How to take your boat when travelling Australia

Australia is incredible. There are more hidden bays and pristine beaches to explore than a lot of countries combined, and if you are lucky enough to have a boat with you when you travel the level of adventure is bumped up considerably.

I personally know this, having done a lot of fishing and spearfishing in Western Australia over the years.

Fishing at Horrocks
A chunky Cobia from near Horrocks

A lot of it has been done out of kayaks in the past, and a few years back I decided to build an off road boat trailer that I could tow anywhere the 4WD would go, and its been one of the best choices made in terms of adventure. 

However, not everyone wants to, or can tow a trailer behind them for a boat. In this post, we look at the options for taking a boat with you when travelling Australia.

Toy hauler and boat
A boat on top of a toy hauler is popular

Tow a boat trailer behind you

Some people love having a boat with them so much, that its all they take with them. To be fair, usually this is not your tinny style boat; normally around the 5 – 7 metres long, full of gear and ready to take on any sort of boating adventure.

Of course, this means you have to either tent, swag or find somewhere to stay each night, unless you can stay in the back of your vehicle (like a motorhome, or converted Ute).

We find this is the best solution for us, as there’s usually someone we go camping with that can tow the boat, and it makes beach launching simple.

4WD boat trailer
Our little Stacer tinny on a bulletproof off road trailer
Sleeping in your vehicle
A lot of avid boaters use a setup like this, allowing them to sleep on board and still tow a boat

Put the boat on the roof of your car, upside down

One of the more common ways to take a small boat is to have it on your roof racks. This is done using a boat loader (there are various ways to winch a boat onto the roof racks) and makes use of light weight aluminium boats, known as boat toppers. These are generally referred to as a rooftop tinny setup.

You are restricted in boat length, width and weight by having it on the roof racks, but its much better than having nothing at all.

Take a look at this – Roof Rack weight limit. It also means you need to find a home for the portable trailer (if you take one), outboard motor, fuel tank, life jackets and other gear you use in the boat.

If you tow a big caravan, its actually possible to improve your fuel economy by having a small boat on front, as it helps to improve the aerodynamics.

Boat loader tinny
A little tinny on top of the vehicle

Usually boat loaders drop the boat down onto the back of the boat, and then you fit the gear to it and push it into the water. This can be done at a boat ramp, or you can take a portable trailer with you to launch the boat.

Doing it this way allows you to tow a camper trailer, or caravan and still take a boat. The downsides of having a boat up top include decreased payload, potential roof rusting issues from salt water dripping onto it and its harder to launch and retrieve than using a trailer.

Put the boat on the roof of your car, the right way up

Only recently, I saw an interesting design, which had a little bigger boat than a boat topper, attached to a trailer, on the roof of a 4WD.

The trailer was flat; it had no suspension, and you attached the wheels on once it was on the ground. It didn’t stick up in the air much higher than a normal boat topper, but I suspect the fuel economy loss would be substantial by having the boat the other way around.

Put the boat on your camper trailer or caravan

A number of camper trailers come with boat loaders, or you can build them yourself. The previous owner of our camper trailer did just that, and I’ve converted it to take some big solar panels.

These fold out of the way, and then the tent folds out. You can also have a caravan with a boat on top, but it seems more popular to do it to the 4WD’s roof. If they are on your camper, you still have to get them to the water, which either means your vehicle anyway, or a portable boat trailer.

Weight is a major issue when it comes to mounting it to a camper trailer. If you don’t have a huge payload, adding a boat loader, boat, outboard and the other gear is going to use a lot of your available capacity.

We ran a boat loader on our Soft floor camper trailer, which was built by the previous owner and it weighed a fair bit.

Camper trailer boat loader
A boat on a camper trailer using a boat loader

From there, you then need to get it into the water, so either you camp within a few metres of water, or you need a portable trailer.

Folding boat trailer
A typical folding boat trailer that is quite light

Again, you are limited in size as it has to fit on the camper trailer, and not break the boat loader! It also increases your time to setup a little, as each time you want to set the camper trailer up you need to fold the boat out of the way.

Rather than take a boat on the loader though, we decided to convert them into somewhere to hold solar panels, and ended up with a major Camper trailer solar and battery upgrade

I have seen boats on pop tops, and then you have to remove the boat off the trailer completely, before lifting it up.

If you are in the market for a camper trailer, have a read of this – The Ultimate Guide to buying a Camper Trailer.

Tinny at Lorella Springs
Nothing beats access to a little boat

Getting a caravan with a boat on top is less common, as they tend to be so high up, and its harder to make the roof suitable for the extra weight

Build a camping setup over the top of a boat trailer

There aren’t too many companies out there who do this design; most of the ones around are built by people in their back shed, or designed and then built by a fabricator.

In essence, you have a strong boat trailer, which is then modified with a frame over the top to take more camping gear. This can be a roof top tent, storage for camping gear, or what ever it may be. I have seen them with water tanks underneath and basic kitchen gear too.

Again, its not the perfect setup, as you either need to launch the boat prior to setting camp up, or somehow get the boat off the trailer and to the water.

Take a folding boat with you

There are some pretty nifty boats out there today that fold up, and are extremely light weight and compact. The Porta Bote is a good example of this, and despite taking some time to set up before you can use it is a brilliant compromise.

Whilst you wouldn’t be taking it out deep sea fishing, they are easily enough to get you beyond the normal reach of others and opening your opportunities for adventure and fishing right up.

Folding Boat at Warroora
A Folding Boat, that packs up to the size of a surfboard (minus the accessories)

Put the boat trailer on the back of your 4WD

Very rarely, do you come across someone who thinks outside of the box. In Kununurra, I saw a big F250 roll into camp with a caravan in tow, and a 4.5 metre boat sitting on an angle, on the back of his ute!

He had the best of both worlds; a nice caravan to stay in, and a decent sized boat to fish from.

Of course, this thing stuck up into the air considerably; there would be some major issues driving in areas which had less than about 2.5 metres of clearance!

Boat trailer on the 4WD
A decent sized boat on the back of an F250, towing a caravan

Our setup

I purchased an older tinny with a new trailer, and beefed the trailer up with new springs, supports and much larger tyres. This allows it to be towed anywhere we want it to, with everything inside and its ready to roll.

Going back a few years we would tow the boat with our 80 Series Land Cruiser, but these days, we have a camper trailer that takes priority, and someone else is usually available to tow the boat. If there isn’t someone to tow it, we leave it at home! 

Our tinny has done the incredible Gibb River Road, most Western Point of WA (Steep Point) and plenty of other rough tracks and continues to allow us access to some of the best places in Australia. 

Our boat at Lake Kepwari
Our boat at Lake Kepwari

If you have the opportunity to take a boat with you, and you enjoy the coastline Australia has to offer, do it!

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  1. Hey Joe,

    At the end of the day, it comes down to what you want, and everyone is different in that regard.

    There’s plenty of places where we’d liked to have had a boat, but far more where its never bothered us. There’s lots of things to do without a boat, especially if only a portion of your family is able, or want to go out.

    No one needs the luxuries of a van, but it makes travelling a lot more comfortable.

    Van parks are not all $70 a night. Sure, some are, but not many and generally they are the same price as a powered tent site. A lot of people are moving to free camping these days, which is easy in a caravan. Our last trip averaged under $15 a night over 3 weeks for accommodation, so it can easily be done.

    Sounds like you are happy with how you do it, and that’s really all that matters

    All the best

  2. Joe Goedhart says:

    I have worked around WA for the last 20 years and lived in congas, hotels, onsite vans and tents. The thing is, that once you’ve arrived, what do you do? Sit in your room? Sit in the pub? After a quick look around you get bored Pretty quickly. Apart from beach fishing, I prefer to tow a boat and load it with my 30 second Oz tents and swags. If you need the luxuries of a van, you may as well not leave home. Also Van parks cost $70 per night. That’s $490 per week. That’s expensive rent or another mortgage…not retirement. A powered tent site is way cheaper.

  3. Hey Chris,

    It’s quite amazing isn’t it. Good to hear you’ve got a nice seajay, and you’ve had lots of adventures with it. All the best with your new build

    Take care

  4. Chris Cahill says:

    Hey mate, we saw that exact same f250 in kununurra jun 2018. Quite the setup. We have a 3.5 seajay nomad on a very sturdy home built trailer that dwarfs the boat. But it got us around the country without a hiccup. There is no such thing as a perfect setup…im already thinking of the next new and improved boat trailer.
    Regards, Chris

  5. Hey Emma,

    Sea kayaks are fun, but hard work! There are certainly some good options for taking a boat around. No matter what though, its still a compromise of sorts

    All the best

  6. Emma Kelly says:

    We have a sea kayak for getting out on the water on travels. Best addition to our set up since we started roaming around in 2017. We have definitely seen some ingenious ways others have managed to get a boat or tinny into their set up. Most recently we meet someone using one of those fold up boats, it seemed to be a great option as well.