never backed a boat trailer receives.
The parking lot was full. Boaters were trying to put in. Boaters were trying to take out. And here this couple was, on the edge of divorce.
It was an embarrassing scene, and luckily for everyone present, a guy who really wanted to launch his own boat approached the truck, silently pointing at himself.
The woman gladly gave up the driver’s seat, and the man pulled forward, straightening the whole rig and backed down the ramp as pretty as a picture.
The problem this woman faced is that the “Turn the wheel in the opposite direction you want the trailer to go” advice only works when the truck and trailer are in a straight line: Once the trailer is too far to the right, turning the wheel in the opposite direction to make it go left doesn’t work anymore.
At some point, the steering wheel won’t turn that direction any more — and even if it did, it’s not going to swing the trailer all the way back where you want it to be.
John Wessinger of Irmo, S.C., has a simple solution for backing in a boat trailer. He owns a landscape business and pulls equipment trailers every day and boats on the weekends.
His tip? Forget trying to steer in the opposite direction. That’s just confusing, he said.
“First, before you back up, you want to be in a straight line,” Wessinger said. “Manipulating the trailer one way or the other is much easier if you start off straight.”
After that, he said there’s an easier way to explain how to turn the wheel.
“Next, I put my hand at the bottom of the steering wheel. Now, I move my hand in the direction I want the trailer to go,” Wessinger said. “That’s an easy thing to tell someone, an easy thing for them to understand and an easy thing for them to do.
“It’s much simpler than having someone wrestle with what is going in the opposite direction or which way do I have to go to make the trailer go the way I want it to.
“Just start with your hand at the bottom of the steering wheel, move your hand in the same direction you want the trailer to go, and if you find that you’ve steered too hard and the trailer is jackknifing, don’t get caught up correcting one way, then back the other, then back again.
“Just pull forward until the truck and trailer are straight again; then start over. It’s one of those things that seems intimidating at first, but after a few times, it’s second nature.”