How to Properly use Trim Tabs
Wednesday, Mar 18

Trim tabs
Happy Wednesday readers! With the ice leaving us minute by minute, it is reminding me that Spring has SPRUNG! We can now look out the window of the office and see open water, what a sight for sore eyes! It has been quite the ride this winter and the itch to get back to boating is greater than ever. In anticipation of open water, I wanted to give you a few tips on trim tabs that seldom get talked about.
I have done hundreds of boat orientations in my life and I am always shocked by the number of seasoned boaters that either haven’t ever used trim tabs or truly don’t know how to use them! On Lake Erie, your trim tabs can be one of the most useful tool you have to effect the comfort of your boating adventure. There are several things that trim tabs will do for you that really enhance the situation you are in, and I would like to talk to you about a few of them.
First, lets talk about what trim tabs are. Trim tabs are plates on the transom of the boat on both the starboard and port side that allow you to manipulate the angles that the boat rides. You have a switch at the helm that enables you to adjust these at will. There are several brands and styles out there so they all vary but do the same general idea. This effects the ride, dryness, and performance of the boat pretty dramatically. Too much weight on one side of the boat? Put that sides tab down and instantly you are level. Ever been on a boat where the captain is yelling at everyone to sit still or move people till the boat sits flat? Trim tabs will solve this kind of issue. Lets talk about a few instances where tabs fit the bill.
boat wont plane
If you have ever run an under-powered boat, you will know exactly what I am talking about. Bayliner was known for this back in the 80’s when they would equip a 21ft boat with a 3.0l engine which back then likely had 110hp at the prop shaft! What resulted from this was a boat that you had to run hard, and that took a while to get on plane. If you had a boat full of people, you wouldn’t expect to see the water anytime soon after goosing the throttle. As anyone in the situation can tell you, it can be a bit frustrating to not be able to see for 15 seconds until the boat levels off! Not only that, but if you want to pull a skier, FORGET IT! Trim tabs will not instantly solve your power issue, but they most definitely will help your bow rise issue! Adding trim tabs to an under-powered unit can really help with your plane time and also allow you to run a little slower to stay on plane, which we will talk about shortly.
The obvious use for trim tabs is to keep the boat LEVEL! If you are carrying an uneven load on the boat, trim tabs make leveling the boat instant and easy. If people move around on you, you simple adjust your tabs to compensate for the weight distribution and you are now running level again! I would guess this is the original inventors idea on why we needed trim tabs in the first place!
The next use I want to talk about is a big one for Lake Erie or any big water lake. The ability to be able to stay on plane at a slow speed is huge! It Lake Erie is rolling and you can’t run 35 MPH then slowing down is necessary. The issue with this can also be falling off plane and that magical speed can’t be locked in so you are dancing with the throttle the entire time. It is never fun when you are on the throttle the entire run, but in rough seas it only makes it worse! With trim tabs, you can now slow the boat down and trim the tabs to the fully down position allowing the boat to be slowed down but keeping the bow down. Now you can see where you are going, you can keep a constant speed, and you can take the rough seas like a champ! This also improves your ride substantially because you have put pressure on your bow to crush the waves. The more trimmed down the boat is the better it rides, but remember this will also make it a bit of a wetter ride as well. There is usually a happy medium where you match your engine trim, trim tabs, and speed to get you the most comfortable cruise for YOU. A word of caution here: Never trim the boat fully down in a following sea! This can be dangerous, in a following sea keep your boat bow HIGH! If you don’t know what a following sea is, it is simply when you are running with the waves. If they are small there are no worries but if you are in heavier seas you need to be careful.
I am no expert in this field, but I have done it a time or two and plane time while doing water sports is very important. Similar to the under powered boat, if you can’t get the bow down quickly, it is awful tough to pull a skier out of the water! Also, when trying to go slow while knee-boarding or tubing, you need to be able to see. Trim tabs will enable you to do both of these things with ease. Again, it will not replace HP but if you are struggling to use your current boat for water-sports…try adding trim tabs or use the ones you have!
This is one of the huge things I never see people use on a boat. If you have ever been in rough seas you have most definitely seen how quartering the waves can be advantageous to the captain. The problem with this, is that it sometimes makes for a very wet ride! This is of course assuming you are in an open boat…hard tops, full enclosures, gull wings, and the like will help prevent this but that is a different blog! For this example lets use a 25 ft bow-rider that doesn’t have an enclosure in 3 ft waves on Lake Erie. You are running straight into the waves to get back to port and now you need to quarter them or run parallel to them for a bit. You make your move, and instantly you get sprayed by the cold lake water. With trim tabs you can now angle the boat AWAY from the wind and tilt that side up higher than the downwind side! This will GREATLY reduce the amount of spray you take and sometimes eliminates the spray completely! This can be uncomfortable due to the angle of the boat but you have to decide which is more tolerable; being soaked, or not being level! I don’t see many people employ this use of trim tabs, but it is a great feature to use on those windy days! Even when the waves aren’t big, a strong crosswind can make for a wet day, use your tabs to stay dry!
This topic is new to me but it is available on many new boats so I decided to talk briefly about it. As you can tell from this blog I like to be able to change the angle of the boat at will and am usually adjusting the tabs constantly, as it can really enhance the experience. However, they now make tabs that are automatic and will adjust the boat for you! This is great for someone who doesn’t want to have to think about it and just wants the boat level all the time. I myself have always adjusted them manually so I don’t like the system but for many people it is the cats meow! The system isn’t an “all or nothing” system, it can be shut off and done manually as well. For many boaters, this could be a great addition to the boat and many manufacturers are offering it in today’s market. Read more about it here:
As you can see, trim tabs are a great tool for any boat on the water. If you are in the market for a boat, spending the extra money for trim tabs is obvious in my book. If you are looking at a boat 21 feet or longer I would almost consider it a must have option! It will make your boating experience all the more fun, and that is precisely what we are after when boating. If you have a boat now that doesn’t have tabs, you can certainly have them installed. Most boats can be retro fitted for trim tabs, but call a specialist to find out on your specific boat. There are many different sizes and styles to choose from, but my favorite are the new Lenco electric tabs with indicator switches! These work well and have lots of great benefits to the user. See more on these tabs here:
I hope you learned something new in today’s blog! Feel free to get a hold of me if you have any questions on tab use, installing tabs, or purchasing tabs and I will do my best to steer you in the right direction! On another note, please comment below and let me know of any topics you would like me to discuss in future blogs. Anything boating related is free game, so let me know! Until next time….
See you on the water,

Jason Clemons

Clemons Boats – Life is better on a boat!
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