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.

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

Deciding how to move your boat may seem like a huge deal, but it’s relatively common and surprisingly simple to arrange.

Let’s see how.

Before we dive in, here are some links that will help you figure out how to incorporate your boat into your move along with other household goods.

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 hand, transporting a 97-foot mega-yacht to an overseas port can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Depending on your particular situation, your transport cost is dependent on –

  • The dimensions and weight of your boat
  • The method of transportation you use
  • Its value and the cargo insurance you purchase
  • Any extra services required like winterization and disassembly/reassembly of aftermarket equipment

Using U-Ship to Move Your Boat

One of the easiest ways to ship a boat to your new home is to use U-Ship. If you’re looking for a convenient option that’s well-vetted by thousands of customers, U-Ship is a great option.

U-Ship has over 41,000 service providers all across the U.S. making it easy for anyone, anywhere to schedule a pick up.

They also have 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 quote on shipping your boat. 

Other Ways to Move a Boat

When moving a boat from point A to point B, you’ll generally have the following options –

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

1. DIY – Tow Your Boat on Its Trailer

Towing a boat or jet ski behind a personal vehicle is popular among do-it-yourselfers with relatively small craft – those shorter than about 25 feet long.

In some cases, you can tow larger boats too, 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.

You’ll also want to factor in the cost of fuel – as in 10 miles per gallon or less – as well as food, tolls, and lodging for each day you’ll be on the road.

Insider’s Tip

Before towing your boat, check with your auto and boater’s insurance companies to see what they will and will not cover while in transit.

2. Ship a Trailered Boat with a Professional Boat Hauler (Overland)

Because it’s fast and relatively inexpensive, most people ship their boats via truck.

Those on the smaller end of the spectrum may be shipped on their trailers 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, heavy-duty pickup trucks or small single-axle tractors usually power these hotshot trucks.

Hotshots 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.

Also, hotshot drivers aren’t boat transportation specialists but “Jacks of all trades.”

In short, finding a reputable shipper with experienced drivers and verified customer reviews isn’t easy, and horror stories of missing and damaged boats and runaway costs abound.

That said, when shipping by a truck, there are a number of general restrictions, including but not limited to –

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

If your boat is larger, shipping via truck may still be an option, but you’ll have the added expense of oversize or overweight permits (and possibly escort vehicles) for each state through which it will travel.

The trucking or shipping company will get these permits from the appropriate authorities, but they’ll pass the cost along to you…with a markup.

Insider’s Tip

Always get a written list of requirements and restrictions from your boat transport company well in advance of your move date.

3. Ship a Boat on its Hull by Truck

Many large boats and yachts are too wide, too tall, and too heavy to be towed by personal vehicles.

But though these behemoths don’t have their own trailers, they can often be transported on commercial 18-wheeler trailers.

They will ship your boat on a flatbed, step-deck, or specialized boat trailer resting on their hulls in cases like this.

But fear not, the driver and crew will 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, but if your boat falls within acceptable ranges, it’ll be ready for transport by –

  • Securing the engines, rudders, and propellers
  • Removing or securing loose items inside cabinets and storage areas
  • Removing or attaching antennas, radar units, outriggers, and bimini tops
  • Closing and latching doors, windows, and hatches

Keep in mind that your boat transport company may provide some or all of the services for you, but they may request or require that you do some of them.

4. Transport by Ship

For well-heeled super-yachts owners looking to have their pricy vessels transported between New York and the West Coast or Alaska, shipping by sea is the way to go.

When money isn’t an issue, you’ll need to hire a full-service freight forwarder specializing in the long-distance ocean transportation of oversize and extraordinarily valuable craft.

Called 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 to your final port or marina.

Such companies usually have tons of experience dealing with discerning clientele, and they offer truly “white glove” service.

You won’t need to lift a finger – until it’s time to write that whopping $37,000 (or more) check.

5. 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 battered by a storm off Nantucket or blown a head gasket 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 over decades of boat ownership, it might not be a problem, but for most, long-distance trips are out of the question.

Hiring a professional “delivery captain” is an option too. Still, you’ll need to ask for personal referrals and vet candidates carefully. For larger boats, you may need additional crew members as well.

And don’t forget that you’ll need to buy fuel, supply them with provisions, pay for their transportation to your home port. Then when the journey is complete, you cover unexpected expenses arising from mechanical issues and unpredictable storms.

6. Ship it Inside a Container or Roll-On Roll-Off (Ro-Ro)

You can also ship small boats inside an enclosed container like household goods are on overseas moves.

With 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 they’re subject to movement and shifting during transit.

With a ro-ro boat move, you drive your trailered boat onto the ship at origin, and secure it below deck. Then you drive off at the destination, after which the company will deliver it to your new residence or marina.

Alternatively, they may provide port-to-port service for a lower price, in which case they will require you to move it to and from the port at both ends.

Last-Minute Tips for Moving a Boat

  • As you would with regular moving companies, getting multiple free quotes is the best way to ensure you get competitive pricing.
  • All boat movers are not the same, so ask for referrals and vet the companies you’re considering thoroughly.
  • Shrinkwrap antennas, folding tops, hatches, and swivel chairs in place before towing your boat
  • And last, before putting it in the water, make sure you haven’t forgotten the drain plugs.

If you’re moving your boat to a new home, check out our list of the top professional moving companies. Want a price quote for your move? Try out our moving cost calculator. It might not include the price of a boat, but you can learn how much to expect to pay for the rest of the move.

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