Buying a Trailer Boat for Game Fishing

Updated: Mar 18, 2021



Game fishing was once a sport associated with large 40 plus foot fly bridge boats, manned by large crews, boats with huge fuel tanks with a no cost spared approach to the sport. Seemingly for many years the game fish rich grounds of the continental shelf and beyond remained out of reach to owners of smaller trailerable boats.

In this blog we will look at the evolution of trailer boats into the game fishing scene and help you make some decisions should you decide the time is right to join the trailer boat revolution.


For people looking to get into trailer boat game fishing, there has never been a better time nor have we been as spoilt for choice. So with all this choice, what is the perfect trailer boat? This is one area amongst others when selecting a boat that is heavily opinionated and debated. One thing most can agree on is there no such thing as the “perfect boat”. What might be considered perfect by one person may be a shortcoming to another. With this in mind be prepared to make some compromises when deciding on what to buy and try not to let the opinions of others influence you when it comes to deciding what’s right for you. What I will say, if a brand or model has a bad trait, with a little online research it will become quickly obvious which models to give a miss.


Naturally your budget is going to have a significant impact on your decision, this may be the difference between buying new or second head, either way many of the following questions will apply. We will break this article down into three sections, the main components to consider, Hull, Engine & the often least considered when purchasing a boat its Trailer.



THE HULL.

With so many different shapes and sizes to choose from you will need to narrow this down before you can start considering the other major components. One of the first things to consider is what size boat are you in the market for and with that, what will it be made from, will it be a fibreglass, aluminium or even plastic?

Whilst there are many boats under the 6 meter mark game fishing the most commonly seen size is 6 meters and above. There are some pretty big trailer boats getting around these days, and depending on where you live towing restrictions may have an influence here, so be sure to check the road rules applicable to your state before moving forward. The bigger the boat the heavier its going to be, meaning the vehicle you are going to tow this with needs to be rated accordingly. If you don’t have the funds to upgrade your tow vehicle then checking what the max tow rating of your vehicle may also help you answer this question. Whilst Fibreglass boats are well reputed as superior riding and astatically pleasing, with this comes additional weight when compared to simular size boats constructed of say, aluminium. There may be a trade off to consider if buying an aluminium boat. Aluminium boats are lighter, being the case require less horse power to push and can be towed with smaller vehicle’s. However as with everything there is a compromise and in most cases large plate aluminium boats might not provide the same level of ride comfort as their equivalent fibreglass cousins. Most times this comes down to personal preference and around the cleaning table’s turns into a “Ford or Holden” debate. You either like one or the other.

Once you have decided on size and what it will be made from you need to start considering the physical design of the hull. This is something a person new to making these purchases may overlook or not give the appropriate amount of thought too. This decision could be narrowed down by the areas you fish. Using the waters of the Australian East Coast as an example, regions like Northern Queensland see lots of strong wind and not as much ocean swell, these strong winds whip up some pretty nasty chop and if you pick the wrong hull shape you could regret your purchase pretty quickly. Similarly, areas further south such as NSW extending into Victoria are more prone to large ocean swells, and again the hull that handled the chop well may not perform as well coming down the face of large swells.

As a general rule of thumb boats with a finer entry and steeper deadrise’s (the V shape of the hull) will perform well in choppy conditions, they will land softer and perform better at higher speeds. The compromise with these hulls are, they require more horse power to push, and in many cases aren’t as stable at rest (drifting or at anchor) tending to rock from side to side in the waves. There are models out there with deep vee designs that include sections of the hull that flood with water whilst at rest which by design are intended to help prevent some of that rocking, this im told works quite well.

Boats with flatter bottoms tend to handle the swell OK, they don’t mind coming down the face of a wave and tend to be more stable at rest. The trade-off here is they don’t perform as well going into a head sea, they may not land as nicely when coming off the face of a wave and tend to bang more when doing so. These hulls in rougher sea conditions tend to take their toll on their crew however this can come back to the way in which they are driven too.



In both Fibreglass and Aluminium boats there are manufactures out there that have tried to fill the gap between soft riding and stability, and many with a fair degree of success. I would strongly recommend you water test any hull design you are considering buying before making the purchase. Don’t take your mate or some keyboard worrier on Facebooks opinion for it, again what they might consider suitable might not be the case for you. Insist on a water test on a less than perfect day. Its in those conditions where a good hull design and build will shine through or, expose short comings in a design that may on the surface stack up OK but in reality be a nightmare.


LAYOUT -

Out at sea conditions can change quickly, it’s at these times you want to hope you have purchased a boat that can keep you out there or if needed get you home safely. Most Australian Made boats these days feature robust designs, high freeboard (height from the deck to the top of the gunnel), and tall transoms, all elements I think are important offshore. With the recent increase in grey imports over the past 10 years our market has seen an increase in boats with designs better suited to different conditions to those experienced here in Australia. Many of these models have low freeboard, and whilst you can be standing high above the water line, this low freight board and decreased stability can be very problematic, especially for taller people. I have heard of several people that have suffered the misfortune of falling out of these types of boats due to those reasons.

When the going gets tough you want to stay dry and maintain good visibility to ensure safe navigation. If you have decided a centre console boat is for you then in these conditions you’d better go and buy some quality wet weather gear. Whilst centre consoles are a super versatile configuration, regardless how good your boat rides when you are side on to wind and swell that wind spray is coming for you! If you settle for a cabin boat there are a few common layouts. The most recent improvement in trailer boats has come from boats featuring hard tops and enclosed cabins using glass windows. These boats offer superior comfort and protection in these conditions, however when trying to keep within a budget, come at a premium. If an enclosed hardtop falls out of the budget, consider a boat that has a robustly constructed targa frame and have this covered in water proof marine vinyl or canvas. A well-built set of clear plastics above the windscreen and to each side will provide ample visibility and for the better part keep that spray out.

When game fishing from a trailer boat you want everything within arm’s reach. You will want as many rod holders as you can fit and for most people a decent size live bait tank is mandatory. It’s amazing how many boats on the market have very poorly laid out deck configurations, pay attention to this as this can be a cause for frustration. Some of the important design considerations for me include, good access to batteries and electric pumps whilst remaining protected from direct contact from things such as salt spray or the Mahi Mahi you bring aboard that decides its going to try its best to destroy anything in its path. Stable cutting table at the transom, large live wells and ample transom space for installing live bait tubes. Storage for items like tag and gaff poles is something that is often overlooked. When you have a place for everything life becomes so much easier out at sea. Finally most new boats these days and some older models have either walk through transoms which make hauling that trophy fish aboard or getting in and out of the boat easier. The latest trend and one I am a fan of is the ‘dive’ or ‘tuna’ door built into the side of the boat. Whilst this may seem like a gimmick to some, it does actually serve a worthy purpose. If you consider how many times you need to haul tackle bags, eskies fishing rods up and over the gunnels whilst the boat is parked on the trailer this process is made so much easier when you can just pass all this gear straight through the side of the boat onto the deck of the boat. No more lifting and climbing over the gunnel. Not to mention if you do get lucky and want to pull a fish though the door or jump in and out of the boat. Another advantage by removing the access from the transom you can add a second live bait tank and sealing this area up keeps the deck dryer when backing down on a fish.

Under the floor is another area to consider. Some boats have kill tanks (compartments built into the floor to store your catch). Handy if you have them, not the end of the world if you don’t. When it comes to fuel tanks, my preference is to go for the largest you can have. Whilst you may not always need the maximum fuel capacity, it is much neater and not to mention safer to have your extra fuel in the tank rather than plastic fuel cans. Some boat manufactures now include foam filled hulls, another feature I like. Whilst it adds weight, (in some boats that’s a good thing), it makes the boats quieter through the waves and most importantly very safe should you experience a worst case scenario and you capsize. A foam filled boat won’t sink, leaving you something to hold onto and float with until help arrives.



ENGINES –

Depending on the size of the boat they could be powered by either outboard engines, motors that are bolted to the transom of the boat, or inboard engines, motors that have the main engine mounted inside the boat under an engine cover connected to a gearbox (stern drive) through the transom. Fuels types can vary between petrol and diesel, although at this time diesel is only an option for inboard configurations. If considering an outboard you have another decision to make. Will you go for a two or four stroke engine? This is another Ford / Holden type debate and we won’t spend too much time on it only to say that there are some distinct differences between the two. Two Stoke engines are well reputed as having large amounts of torque, plenty of “get up and go” from a standing start, they have plenty of acceleration however they do need the owner to keep their separate oil supply topped up. They can be noisier than their four stroke counterparts and whilst they have come a long way in recent years with their seen and smelt emissions, on the right day you can still smell a slight odour of oil burning. Four Strokes on the other hand, arguably don’t perform as well out of the hole, probably don’t have as much acceleration however are whisper quiet and virtually odourless. Both types will do the job well on a game fishing boat. Again id suggest taking each type for a test to see the differences for yourself.

A couple of things to look out for when buying a boat, if it is second hand, get a reputable marine mechanic to perform a full inspection on the motor. This should include a scan of the engines historical operating data which will tell you how many hours it’s done, and how these hours are spread out over the life of the engine. If you are buying a second hand boat that was used previously for game fishing, chances are it will have higher hours than the average boat. Don’t by any means be scared off by this. Most of the hours you will find will be at low RPM whilst out trolling or live baiting. These are “easy” hours and not ones that would stress an engine. A proven service history is very helpful too. If you can get the contact detail of the mechanic that looked after the engine, pick up the phone and ask them to give you some indication of how the engine has been maintained. Whilst this goes against much of what you may have been told or been led to believe, an engine with higher hours, that has been used and serviced frequently is a better, low risk purchase than an engine of similar age, however has had little use.

If you are buying new, my one word of advice is to shop around! It’s a competitive market out there. Be sure to check how much servicing is going to cost. It is nothing for new engines to cost between $600 and $1000 every 100 hours to service. This is essential for maintaining new engine warranty. Remembering that if you are fishing allot you will knock up the hours quickly and these service costs will add up across a season. Some manufactures will allow you to service your own engine, or may with some negotiation enter into an extended service interval schedule if discussed and agreed upon prior to purchasing the motor. I wouldn’t recommend anyone that wasn’t experienced or confident services their own motor. Be aware that if you do, this will reduce the amount of years manufactures will warrant your motor for. Be sure to ask for a “fitted” cost. Some dealers will quote an engine only price and then add the fitting after which could be a few thousand dollars more by the time you include, new control cables, control box, gauges, propellers and labour. Most manufactures these days offer electronic throttle and gear shift and digital engine gauges, if you can afford the extra cost I would recommend these. Finally buy an engine that has an oxygen sensor in their exhaust system. This commonly marketed as “lean burn”. Having this feature will ensure you are buying the most fuel efficient variant of that engine model. There are still some out there that don’t have this and they can use up to 20% more fuel in a day than engines with the feature.

I don’t think there is a bad motor out there these days, shop around, do your research and buy from a dealer local to you and one that you are comfortable with.



TRAILERS –

So this is another area you should pay attention too. No point having the best boat and engine if it’s riding on a crap trailer. The trailer is what gets your boat to and from the water in one piece. Poorly maintained or designed trailers are the cause of so many disastrous starts or finishes to days fishing. Trailers these day mainly come in steel with a hot dipped galvanised finish however the trend of late has been to build them from aluminium. I’m a fan of aluminium as it reduces the overall weight of the towing package. It is also less prone to corrosion and lasts longer.

If you are buying a second hand boat a few things to check, these are –

Springs and Axels. These are usually some of the first components to corrode and a fail. Either one of these failing will end your day as quickly as it began, not only this they have the potential to be very dangerous. An obvious sign of springs and axels that require attention is rust, if you are seeing this on the springs, axels or bolts holding it all together, they are going to need some attention.

Brake Rotors and Brake Callipers. These are again components that are commonly overlooked. Whilst these can be made from stainless steel, the more common material is mild steel with a galvanised coating which rusts quickly. Depending on the size and weight of your boat you may have one of two types of braking systems. Smaller lighter boats would have what is known as a mechanical override braking system. This is a simple cable operated braking system. These use a cable connected to the tow hitch that slides forward with inertia as you brake to pull pressure on the brake pads inside the callipers. These work OK with when brake rotors are in good condition and the cable is frequently adjusted, however so often the maintenance of this braking system is overlooked and they do very little.

For larger, heavier boats road regulations require a system known as electric – over - hydraulic breaking system with a break-away feature. These trailers have brakes on each wheel and on all axels. They use a small battery powered hydraulic pump to operate the brake callipers, much like your car. There is no doubting these far out perform the basic over-ride cable systems and in most instances when the braking sensitivity is adjusted correctly they will stop the boat and car better than the car can stop on its self without the boat on the back. They are impressive, however with this comes higher amounts of heat transferred to all the breaking components and wheel bearings all of which tend to accelerate wear and corrosion. Generally these need more maintenance and in NSW need to be inspected by a heavy vehicle checking station. The break-away component ensures should the boat become de-coupled from the tow vehicle the trailer brakes are applied automatically and the boat will come to an emergency stop without assistance from the tow vehicle.

Bearings - Some of the common types of bearing systems available on the market. I have used just about all of them and you may be surprised to hear what I have found to be the most reliable.

The most common systems you will have heard of are, Bearing Buddies, a device that replaces the basic steel cap on the outside of the hub, this enables the owner to pump grease into the hub using a grease gun. Another is called the Dura Hub, these types use thick oil rather than grease to lubricate and cool the bearings. In my time servicing and maintaining these types of bearing systems I have found short comings with each of them. Whilst I’m sure there are success stories and some have a preference over others I have found bearing buddies problematic due to people pumping too much grease into them, in turn pushing the hub seal out or they can have a tendency to let water in.

The oil type hub systems I have found to be generally better than the bearing buddies, however let me tell you, if some shifty bugger discovers your fancy bearing hubs during your next overnight fishing mission and decides they’d look better on his trailer than yours, you are up the preverbal. All the oil usually retained by the outer hub cover will instantly drain from your bearings, allow water in and I’m sure you can work out what comes next!

After trying all types of systems including the previously mentioned I and many others I know have gone back to a basic steel cap filled with grease in place of any fancy hub system. We Sikaflex that cap in place and do the same to the rear axle seal. This has worked for us season after season.

At the end of the day regardless of what bearing system you choose to run, you need to be on top of them and frequently check them. I like walking around the trailer once we get to our destination and physically feeling the temp of each of our hubs. This is a great early indication of a potential issue. You very quickly learn what a normal hub temperature feels like, it will be warm to touch, but not so hot you can’t keep you hand on it for less than say 5-10 seconds. Assuming of course you haven’t just come to a quick stop and all the heat from the brakes has transferred through to the hub. If the hubs are an even temperature chances are things are going OK. Another sign would be excessive grease in, around or flicked up onto the underside of the hull. If you are seeing this, it is cause for concern and worth looking into, as the rear axle seal has leaked. If it can’t keep grease in, it sure can’t keep water out! You should aim to service your bearing at least once a year.


When buying a new trailer assuming it’s with a new boat from the same dealer, ask around and see how well others that have bought that boat/motor/trailer package have found the trailers performance. Being a competitive market you may not necessarily get the best trailer in these types of package deals. It can pay to do the research and if needs be buy the trailer separately. There are some pretty neat trailers available today and specialised manufactures that really put the time into the design and setup of their trailers. They may have setup a trailer to suit your hull and know what does or doesn’t work. They should know how to setup your rollers or skids to optimise the alignment and support of the boat. Some boat manufactures are building their own trailers, or aligning with trailer manufactures in join venture type arrangements, sharing 3D models designs of boat hulls and using this to correctly design and setup trailers. These are usually a good option to go with. If you can afford to stainless steel components such as the springs, brakes callipers and pads you will get many years of trouble free service.

You will hear the term, drive-on/off used around the ramp to describe a trailer. This means a trailer that can have the boat driven onto or off the trailer without the need to use a winch. For me this is a must have ability. Especially with larger boats that can weigh tonnes. When factoring this in, the set-up and configuration of the trailer is paramount. Nothing worse than having a trailer that won’t self-align or centre the boat as it come up the trailer. The trend to have trailers without rollers is gaining momentum. Full multi-roller trailers have their positives however in my experience can tend to cause more headaches compared to a trailer made of skids or maybe a combination of both. Rollers need maintaining and regular inspection. Pivoting mounts have a habit of seizing up or in some cases flipping over on themselves, this is a disaster if you don’t notice this and try driving up the trailer, almost always ending up in a spray of choice profanities from the skipper and sometimes damage to the boats hull. If you are in a position to set-up a new trailer try and use as few rollers as possible and favour Teflon covered planks or skids. The last thing anyone needs after a long day at sea is a trailer with attitude.

A feature that is proving very popular and rightfully so is the auto release and catch devices on the market. A few of the common types are known as the Boat Catch, Boat Latch and Bar Crusher boats have their own deign called the Bar Catch. Simply these enable you to launce and retrieve your boat without the need to have someone manning the winch post. They have really taken a lot of the stress out of this part of boat ownership. They are designed to release the boat automatically when launching and catch the boat once driven up to the winch post. Another reason you want a well set-up drive on/off trailer. I recently fit one to our boat and highly recommend these to anyone. Assuming you have the correct style of winch post and some mechanical aptitude they can be fit at home. If not they can be easily fitted by a boat shop to almost every style of boat and trailer.

Like any new purchase you can learn a lot by asking questions, doing your research and trying before you buy. Considering the trailer is what carries your pride and joy it’s another acquisition you don’t want to compromise on.


With a bit of knowledge behind you in the form of research, by asking lots of questions and not making too many compromises, you'll be sure to find the right boat for you.


Cheers, Barji!




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