How to Tie Down a Jet Ski on a Trailer

Part of responsible jet ski ownership is understanding how to use a trailer to transport your jet ski. You need to ensure that your jet ski is properly tied to your trailer when transporting it from storage to sea.  

How do you tie down a PWC (personal watercraft) on a trailer? To tie down a PWC onto a trailer properly and safely, you’ll want to first invest in high-quality equipment specifically designed for your PWC. You’ll need a tie-down or ratchet straps and S-hooks, a winch – and an additional safety strap or chain for added security.  

Loading and Transporting Your Personal Watercraft

It is important to follow safety precautions on the water when riding a jet ski, but it is just as important to practice safety off of the water as well. 

Getting yourself onto the water with ease requires a bit of a learning curve when it comes to properly loading, tying down, and transporting your jet ski. You certainly do not want your jet ski bouncing around on your trailer as you drive, and you absolutely do not want it stolen.

One of the most common reasons for damage to jet skis is not due to accidents on the water but those that occur off of the water due to inexperience with the trailer itself.

A seemingly insignificant bump on the road or slam on the breaks could be disastrous not only for your jet ski but for your own safety and that of those around and behind you.  

So we’ll go over a step-by-step process that will show you how to properly secure your PWC to a trailer, as well as how to reload after the fun. We’ll also go over some basic types of trailers, tips for trailer use, as well as the materials you’ll want to have at your disposal.  

Choosing a Trailer for Towing Your Jet Ski 

There are quite a few different types of trailers on the market. They come in multiple sizes and have the ability to tow one or two jet skis at a time.

Trailers are typically made out of aluminum, but some are made out of steel, and there are advantages and disadvantages to each. 

Steel Trailers

Steel trailers are heavier and slightly stronger than aluminum. But the material can rap unless regularly repainted or coated with rust-prodding. This material is the most popular that is used because it is cheaper. But steel trailers are heavier and require more upkeep.

These trailers can be found in one or two ski capacity. They range from entry-level to premium heavy duty.

Pros of a Steel Trailer:

  • Cost-effective
  • More simplified repairs – many can be done by owner 
  • Stronger material and more durable
  • Added color options/choices
  • May be better for larger towing vehicles/trucks
Sea Doos on a dual aluminum trailer

Aluminum Trailers

Aluminum is a great material; these are less prone to damage from corrosion. Aluminum will bend more easily and is not as hard as steel. But aluminum trailers are more expensive because of these advantages.

These trailers can also be found in one or two jet ski riding capacity. 

Pros of an Aluminum Trailer:

  • No rust or corrosion on aluminum components
  • Lightweight – allows for higher load capacity
  • Resale value can be higher than steel
  • Many aluminum trailer companies have a longer warranties
  • Better for use with small vehicles

Deciding upon the best trailer for purchase is more of a personal decision and will depend on a variety of factors including frequency of use, whether you plan to tow one or two PWCs, and your towing vehicle.  

Trailer Safety

If you’ve ever passed a large commercial truck on the highway going 60 plus miles an hour, you’ve probably cringed a bit as you passed in a parallel lane, hoping the driver was keenly aware of your presence. 

There’s a reason that there are special licenses to go along with driving larger vehicles of this nature, and it’s a mistake to assume that driving with a trailer attached to your vehicle is as easy as driving without it.  

With that in mind, go to an empty parking lot and practice tight turns — boat ramps are narrow and can be difficult to navigate. Practice backing up too, and note your line of vision. 

Remember, you’ve got a large, heavy attachment that you are carrying.

It’s going to take your vehicle a bit more power not only to accelerate but also to slow down, so leave more distance between yourself and the driver in front of you. Unlike larger boat trailers, personal watercraft trailers don’t have separate braking systems to assist.

Before you load, it’s also important that you always inspect not only the trailer itself but your tow vehicle.

Check for wear and tear, corrosion, flat tires, and properly working lights. Any of these issues could wreak havoc not only on your weekend but your PWC as well.  

Finally, you’ll want to make sure that you have the good, high-quality materials you need to properly tie down your jet ski. This is one thing you don’t want to cut corners on. 

Tie Down and Secure Equipment 

When it comes to gathering the equipment you need to properly tie down your PWC, the most important consideration is that you invest in high-quality materials that are specifically designed for your watercraft. 

Certain tie-down straps and hooks that we’ll discuss in more detail next are meant to work best with particular watercraft sizes or brands, so don’t assume that the old straps you have from your previous jet ski will work fine with your new one. 

Invest in the correct, best quality equipment, even if it means spending more on newer materials. 

The most common method of securing your jet ski to the trailer is through the use of ratchet tie-down straps that generally come with S-shaped hooks meant specifically for towing large loads, as well as a winch.  Some trailers, like my Triton double, have built-in rear tie down straps. You don’t have to use them though.

Tie down straps can be built into trailer like this dual set for loading and tying down your jet ski
Some trailers have 2 built-in tie-downs for each ski

A winch is essentially a “wind up” device that either pulls in or releases tension on a strap (source) securing the front of the ski to the trailer.

In this case, the winch is going to be used to let down your jet ski into the water, as well as pull it up onto the trailer when reloading. In combination with the tie-down straps, the winch is going to keep your PWC from rolling off the bunks or back of your trailer. 

The bunks are simply the long boards on the trailer that are used to support your PWC. We’ll talk about those — and how to adjust them — a bit further down.  

In addition to tie-down straps, another added piece of safety equipment is another safety strap or, better yet, a chain that you can connect from the trailer to the front bow eye of your PWC.  

This is going to provide more security should any other piece of equipment — the strap, winch, or otherwise — break or fail to work unexpectedly.  

When it comes to securing your PWC, you will not regret investing in added safety and protection. The cost of replacing accessories is far less than the cost of damage to your PWC.  

Tie Down Straps and S-Hooks — Why You’ll Need Them

You will need what is referred to as ratchet tie-down straps to secure your jet ski onto the trailer and transport it safely.

The straps are designed for wear and tear with everyday use in and out of the water. Tie-down straps are made of a very strong fabric woven into a strip. 

Your tie-down straps will also have a “ratchet” attached to the shorter end, which is simply a device that allows movement in one direction only, which is exactly what you want when securing your PWC (source). 

These types of straps are the strongest straps on the market, and the best to use for tying down your jet ski. 

Most tie-down straps are adjustable to properly fit your PWC and have attached S-shaped hooks (source). 

S-hooks are important as they are designed to keep a secure hold. Most S-hooks are also PVC coated to slow down the process of rusting and corrosion, as would occur from exposure to salt water, and prevent frequent replacement.  

The winch, which as we stated earlier is what is going to allow you to pull and release your jet ski into the water, also comes with its own safety/securing strap. However, it is important that you don’t rely on the winch strap alone.

The winch strap is not enough to provide secure transport as it is meant to control the movement of your jet ski from right to left on the trailer, but not vertically (source). 

If your PWC is not properly tied down with the use of both the tie-down straps on the back and the front, as well as the winch strap, it can easily slide off of the bunks of the trailer while driving. 

Securely Tying Down Your Jet Ski

Before tying down your jet ski, you’ll first, of course, need to load it onto your trailer. You’ll want to check your vehicle’s tow capacity to make sure that the weight you will be towing is within your vehicle’s parameters. 

Every vehicle is different and, depending on whether you plan to use a car or a truck, the mounting tools and weight capacity will differ.  

If you plan to tow with a car, you can read more specifics about weight capacity and towing in the article titled, “Towing a Jet Ski with a Car.”

With the proper hitch and accessories, most cars can tow jet skis and trailers.

Once you’ve properly connected your trailer to your vehicle, double-check all wires and connections and ensure that safety lights are working properly before you set out to shore.  

Step-By-Step Guide to Tying Down Your Jet Ski

Once you’ve loaded your jet ski onto the trailer fully forward to the winch bumper, you’ll then want to use a ratchet tie-down strap to secure the back end of your jet ski. 

The winch strap will have a hook that you will attach to the front bow eye of your PWC, providing a secure hold in addition to tie-down straps.

Get the ski right up against the front winch bumper before pulling out of water
Get the ski snug against the winch bumper

If using a single cross tie-down strap, it will have one short strand and one long strand. It will also have 2 connected S-hooks and a third that is not connected to the straps. Or you may have 2 separate tie downs straps, each with a hook.

The S-hooks will each have a closed end that is a complete circle, as well as an open end for attaching to either the trailer or ski. 

Follow the steps below for the single strap version to securely tie down your jet ski:

First, take the long tail piece of your tie-down strap with the attached S-hook, and secure the open end to one rear corner of your trailer.

Next, feed the long strap through the closed end of the detached (third) S-hook, and secure it to the towing hook on the back of your PWC.

After that, attach the short end of the tie-down strap to the other rear corner of the trailer. Follow this by opening the ratchet, and feeding the webbing from the long strap through the slot.

Finally, slowly lift the handle of the ratchet up and down to tighten the strap. To ensure a secure hold, note that the webbing should go around the spindle at least two times.

The remaining webbing should then be tied off to prevent dragging while driving. You’ll see that the webbing is in the shape of a triangle if tied down correctly. 

Before you begin to drive, you always want to tug on your webbing to ensure that it is tightened securely. You may also want to drive a bit and then stop to double-check that your tie-downs are still secure after moving.  

Single rear jet ski tie down
Single rear tie down strap

How Should a Jet Ski Sit on the Trailer?

Trailers are designed to fit different jet skis regardless of size. Accessories can be adjusted to properly fit and secure your PWC. 

Make sure that the bunks (the boards on your trailer) sit evenly on both sides just under the lip of the jet ski. You do not want one side to sit lower than the other. Maintain a center of gravity to prevent the jet ski from weighing down one side of the trailer. Adjust the angle to match the hull angle to get a flat fit.

When you are loading your personal watercraft onto the trailer, be sure that you position the jet ski so the rear of your PWC is flushed with the back end of the bunks. Most of the weight of a jet ski is right where the engine lies. You want that centered one the axle(s).

You will be able to pull the ski on your trailer forward to increase the weight of the tongue and move the ski back to decrease the weight. This is done by adjusting the front stop, which is held in place with a bolt and nut. The tongue weight simply refers to the weight that your loaded trailer exerts downward toward your tow vehicle. 

Bigger jet skies cause an increase in the tongue weight. The idea is to balance the weight so that your PWC is loaded properly and there is not too much weight either to the front or back or to either side.

Finally, double-check that your jet ski is not hanging off of the back of the bunks. If it is, you’ll want to readjust your PWC.  If weight is too far back, you risk having the trailer weave as you tow.

Adjust the front winch position for linger and shorter skis
Adjustable winch positions for different ski lengths

Adjusting Bunks on a Jet Ski Trailer

The common polypropylene carpet material that covers most trailer bunks serves two primary purposes.

The first is a smooth surface for the hull (this is the part of your jet ski that rides on top of the water) to slide on when launching and loading the boat. The second is protection for the hull when the boat is in storage or being towed.

  • The PWC should be on the rear, flush with the back end of the bunks.
  • Use an adjustable wrench to loosen the U-bolts attached to the bunks.
  • You can position them closer or further apart.
  • For smaller PWCs slide the bunks closer together.
  • For larger PWCs move the bunks farther apart.
  • Tighten the U-bolt to secure the bunks in the correct position.

You can loosen the U-bolts that are attached to the bunks. Doing so will allow you to bring them closer together or farther apart, depending on your needs and the size of your PWC.  Your dealer will do this for you if you buy a ski and trailer from the same place.

But you’ll need to DIY if you buy a trailer separately, or if you sell your ski and buy one with different size and haul shape. These also gradually loosen over the years, requiring readjustments. Some do this with ski off, some do it with ski lifted above the trailer, and some do it at a boat ramp so they can load and unload to test adjustments.

Empty jet ski trailer showing adjustable pads from left to right and adjustable angle for different shapes
Width space adjustment circled bracket. Angle adjustment in the rectangle.

Unloading & Reloading Your Jet Ski 

Now that you’ve made it to the boat dock, you are nearly ready to go. Be patient as this step takes a bit of time, and give others enough space around the boat dock to ensure safety for each of you.

Once you are at the dock, you are going to want to back up your trailer down the ramp and stop just before the water. One important note is to make sure that you have disconnected the electrical plug between your tow vehicle and the trailer before backing in further.  

To make sure that your jet ski is working properly, you are going to want to run a dry start. This will allow you to see if your jet ski will start — and that you have gas — without being stuck in the water and stranded. 

Once you have run the dry start, you are going to unhook your back ratchet strap. Right now, you can leave the front and winch straps on, but you’ll want to loosen the front strap and disengage the winch, winding it so that you can back your jet ski into the water.

Then, unhook the front strap and unlock the winch strap to detach from your PWC. Back your jet ski up into the water fully. Push the jet ski off of the trailer, but be sure to keep a hold of the jet ski. If launching with a rider, you may just back up a little deeper and let them float off.

Do not leave your PWC unattended if you can avoid it. It is best to have someone else drive the trailer out of the water. 

If you have a model PWC that has a reverse switch, you can jump on to your jet ski and take off. If you do not have this model, you will simply have to manually turn the jet ski around to face the water. 

We prefer to place trailer slightly deeper than this to drive to the winch bumper

Reloading Jet Ski at the Boat Launch

After a day of fun, you’ll need to get your jet ski back onto your trailer.

The good news is that this process is generally a bit easier than loading your jet ski at home since you have the help of the water, and a lot of the materials you need are already in place. 

Many experienced riders will ride the jet ski onto the trailer, though this is not recommended until you have more experience riding.

First, and most importantly, be sure that that electrical plug is still disconnected between the trailer and your tow vehicle. It should already be disconnected since you did so when unloading, but it is best to double-check each time.  

You may also want to double-check that your bunks are in the proper position so that you don’t have to make adjustments in the water, which is much more difficult. 

Back your trailer into the water until the bunks are about halfway covered, but only so much so as to avoid submerging the rear tires or vehicle exhaust. 

Keep your exhaust running, too, to avoid having water get into your exhaust pipe, which could cause problems for your tow vehicle.

Line up your jet ski and very slowly drive it onto the trailer, centered properly onto the bunks to ensure that the weight is distributed evenly. 

Turn your PWC off — unless you are on a very steep ramp, in which case you may want to leave it running to avoid it rolling off of the trailer. In most cases, however, this is not necessary.

Once your PWC is properly sitting on the bunks of the trailer, you can begin the process of tying down your jet ski with tie-down straps, as well as connecting the winch strap to the front bow eye. We first winch the ski tightly to the front, then pull out of the water to attach the rear straps. Double check that the ski remains snug with the front winch bumper.

During the reverse process of reloading from the water, rather than tying down the back of the jet ski first, you can begin with the winch and front straps to make the process a bit easier.  

Final Thoughts 

Tying a jet ski to a trailer is important for getting to your destination safely. Knowing the proper placement of the ties, the winch straps, and using additional safety straps or chains are each crucial in keeping your jet ski in place, and keeping you — and your PWC — safe on your way to the water.  


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Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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