pontoon trailer brakes

Brakes on Pontoon Trailers

There seems to be widespread opposition by many customers who don’t want to pay extra for brakes on pontoon trailers. “I’m not going to trailer very far”, “the boat isn’t that heavy”, “we only trailer twice a year”, etc. These were all valid reasons for not wanting brakes. But the average modern pontoon weighs 2000+ lb. and deluxe models commonly exceed 4000 lb. Only the largest SUV’s and half ton pick up trucks have enough “extra” braking capacity to stop these kinds of loads.

There’s another problem with brakes on pontoon trailers that most people don’t think of. The old style drum brakes need service. The less you use them the more service they need. Water gets into the drums and if you don’t travel far enough to heat the brakes up, the water sits and corrodes the moving parts in the brake drums. The more you use a trailer with drum brakes the less trouble you’ll have.

Most state brake laws require pontoon trailers that carry 3000 lb.to have brakes. That 3000 lb. figure means the overall load, not just the weight of the boat, but the weight of the boat and the trailer. The average 22’ tandem axle pontoon trailer weighs close to 1000 lb. so if you put a 2100 lb. pontoon boat on that trailer, in many states the law requires brakes.

The state of Michigan requires tandem axle trailers to have brakes on both (or all) axles. Yet I'll bet that 75% of the brake trailers sold in Michigan only have single axle brakes. How you obey or disobey your local state laws regarding trailer brakes is your decision, although many new boat dealers are recognizing their liability in selling something that does not conform to state laws.
All Pontoon trailers with drum brakes are not the same
pontoon trailer brakes
The photo ato the left shows the difference between 10” and 7” brake drums. Most trailer manufacturers use 10” brakes, but some pontoon trailer builders still use 7” brakes.

With 7” brakes you MUST brake all axles, there isn’t enough stopping power for today’s heavier pontoon boats. Small 7” brakes heat up more easily and with so much less surface to dissipate heat, they frequently fail.

One other benefit of the larger 10” brake is that it’s an “automotive” style brake. If you have a problem you often can get parts locally.

You’ll have trouble finding 7” brakes and parts anywhere except from the trailer manufacturer.
Brake Actuators
trailer brake actuators
concealed prontoon trailer brake actuatorsCustom trailer manufacturers often use the “concealed” brake actuator. It performs the same function, but you don’t have a big hunk of steel on the tongue of the trailer.
Surge or hydraulic brakes are the standard of the boat trailer industry. They are popular because you don’t need brake controllers and special wiring in the tow vehicle. Electric brake controllers and wiring can add $200+ to the cost of trailer brakes. Hydraulic surge brakes are fully contained in the trailer. In a hydraulic brake system, the front of the coupler moves when the tow vehicle slows (brakes) and this sends brake fluid to the brakes to engage them.
The modern concealed coupler shown works the same as the old clunky style without the big brake box. The modern concealed coupler is usually found on custom style or more expensive brands of pontoon trailers. It doesn’t really cost much more but, like LED lighting and radial tires, it costs something and some trailer manufacturers just won’t do the right thing if it adds an extra cost.
Backing up a pontoon trailer with Hydraulic Brakes 
backup lockout Old style hydraulic brakes frequently get bad reviews for problems pertaining to backing up. Especially when backing up an incline. The front of the coupler can be compressed when backing up a hill and the brakes are applied. In older (or cheap) brake systems this can still be a problem. High quality modern surge brake systems have back-up lock outs to prevent the system from engaging when you back up.

Quality pontoon trailers built after 2013 may have a back up solenoid that also helps lock out the brakes when backing up. You’ll recognize this system by the 5 prong light hook up. The fifth prong works off the tow vehicles back up lights and energizes the back-up lock out solenoid. You won’t know this problem exists until the brakes lock up from sitting unused and you can’t move your tow vehicle and trailer. It’s worth asking about before you buy.

pontoon trailer disk brakes
Disc brakes were introduced on cars in 1950. It took until 1989 to see the widespread use in most cars (the trailer industry isn’t the only one to resist change). The internet has a wealth of information (search: disc brakes) about the benefits of disc braking systems. They stop quicker, don’t heat up, no springs to rust, or small parts to corrode. If you’re in salt water you must have disc brakes. If you tow frequently, the benefits of disc brakes are so outstanding that anyone should be willing to pay the little extra for disc versus drum brakes. Or if you’re towing infrequently it might be worthwhile not having to worry about drum brakes locked up from sitting. Disc brakes should be standard on pontoon trailers for larger heavier pontoons, but they cost extra and like LED lights and radial tires, some manufacturers just won’t use them.