Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Building a Home Made Canoe Trailer

Got a youth group you'd like to take down river? Dreaming of float parties on the Mighty Mississippi (or the Not-So-Mighty Brushy Creek)? Maybe you'd just like to paddle the little darlin's out into the swamp and lose 'em. All you need to get them there is a bunch of canoes. The best way to carry a bunch of canoes is on a canoe trailer. Canoe trailers can be kind of expensive, but if you've got an old boat trailer (and who in the South doesn't), then a solid knowledge of welding, some steel, plywood and some imagination can help you build a very nice, easy-to-use trailer upon which to carry your canoe and kayak collection to the river.

First thing you need to do is wash down the old trailer, check the brakes, running lights and generally make sure it meets legal requirements. To register it, you may have to get what's called a builder's title. The county tax assessor's office will be glad to help you with that and charge you a nice registration fee to boot.

Check the tires for wear and proper inflation. Old boat trailers are easy to find around lakeside communities. You can sometimes get them for a song. If you're doing this for your youth group, ask them to donate it. Never hurts to ask. Look for one with as wide a wheelbase as possible. Just make sure the trailer is roadworthy before you start welding things together. Strip off any unnecessary parts like hull rollers and winches that will get in the way of construction.

Next you're going to build two canoe supports with cross trees upon which to strap down your boats. You'll need two measurements.

First, measure the depth of your canoe from gunwhale to keel. Allow 3-4 inches more for maneuver room for each canoe. If you're doing a 6 boat trailer, then it will be 3 boats high. Figure the depth of two boats plus 6-8 inches, plus however far the upright will stick down to where it will be welded to the frame.

Next, measure all your boats to determine how wide and how long they are. Compare the measurements to the trailer to determine how wide to make your crosstrees. Be sure, if you've got 3 foot wide canoes that not only do you make the cross trees 6 feet wide, but add another 6 inches for the upright support and a couple of tie down eyebolts on the end of the cross tree.

Once you know how long your uprights and cross trees are, you can buy the steel - 2/4's for uprights and 2x2's for cross trees. Have them cut to the length you want. You'll need 2 uprights and the same number of cross trees as you have boats. A six canoe trailer will need 6 cross trees.

Next, measure the distance between the front and rear vertical 2 x 4 tube steel supports. mark a piece of 2 x 2 tube steel to form the lengthwise cross-member (or members if you elect to add a second lower one as shown).

Cut the steel once it is all marked. If you don't have the equipment, you can get everything cut at a local welding shop. Tell the steel cutter what you're doing with it. Sometimes a second pair of eyes can spot trouble before it gets made into a permanent mistake. You can't uncut steel. Lay out the cross trees and clamp them in place on the two uprights. Mark where the two angle braces (if you use them) and the lengthwise cross-members attach. Test fit the pieces in the places they go. Make sure everything lines up before you weld it together. Correct any problems, measurements or alignments. Don't forget the gusset plates. Carry the trailer and clamped pieces to the welder or weld them up yourself if you have the skill. Because the trailer is made of steel, it will be heavier than an aluminum or factory-made trailer. A good recommendation is limiting it to six places. An eight-place trailer may be a little top heavy when fully loaded and could strain the boat trailer.

Weld the two uprights in position as shown in the picture. The uprights should divide each canoe into approximately thirds. Get a good welder to do the job if you aren't one. The welds have to be very very solid. Next weld the cross trees to the uprights. The top one can be welded on top of the upright. Weld gusset plates to the joints between the cross trees and uprights to provide extra support. Measure twice, cut once. Have your welder check your work to make sure everything lines up properly.

Have the welder attach eye-bolts to the ends of each cross member to provide handy tie-down points.

Measure the distance between the front cross member and the trailer hitch. Allow at least 1/3 the length of your longest canoe (6 feet for an 18-foot canoe) plus another couple of feet to allow the vehicle to turn without the canoes digging into the back of the vehicle. If your trailer hitch is too short, you'll have to cut it off and extend it to an adequate length. Your welder can do that easily when he's welding the pieces together.

If you welded well, you shouldn't need any angle braces, but use your own judgment. Now measure and cut two marine-grade plywood sheets to construct a box bottom, sides and lid that will fit into the space over the wheels within the frame. Drill 4 1/2-inch holes in the frame, two on each end, to bolt the box in place. Screw the pieces of the bottom of the box and sides together and fit the box into the space in the trailer frame.

Screw the lid to it's hinges and hasp as shown in the picture. You'll probably want to lock the box while the trailer is left unattended. Some people make the box vertical because you don't have to unload a canoe to open it if you put the door on the end. The problem with that is that when you're driving on narrow roads or it's windy, the wind blows sideways against the broad expanse of plywood and against the big light canoes and can make your trailer dance around dangerously. For safety, lay the box flat. It's not that hard to unload the bottom canoe to get to paddles and life jackets.

When the uprights and cross trees are welded in place, paint the trailer with primer, then a good paint for metal in whatever color you choose. Brighter colors help people to see you when approaching from the rear.

Materials List: 
  1. Used boat trailer
  2. Six tube steel cross-members - 6 to 8 foot, 2 x 2 inch (consult with your steel supplier to recommend the proper thickness of the pipe walls)
  3. Two tube steel uprights - 6 to 8 foot, 2 x 4 inch
  4. Two tube steel lengthwise cross-members - 8 to 10 feet long (depends on trailer length)
  5. 1/8-inch steel plate large enough to cut six 5-inch sided triangles
  6. Four steel strips - 1.5 feet long 1/2 inch wide x 1/4 inch thick (optional) Two marine-grade 1/2 inch 4 x 8 plywood sheets >
  7. Welding machine and supplies
  8. Grinder and disk assortment
  9. Clamps
  10. Two or three large hinges and hasp
  11. 1/2" bolts with nuts and washers, 3 to 4 inches long

1 comment:

  1. Hey, I am thinking about building something like this for my kayaks. We have 2 kayaks, and we had to get one J-rack to get them to fit on the roof with both of them at the same time. I found your website while trying to figure out a way to transport our kayaks. We are also thinking about getting another kayak so I don't think another j-roof rack would work because I don't think it would be wide enough. If you could make a youtube video on this I would appreciate it. How much do you think this would cost to build a trailer like this, and could it be removable? I am going to continue checking your site because I love kayaking. If you want to contact me my email is: ldeisig@yahoo.com