How to Move a Boat Cross Country

After fidgeting with a cranky outboard motor for hours on end, an anonymous sage once said, “The two happiest days in a boat owner’s life are when he buys it and when he sells it.” That may be, but boating is as American as hot dogs and baseball.W

Whether you bought a boat from a private owner or manufacturer in another state or you need your current watercraft shipped from northern Maine to your summer home in sunny Florida, you have several transport options at your disposal.

Moving a boat may seem like a huge deal, but it’s relatively common and surprisingly simple to arrange. With some professional help, boat transport doesn’t have to be a big hassle.

Read on to find out how.

How much does it cost to move a boat?

Shipping a small center-console fishing boat a few hundred miles can cost less than $1,000. On the other end of the spectrum, transporting a 97-foot mega-yacht to an overseas port can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Your ultimate transport cost will depend on the following particulars of your siuation:

  • The dimensions and weight of your boat
  • The method of transportation you use
  • The boat’s value and the cargo insurance coverage you purchase
  • Any extra services you might need during the shipping process, like winterization or disassembly/reassembly of aftermarket equipment

Moving a boat with U-Ship

One of the easiest ways to ship a boat to your new home is by using uShip. If you’re looking for a convenient service that’s been well-vetted by thousands of customers, uShip is probably your best boat transport option.

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U-Ship grants you access to a network of more than 41,000 service providers all across the U.S., making it easy for anyone anywhere to schedule a pickup. Once you’ve listed the details of your boat shipping needs, you then wait for providers to submit boat transport quotes. 

You can review the quotes as well as the customer reviews for each boat shipping company. uShip also provides a shipping cost estimator so you can see what the average quote should be for your shipment.

uShip also offers a secure online payment system and live customer support to answer any questions you have about price, logistics, and more. Check out their website for a free boat-shipping quote. 

Other ways to tackle moving a boat

While moving a boat with uShip is definitely the easiest course of action, it’s not the only available solution. When moving a boat from point A to point B, you’ll generally have the following options:

  • Do it yourself by towing your boat behind your car, van, or pickup truck
  • Ship it on a trailer hitched to a professional boat hauler’s truck
  • Ship it on its hull on a flatbed or step-deck trailer
  • Send it via a yacht transport company or freight forwarder
  • Hire an experienced captain and crew to pilot it to its destination
  • Sail or drive it yourself
  • Ship it inside a container or on a roll-on roll-off (ro-ro) ship

Remember, the most cost-effective option for your boat shipping needs will depend on several factors, such as the size of the boat and where you’re moving to. The type of boat you have can also make a difference — there’s a lot of variation between pontoon and sailboat transport!

To help evaluate your options, we recommend getting boat shipping quotes from multiple boat transport services.

Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of these options for moving a boat.

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1. DIY – tow your boat on its trailer

Towing a boat or jet ski behind a personal vehicle is popular among DIYers with relatively small craft, aka those shorter than 25 feet.

In some cases you can also tow larger boats, but you’ll need a heavy-duty vehicle with a high-torque engine and a sturdy trailer hitch. However, especially in mountainous terrain and inclement weather like rain, ice, and snow, boat hauling is a dangerous endeavor best left in the hands of professionals.

Although this is among the more affordable options, you’ll also need to factor in the cost of fuel (expect to get 10 miles per gallon or less when towing a boat) as well as food, tolls, and lodging for each day spent on the road.

Finally, before towing your boat, check with your auto and boater insurance companies to see what they will and won’t cover while in transit.

2. Ship a trailered boat overland with a professional boat hauler

Because it’s fast and relatively inexpensive, most people ship their boats via truck. Smaller boats may be shipped on their trailers while loaded onto a flatbed (flat rack) or step-deck trailer.

In recent years, many cost-conscious mariners have begun using “hot shot” truckers to move their small boats as well. Unlike their big rig cousins, hot shot trucking loads are generally carried by heavy-duty pickup trucks or small single-axle tractors.

Hot shots are often cheaper, more flexible, and offer quicker delivery times, but they’re subject to fewer federal DOT regulations due to their lighter gross weights. 

It’s also worth noting that hot shot drivers aren’t boat transportation specialists but rather “jacks of all trades.” Not every hot shot driver will have years of experience with boat transport, and horror stories of missing and damaged boats and runaway costs abound.

That said, there are a number of general restrictions when shipping by a truck, including (but not limited to) the following:

  • There must be at least 14 feet of overhead clearance at the point of origin and destination to accommodate loading and unloading
  • Boats usually need to be less than 8 feet (96 inches) wide
  • The total truck height cannot exceed 13 feet 6 inches including the boat, trailer, and add-ons like outriggers, bimini tops, and radar units
  • For full-size tractor-trailers, total gross weight cannot exceed 80,000 pounds

Shipping via truck may still be an option if your boat is larger, but you’ll have the added expense of oversize or overweight permits (and possibly escort vehicles) for each state through which it travels. The trucking or shipping company will obtain these special permits from the appropriate authorities, but they’ll pass the cost along to you — with a markup.

Always get a written list of requirements and restrictions from your boat transport company well in advance of your move date so you know what to expect.

3. Ship the boat inside a container or roll-on roll-off (ro-ro)

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You can also ship small boats inside an enclosed container (just like you would with household goods) for overseas moves.

If you choose this method, you’ll be able to load furniture, clothes, and other personal items inside too. But securing a boat on a trailer inside a container is complex, and containers are subject to movement and shifting during transit.

With a ro-ro boat move, you drive your trailered boat onto the ship at the origin location and secure it below deck. Once it arrives at your destination, you drive it off and the company delivers  it to your new residence or marina.

Alternatively, these shippers may provide port-to-port service for a lower price, in which case they’ll require you to move the boat to and from port at both ends.

4. Ship a boat on its hull by truck

Many large boats and yachts are too wide, too tall, and/or too heavy to be towed by personal vehicles and thus require heavy equipment. Though these oversize boats don’t have their own trailers, they can often be transported on commercial 18-wheel trailers.

18-wheelers will ship your boat on a flatbed, step-deck, or specialized boat trailer resting on its hull. The driver and crew place custom cradles between the trailer deck and your hull to prevent damage, usually in the form of stout timber blocks or mechanical jacks topped with heavy-duty nylon or rubber coverings.

Movers will load your boat onto the trailer with a giant forklift or davit crane, after which they’ll secure it to the deck with straps and chains. Of course, size and weight restrictions apply here as well.

The following tasks need to be completed before moving a boat using this method:

  • Engines, rudders, and propellers need to be secured
  • Loose items inside cabinets and storage areas need to be removed or secured
  • Antennas, radar units, outriggers, and bimini tops need to be removed or attached
  • Doors, windows, and hatches need to be closed and latched

Your boat transport company may provide some or all of these services for you, but they may request or require that you do some of them yourself.

5. Transport by ship

For well-heeled super-yacht owners looking to transport their pricy vessels from New York to San Diego or Alaska, shipping by sea is the way to go. When money isn’t an object, you’ll need to hire a full-service freight forwarder specializing in the long-distance ocean transportation of oversize and extraordinarily valuable craft.

Known as Ocean Transport Intermediaries (OTIs) or Non-Vessel Operating Common Carriers (NVOCCs), they’ll handle every aspect of your relocation, from paperwork and permitting to transportation and customs clearance for your final port or marina.

Such companies usually have tons of experience dealing with discerning clientele, and their services are truly “white-glove.” You won’t need to lift a finger — until it’s time to write that whopping $37,000 (or higher) check for your boat delivery.

6. Hire an experienced captain or sail (drive) your boat yourself

Piloting yachts, powerboats, and sailboats to distant shores can be an epic adventure. But ask anyone who’s been battered by a storm off Nantucket or lost in the Bermuda Triangle, and they’ll tell you it can be a hair-raising and life-threatening experience too.

Depending on where you’re going, it may be possible to stick to navigable rivers and intercoastal waterways. However, in some instances, you’ll need to traverse large expanses of open ocean.

If you’ve earned your sea legs and know-how over decades of boat ownership, this might be possible, but for most, long-distance trips are out of the question.

In some cases, hiring a professional “delivery captain” is also an option. Still, you’ll need to ask for personal referrals and carefully vet candidates. For larger boats or international boat shipping, you may need to procure additional crew members as well.

Don’t forget you’ll need to buy fuel, supply the crew with provisions, and pay for their transportation to your home port. Once the journey is complete, you may also need to cover any unexpected expenses that may have arisen from mechanical issues and unpredictable storms.

How to ensure moving your boat goes swimmingly

To reiterate, for most boat shipping needs, we recommend using uShip to quickly obtain several quotes from reliable boat transporters. But no matter how you decide to move your boat, there are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • As you would with regular moving companies, shop around for multiple free quotes to ensure competitive pricing.
  • Not all boat movers are the same, so ask for referrals and thoroughly vet the companies you’re considering.
  • Shrinkwrap antennas, folding tops, hatches, and swivel chairs in place before towing your boat.
  • Before putting your boat in the water, make sure you haven’t forgotten the drain plugs.

If you’re moving your boat to a new home, be sure to check out our top professional moving companies to see if they can assist with this task. And don’t forget to use our moving cost calculator to figure out how much you’ll pay for the rest of your move so you can appropriately budget for your boat shipping services.

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