Skipper and I have trailered and cartopped our assortment of boats from an 8′ punt up to a 22′ Catalina to and from a lot of launch sites across the country, so we know our way around more than a tie-down or two. We have used rope and several different types of webbing straps with varying levels of success and have recently come across an answer for all of our tie-down needs: purpose-made straps from CustomTieDowns.

A well-designed strap for a small boat will secure the load without damaging the boat. We have come to prefer straps of 2″-wide webbing because they distribute loads evenly across the decks and gunwales of lightly-built small boats. A common ratchet strap with 1″ webbing can easily be overtightened and exert forces up to 2,000 lbs across a small contact area. If a narrow strap concentrates too much of a load in the wrong spot, it can damage not only the finish but even the structure of the boat.

Photographs by the authors

A set of 2″ polyester straps provide a strong connection to the trailer while spreading the load out over the points of contact.

CustomTieDowns offers webbing straps in polyester, nylon, and polypropylene. The materials have different ratings for load and UV resistance. Polyester is the best material for straps that will be used in the marine environment, having the highest load ratings, high UV resistance, and good resistance to mildew, rot, and abrasion. It also has the lowest water absorption and minimal stretch. Nylon webbing is mid-grade; it has more stretch when wet and gets tighter as it dries, so it can’t be relied upon to keep a constant tension. Polypropylene is the lowest grade because it has even more stretch, the lowest abrasion resistance, and the lowest load rating.

CustomTieDowns offers polyester webbing straps in widths from 1″ up to 4″ in a variety of lengths and colors. High-visibility orange or red may be good colors to use for gunwale tie-downs to help prevent launching while the boat is still strapped to the trailer (not that we’ve ever done that). CustomTieDowns sews the strap ends with UV-resistant thread, which prevents a weak point that can develop over time. We’ve had a winch strap let go when sun-weakened stitching failed.

CustomTieDowns provides a variety of attaching hardware including S-hooks (with and without retainers), loops, flat hooks, snap hooks, bolt plates, angle-bolt plates, grommets, J-hooks, spring fittings, and spring hooks with D-rings. These options are helpful since trailers and their attachment spots vary. We prefer vinyl-coated S-hooks because the vinyl coating helps protect against dinging a boat’s finish. Vinyl-coated S-hooks are offered with load ratings of 500, 1,500, 3,000 or 5,500 lbs and are made from chromium-molybdenum alloy steel tubes in several diameters. CustomTieDowns matches the hook to the overall strength of the tie-down ordered, unless the higher-strength, larger hook is specified by the purchaser. Other hook material options include 304 stainless and zinc-plated steel.

The quick-release buckles are easier to use than ratchets and not as likely to put too much pressure on a boat.

CustomTieDowns has a variety of buckles to choose from. In the past we have used ratchets, cam buckles, and over-center buckles from other manufacturers. Our favorite CustomTieDowns buckle is the standard quick-release. It’s steel with a resin finish on the frame and zinc on its wire bale. A stainless-steel version is available, but it has a lower working load and breaking strength. The quick-release buckle allows easy adjustment of the strap length and, once the strap length is set with the correct tension for transport to the launch area, it is preset for the return trip home. Skipper also has a much easier time manipulating the quick-release buckle than a ratchet strap. I do not like the metal ratchet mechanism, especially on the narrower straps; it is time-consuming to operate and can be difficult to tighten and release with cold, wet hands.

One good option with any CustomTieDowns buckle is to also order a nylon protective pad for use under the buckle. The fixed-end length of the strap that is sewn to the buckle can be ordered in a length that will put the buckle in a position most convenient for one’s use and keeps its metal edges away from surfaces that could be damaged.

The polyester webbing comes in 11 colors so you can use color coding to differentiate one strap from another and more easily grab the correct strap from a pile in the back of the towing vehicle.

CustomTieDown straps are well made and ship fast from Oregon. Having the right strap for the job gives us comfort in knowing that our boats and gear are secure and saves us time when we are getting ready to haul our boats to and from the water.

Audrey “Skipper” and Kent “Clark” Lewis have traveled with boats to the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and now explore the littoral areas of the Middle Atlantic states. Their longest trailer haul (so far!) was 1,384 miles. Their messing-about in boats is blogged at Small Boat Restoration.

The model 3108 2″ quick release tie-downs (starting at $12.09) with quick-release buckles and protective pads are available from along with a wide array of other options.

Is there a product that might be useful for boatbuilding, cruising, or shore-side camping that you’d like us to review? Please email your suggestions.