Hello, Paddler!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!

Canoe trailer “How To” A-Z

Below is a link to shots of a canoe trailer I recently finished. I did a photo montage of this project from the beginning to end – shots are sequential. Maybe some of this will be helpful to others – if only as a “what not to do” paradigm!

Here’s the link:


That link will take you to Page One of two pages. Skip to the second page if you would just like to see the finished trailer & don’t want to wade thru all the ‘in progress’ shots.

Here’s the story (long one – skip if you don’t want read the step-by-step process):

This is my second try at building a canoe trailer. My first canoe trailer was another utility trailer that measured 5’ X 13’. It is used frequently as a work trailer during the week and it could be set up with removable wooden racks (bolts and wing-nuts) for holding our canoes. This arrangement worked out okay, but after a few years it became clear that it had become a PIA to set it up for the weekends and then remove the racks for use as a work trailer. I ended up not using it as often as I would have liked simply because it took too much time to set it up and later to remove the racks. Instead of using the trailer for hauling canoes I would often just use my pick-up truck – that wasted fuel. I decided to make a dedicated canoe trailer that would only be used for our boats and camping gear – and I can easily pull it with a more fuel efficient vehicle. We typically haul 3 solo canoes at a time, often 4 if we bring a guest – sometimes we’ve even hauled 5 canoes at a time. With this trailer (as with the last) I can haul 4 canoes – and a 5th boat on the car (Jeep) roof racks.

I had planned to simply start from “scratch” on this project by buying the separate components & steel and fabricating my own trailer from the ground up. All the parts, from axles to taillights are readily available online and at stores. But after I added it all up I found that it was far cheaper to begin this project with a ready-made trailer and customize it to suit my needs.

I started with a Carry-On brand 5’ X 8’ utility trailer with a steel mess floor (later covered with wood), steel side rails, a rear ramp (gate) and a removable “single tree” tongue – it did not have an A-frame. The removable tongue made it very easy to replace with a longer extended tongue. By not having an A-frame I was able to easily add the longer tongue I needed and then add two side braces to form an A-frame. The initial cost of the trailer was just over $600 (on sale) at a local Tractor Supply store.

Back at the farm my first job was to hack off the ramp which was actually “non-removable” (never saw a non-removable trailer ramp before – stupid idea). A reciprocating saw, a mini-grinder and a cold chisel were my implements of destruction. Next I removed the ramp latches. My next task was to cut and fit a rear rail (where the ramp had been). I then replaced the removable short tongue with a longer piece of 2” X 3” X 1/8” thick steel box channel. This was drilled to receive the two ½” bolts, but was also later welded in place. I wouldn’t trust two bolts for such a critical connection. The new tongue extends past the front of the trailer box/canoe rack by 7.5 feet. That gave me plenty of clearance for my canoes and tow vehicle. Next I fabricated the “A-frame” to bolster the long tongue and add stability to the trailer. This was made of 2” X 2” steel box channel. I replaced the original 1 7/8” coupler with a 2” coupler. Two of my other trailers have 2” couplers and one has a 2-5/16th” coupler – I didn’t want yet another size to mess around with. I then added a jack – welded in place. Next up were the uprights, braces and arms for the canoe racks – I used 1” X 2” (1/8”) box channel for those parts. I placed the arms high enough above the cargo area so I would have plenty of room for gear, full-sized coolers, etc. I added a steel spare tire mount – welded in place for security. All of the bare metal was primed and then top coated with black gloss enamel. I went with black only because the initial trailer came that color.

Though I can weld a little I only have an old buzz box (arc welder) and my welds are pretty sloppy. They’re good enough for my simple farm repairs, but not for this trailer. So for this project I did all the fabricating, clamped it all together and pulled it to the local welding shop for a first class “real” welding job. To cut the steel I used a chop saw, fortunately I have a goodly supply of c-clamps (“G-gramps for any Brits reading this). The welding was completed in two sessions and cost me a grand total of $125. That was very reasonable for first rate welding that looks neat and can be trusted.

After priming and painting I was done with the metal working and moved on to the electrics. Modifying the electrics was simple enough, I just purchased a trailer wiring kit that matched my trailer and used the wiring harness to extend the wires in the tongue. I made the splices at the side marker lights – Simple as could be. The extra taillights and side markers will come in handy as the years go by and I knock off lights (I pull trailers a lot – believe me it happens!).

Next I was ready to move on to the wood cargo area. I toyed with the idea of building some covered boxes to hold the cargo, but decided against it – at least for now. I just basically built an open box I can throw things in. If I decide to build more “secure” boxes to go in the cargo area I can always ad them later, but I doubt that I will. For the floor and side-boards it seemed like I had three choices: treated lumber decking, composite decking or what I finally decided on – something completely different. Treated lumber is such a bummer, it’s corrosive, it smells bad, it cracks, it warps and it rots in a few years. I have treated lumber decks on my other 3 work trailers; I’ve had enough of that junk. The new plastic “composite” decking is an even bigger bummer in my opinion. Though it’s made from recycled plastic it is not recyclable, it’s structurally weak (requires joists every 12 inches when used as decking!), it tends to sag and doesn’t hold screws well when stressed.

I stepped outside my normal box and decided to try “Brazilian Redwood” or Massaranduba for a change. For ecological reasons I gave up using rain forest woods decades ago, but this is a plantation grown hardwood, it carries an ecologically friendly Forest Stewardship Council sticker (renewable). This wood is very hard and naturally rot resistant – or so it is claimed (time will tell). Of the three alternatives I investigated the tropical wood seemed like the best idea. Though it was more expensive than standard treated lumber it was about the same cost as the plastic composite decking – it is really beautiful to boot! I finished the Massaranduba with a couple of coats of Olympic deck finish – makes the wood look terrific (but it will in time fade to gray of course…).

After many years of canoeing we have a pile of various size dry bags, so keeping our gear dry while in the cargo box is not a problem. I also made the cargo box deep enough to easily accommodate standard Igloo/Coleman type hard-shell coolers and large Rubbermaid/Tupperware lidded storage boxes. I still need to rig up a cargo net of some sort for the cargo area to keep things from sliding around. But for now I’m getting by with a series of bungee cords.

In the end this trailer cost right around $1600 to put together complete. This was not an inexpensive project, but it is customized to my particular needs and did save me a bit compared to the two commercially available canoes trailers that impress me the most: The Blue Mountain Outfitters trailers and the rigs from Mo Trailers. Of course if I added my time this trailer would easily have been in the same price range. Fortunately I work cheap for myself… ;^)

- Randall


  • Options
    Lookin good, Arkay!
  • Options
    Link working now?
    -- Last Updated: Jul-20-07 9:10 PM EST --

    Let me know if that link is working now, it works for me... Webshots was doing some upgrading today.

    Also here's a single shot of the finished trailer. - RK


  • Outstanding!
    Good job...I got some good ideas. Thanks!
  • Outstanding, arkay!
  • Good Work!
    That was nice work on a nice design. I also liked your method for getting the welding done by a pro, but in a cost-effective manner. As a hobby welder myself, I know all too well that making the actual weld is really only about 1/50th of the job. Fitting and jigging is what takes most of the time, so having a pro weld joints that have already been fully prepped and aligned would clearly save a bundle of cash, and that's a tip that would really be helpful for the average person doing a job like this. Good thinking!

    Your other comments show you really know your stuff when it comes to building materials.

  • Questions for arkay.
    -- Last Updated: Jul-21-07 8:20 AM EST --

    That is truly a wonderful design and perfect timing; I am taking a very similar Pace brand Utility 4 x 6 trailer (shorter than yours) and trying to outfit it for 17.5 foot kayaks. On mine, which I have not modified yet, but it is almost the same as your black initial trailer in every way, I may need to not only extend the tongue, but also have the cross bars professionally welded off the tongue, like goalposts, to lengthen the span.

    Questions please:
    What is the maximum length of boat (canoe kayak) that your rig will trailer?

    What is the total distance, if you will, from ball hitch to end of the actual boat (overhang) and the length of boat (the amount of back overhang will depend on the length of the boat)? Reason: I need to see if adding for a total 7.5 foot tongue, PLUS the overhang of boat from back of trailer (i.e. total distance) will fit in my garage. My goal is to have the entire thing ready to roll, boats secured, at a moment's notice. Would you suggest, from your experience, that the 7.5 foot total tongue length is necessary, or generously long?

    Where'd ya get the metal? I like your thought of getting it all cut before going to the local welder. I need same size metal as you used.

    Finally (for now, likely more later): I notice you have many angled uprights (front and back) of each boat support, plus a length of iron spanning horizontally from front to back support. Necessary? I would have thought the upright supports themselves, once welded would be sufficient for 5-70 lb boats. I was even considering having them removeable so that I could use the trailer for different items if needed (I read your comment about not making it too much of a hassle. I was just hoping to make one change at end of kayaking season). Does your experience, however, show that the uprights really need that amount of angle and cross span support.

    A very nice set of photos and I thank you for posting them here, arkay. By the way, I hope to use mine, with a similar setup to yours, to camp on. Just clear the trailer bed, blow up an air mattress, secure a tarp over the goalposts, and ta daa, instant shelter. Think about it.

  • Awesome Arkay!
    Looks really good!!
  • Arkay and Redmond, Pnet Trailer Gurus
    -- Last Updated: Jul-21-07 8:17 AM EST --

    Thanks for all your advice on prior thread, too.


  • that is incredible
    And of course, you couldn't just build a first-class canoe trailer. No, you had to Arkayifie it with Brazillian Redwood.

    Beautiful and functional
  • Super Job!
    I want it. How did you (glue?) the strips of carpet to the bars? What do you think about the carpet? I noticed the foam blocks protecting your wood rails.
  • Re-reading your article, my ideas
    In re-reading your article I think I answered most of the quesitons I had. I thought that was a "Carry-On" trailer...I have a similar 5x8 model with the 16" sides and steel grating all the way around. I agree with you on the ramp...dumb not to be removable. Removing it will be the hardest part of the whole project for me as I don't have the heavy duty equipment needed. I first purchased my trailer to haul a riding mower between my house and my Mom's (I keep up both yards) so I need it to be versatile. My boat racks are going to need to be removable, at least the one in the rear so I can still get the mower on and off. I was thinking about either using lumber (2x4s mainly) or pipe (either black iron or galvanized, 1/2 but not more than 3/4) to build a couple of separate racks that could then be dropped into some sort of square (for the lumber option) or round (for the pipe option) receptables attached to the trailer sides and then bolted/clamped down for travel. I would prefer the pipe option but I think the weight may make it difficult for me to remove/install the racks as I had hoped. I thought I could use ratcheting straps or some sort of turnbuckles/cables for diaganol supports, all anchored to the frames with eye bolts. Thoughts? Suggestions?
  • Options
    Thanks folks
    I appreciate all the kind compliments – big smile!

    Guideboatguy – My welds are so nasty I refer to them as “burnt cottage cheese” ;^) Mostly they hold…. But they ain’t too pretty, that’s for sure. A guy who has skills plus the right equipment can do a far better job than I. And yes, you are quite correct – it’s the fabrication that takes the real time, the welding happens in a (relative) jiffy.

    I appreciate your kind compliments my friend.

    Cooldoc – I’m happy to help answer your questions as best I can. Here goes:

    Q - “What is the maximum length of boat (canoe kayak) that your rig will trailer?”

    A - In the normal carrying position (two canoes abreast – side by side) it will hold 16’ canoes if the boats are centered (as seen from the side). If I place boats off-set it on the trailer (more overhang at the stern than the bow) I could easily carry a 17’ canoe/kayak. Note that I could also carry a 17’ or even an 18’ if I simply put the boat in the center of the top rack (the center as seen in plan view – from the top).

    Q - What is the total distance, if you will, from ball hitch to end of the actual boat (overhang) and the length of boat? Reason: I need to see if adding for a total 7.5 inch tongue, PLUS the overhang of boat from back of trailer (i.e. total distance) will fit in my garage. My goal is to have the entire thing ready to roll, boats secured, at a moment's notice. Would you suggest, from your experience, that the 7.5 foot total tongue length is necessary, or generously long?

    A – To answer this question I placed my Swift Shearwater on the trailer – the boat is 16’2” long and was placed on the rack to one side (as if two boats were being carried side by side). Note that the rack arms (what the canoes actually sit on) are about 8’ apart from each other. The overhang (past the rack arm) of that boat is about 49” at each end. Distance from the end of that boat to the center of the ball is about 37”. Note image # 2395 at my Webshots canoe trailer album: http://sports.webshots.com/photo/2536985330092377353VZwvoX?vhost=sports That shot shows the amount of distance from the front of that boat (Shearwater) to the side of my Jeep when the loaded trailer is “folded” a bit beyond 90 degrees. There isn’t much clearance, but there is just enough to prevent a crushing problem. If I was hauling a longer boat I could either simply slide it further back or center a single boat on the rack.

    Another way of looking at this: the tongue on my trailer (which sticks out a total of 7.5 feet in front of the 8’ cargo area/racks) extends about another 37” past the front of that 16’2” boat. That’s with the boat centered on the rack. Note that the boat is also sticking out beyond the rear of the trailer by about 49”.

    I don’t think the 7.5’ tongue extension is overly generous. Actually it probably would have been a bit better if I’d gone for another few inches. This all depends of course on what length boats you’ll haul. The longer the tongue the more open you’ll be for hauling different length boats. FWIW, I mostly haul 14’/15’ solo canoes.

    FWIW, I did all this purely be “seat of the pants” engineering, which is to say I made it up as I went along. I also didn’t have the constraints you are facing of having to make it all fit inside your garage while loaded. I might suggest that if you have length issues (fitting it all in your garage) you may need to move the boats forward for storage and then move than back (centered) for travel. That would take a few minutes… but it might be needed. Hope that all makes some sense – if not let me know.

    Q - Where'd ya get the metal? I like your thought of getting it all cut before going to the local welder. I need same size metal as you used.

    A – I bought my steel locally at a place called “Metaltech” in Marietta, Ohio. Another place in my area is Coleman’s in Zanesville. While one could buy online (I suppose) the shipping would eat you alive. You’ll want to find a local steel supplier – every city has ‘em. Yellow Page it. All the steel for this project cost around $300. Cutting the metal: get a metal cutting chop saw. They can be purchased for around $100 for an off-brand or another hundred+ for a brand name. You’ll also need a hand-held mini grinder (under a hundred) equipped with a grinding wheel and a flap sander head. Having a bench grinder is also handy, but not absolutely necessary. Files for some clean up of course – and a big pile of c-clamps. I also used a long bar clamp for holding the center rail in place (connects front rack to back rack). I’ll bet you’ll get on the nerves of your neighbors with all the racket you’ll make fabricating steel components in a community with covenants! Hehehe… sounds like a bit of fun to me! LOL

    Q - Finally (for now, likely more later): I notice you have many angled uprights (front and back) of each boat support, plus a lengthy of iron spanning horizontally from front to back support. Necessary? I would have thought the upright supports themselves, once welded would be sufficient for 5-70 lb boats. I was even considering having them removeable so that I could use the trailer for different items if needed (I read your comment about not making it too much of a hassle. I was just hoping to make one change at end of kayaking season). Does your experience, however, show that the uprights really need that amount of angle and cross span support.

    A – I loosely patterned my trailer after the Blue Mountain Outfitter’s and Mo Trailer’s rigs. There are really only three angled braces: one from the front rack to the tongue and two more from the center rail to each of the two racks. All the braces are to prevent “racking” from front to back which is where most of the stress occurs – or so my “seat of the pants” theories tell me. My thinking is that these braces dampens vibration and vibration is what could ultimately lead to failure of an assembly like this. Again, I took inspiration from the two commercial trailers I liked the looks of most.

    As to making the trailer convertible for other uses. That might be a very good idea, but you’ll have to make that call. I’m in a position where I now own 4 different trailers and I use them for various tasks. That’s a great convenience for me, but it would no doubt be extreme overkill for most people). I’m a landscaper/nurseryman/farmer/woodworker/canoeist/jack of many trades. I’m often hauling my backhoes and tractors and have a crew towing lawn maintenance equipment around, etc, etc… Most people would probably find a single true utility trailer that could be used for a variety of different jobs to be most practical. …it just depends on your needs/situation and storage capabilities, etc…

    Anyway, I hope some of the above helped! - Randall
  • Options
    Perhaps you could come up with a simple rack system built of 2X4s that could be mounted and dismounted using carriage bolts and wing-nuts. That’s what I had for my last utility trailer and it actually worked just fine. The only real problem with that set up was that it took time to set up and take off when not in use. The best part was the multi-use capability of the trailer and the fact that is was inexpensive to build using simple wood parts and readily available hardware. …the downside is the conversion back and forth. Ah… life is a trade off… - Randall
  • Options
    Thanks for the kind compliments. My wife walked in the room as I was chuckling at the word you coined: “Arkayifie” Hehehe… We enjoyed that a bunch – & she’d be the first to tell ya that I DO get carried away! Of course now Barb will now have a new word to describe my excesses! You dog! ;^) - Randall
  • Options
    Thanks Mike.

    I used contact cement to hold the indoor/outdoor carpet in place. Time will tell how the cement and the carpet hold up… I decided on the carpet because it was almost identical to “bunk carpet” being sold for use on standard boat trailers. The foam blocks you noticed in the pics (good eye for detail) were indeed protecting the wood rails on two of my composites canoes. That was just a “set-up” photo to see how things were working out. I had not yet installed the carpeting on the racks. While I’m reasonably sure the carpeting will work out just fine for most of our canoes (with vinyl and/or aluminum rails) I might very well continue to also use foam canoe blocks for my wood railed canoes. I’m a hopeless nutcase about keeping my wood railed composite canoes in prissy condition… I’m obsessive – but at least I fess up to it… ;^) - Randall
  • Thanks, Arkay.
    I have to head out now, but plan to read again every word of your nice reply. Thank you.

    Your time in posting these photos and answering these questions is well spent as Advice section on Pnet is archived. I am sure your experience will help many.

    You should pick up a course on welding, and start your own canoe/kayak trailer company. You'd make a killing.

    More later. Thanks.
  • Please tell Barb to feel free to use a Y
    ... instead of "ie"

    I couldn't decide. Enjoy!
  • Options
    Double dog!
  • Very nice trailer.
    I went the other route and built my 4x7 from scratch. I am a "builder of things" and just had to do it from scratch. It took lots of time. I was given a wrecked boat trailer with a 4' axle and 12" wheels. The frame was trashed. Bought new 750 lbs springs and hangers from Northern Tool and Supply (mail order) and 2 1/2" 14 gauge square tube for the new frame from a local steel supply company. Any medium sized town should have a steel supplier and a good one will help you choose the right materials for your project. So far the trailer has done great. It carries ladders, boats, tools, and my motorcycle. I needed a light duty, lightweight trailer since I pull it with a 4 cyl Ranger or a 4 cyl Wrangler. I would post a picture if I could.
  • Duggea did a nice job
    Much nicer than my frankin trailer. but it got modified peice meal. but cost me next to nothing.
  • Wow! Nice job
    Wait 'til I show Dave...he's always wanted to build a trailer.
  • Arkay, I have reread your answers...
    -- Last Updated: Jul-22-07 7:51 AM EST --

    ...and thank you for them. Yes, I know what you mean about the 37 inches in front of boats to hitch, and 49 inches of boat overhang to back. Good reference for me.

    I wish I could find the eBay past auction from about 3 months ago, but it is gone. A fellow was selling a kayak trailer that was by no means as nice as yours, but it was homemade and it did incorporate many ideas for the deck. I think this will be your next fun part (if you want, some would argue against complexity). The eBayer had compartments for 5 gallon fresh water bottles, and some form of electrical hookup, and even as you suggested some smaller enclosed areas--all built onto a uility trailer like ours. Although it was really "homemade" looking (unlike yours, which reflects a more refined finished product), his did have some neat ideas.

    Plenty of further ways to pimp it out. A long box, for instance, padded out as a gentle place for paddles (perhaps even locked) might be an idea. Someone on the other thread mentioned it, I think, about a more open "box" of wire, material, sort of like your original trailer bed itself, that could be used to transport wet gear (e.g. PFDs, wet clothes) home so that, by the time you're home, its all wind dried and will not mold.

    I also wonder, slightly, about mud and road debris getting all over the boats (moreso than would be on a high roof rack). Plus pebbles can actually ding, esp at 70 mph. I can imagine a rainy day, backroads, pulling the trailer and having one whale of a mess on the boats and the gear underneath the boats. Someone mentioned mudflaps on the pulling vehicle, which is a need, certainly. I suppose time will tell. I can see that you are appropriately protective of your nice canoes, and maybe some tarped front "cover" over the angled upright from the tongue would help on a rainy muddy day. I know, tarps flap. I am just thinking.

    Thanks, Arkay. I am going to get thinking about mine, then cutting off the drop gate and hinges, step one.

  • Options
    You’re welcome – glad to be of help.

    Regarding road dirt, dings, etc. This is my second canoe trailer and both carried the boats at about the same height (from the road) and approximately the same distance from the tow vehicle. I really have not found road dirt, dings, mud, etc to be much a problem on the boats. I finished the current trailer a couple of weeks ago and took it out for a long road trip this past week. We did a tour of the Little Miami River (National Scenic designated river) over near Dayton/Cincinnati Ohio. Most of the towing was on paved roads, but we also did some dirt and gravel roads. After we returned I noted that most of the dirt and mud was on the very lowest part of the trailer (nearest to the road) and on the front of the trailer fenders. Very little grim got on the boats. I didn’t see any dings on the boats at all. I don’t currently have mud flaps on my tow vehicle (Jeep). I’d be much more concerned if I was traveling long distances on gravel roads – like we have encountered many times in more remote parts of Canada and West Virginia. I think adding mud flaps is a bit of a no- brainer, it costs little and probably would help. Also getting cover bags for the boats would be a good idea. But that being said I really don’t see dirt/dings as being a really big problem on a trailer. I think it’s not really much different from roof-topping. …of course with roof-topping bugs are a bigger problem… they end up mostly splattered on the INSIDE stern area of canoes as opposed to the bow. …I always find that curious…

    Regarding lidded boxes, containers, etc for cargo area: I’m still tossing ideas around in my head for that. The combination of dry bags, Igloo (type) coolers, Rubbermaid containers, etc worked out fine for our last trip – which was actually a “car camping” type adventure. That’s what we’ve been using for car camping for a long time. When we’re out doing true canoe tripping everything is packed in portage bags (no coolers Rubbermaid containers). The only real problem I have with those sorts of cargo arrangement is that it doesn’t offer any security when we stop along the road to pop in a store or stop for the night on a long trip for a motel. While at motels we find we typically have to haul stuff into our room – or risk leaving it exposed overnight (boats are cabled of course). A pair of large lidded boxes (about 2.5’ wide X 8’ long) would really be handy in situations like that. They could be fitted with hasps and locks. If I were to make boxes like that I’d only lock them for quick store stops and overnight motel stops. I’d really hesitate to lock them at remote put-ins for fear of returning to find them broken into. My approach would be to take everything with me (while on the water) and simply leave the cargo boxes open and unlocked. I’m still pissed about returning to my vehicle a few years ago near Algonquin and finding that thieves had broken into the cap of my pick-up truck… My approach these days is to not leave anything in the vehicle (or trailer) and hopefully they’ll leave the tow vehicle alone. A locked cargo box at a remote location seems like an “invitation” to a thief to break and enter – if only just to see what’s inside. That’s my take on it anyway – I’m sure opinions differ on that sort of thing. …just some thoughts…

    In the mean time I’m thinking the various dry bags and plastic containers we’re using for cargo work just fine and all I really want is a cargo net to keep things from sliding around.

    Better shut up and get on the road – we’re heading for Kentucky today – sans boats (boo hoo!) - Randall
  • Options
    Honey do list?
    Does this mean I’ve inadvertently added to Dave’s “honey do” list? …Maybe I can buy him a beer at Raystown as an atonement… ;^) - Randall
  • Neat, Arkay. Thanks for ur tips.
    I'll let you know how my rig comes along.
  • Nice Job
    I have a old rowboat trailer I am planning on converting. Now I just need my old mad to show/teach me how to weld....
  • Options
    Rowboat trailer

    See the post by “duggae” above – he started with an old boat trailer also. He might have some helpful hints for you. - Randall
  • What can I say
    that hasn't been said, beautiful job Randall. I expect that there will be a full inspection team assemble at Raystown to Oooh and Aaah.

    Looking forward to the chance.
Sign In or Register to comment.
Message Boards Close

Hello, Paddler!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!