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How to Trim a Boat

Many new boaters often ask the question, "what does 'trim' mean"? Knowing what it means to trim a boat, and how to properly trim a boat, will improve its performance and fuel economy. Trim is simply the running angle of the boat as it makes way in the water; when we adjust the trim we are either raising or lowering the bow (the front of the boat). Here’s how it works...

5 Basic Steps to Trim a Boat

Trim is controlled with a toggle button on the control lever or on the dash.

The trim system uses hydraulic rams to change the angle of the outboard motor or sterndrive gearcase—and with it the angle of the propeller shaft—relative to the boat transom, through a range of about 20 degrees.

When the boat is on plane and the prop shaft is parallel with the water surface, the trim is said to be neutral or zero. In this state, all of the propeller force is pushing the boat forward.

When the trim button is pressed down, the gearcase moves closer to the transom until it bottoms out at about negative 6 degrees from zero trim. Now the prop shaft is aimed up 6 degrees, and some of the force is lifting the stern of the boat. When the stern is lifted, the bow is pushed down—just like a teeter totter on a playground.

When the trim button is pressed up, the gearcase rotates away from the transom and, once it’s past the neutral point, the prop-shaft is pointed downward. Now some of the prop thrust is pushing the stern down, and thus lifting the bow.

Just remember that the boat’s bow will move in the same direction you press the trim button—button up is bow up, button down is bow down.

Adjusting Your Boat's Trim

Negative trim—when the trim is all the way down—is used to help get the boat on plane as it accelerates away from dead in the water. The angle of the propeller thrust will help lift the stern and push the bow down so that the boat rolls smartly up onto the water.

Try to power on plane with the drive trimmed out, and the prop will dig a hole behind the boat and the bow will point skyward, probably blocking your view forward, as the boat struggles to plane. You may get on plane eventually, but you are wasting fuel and putting undue stress on the engine.

Once on plane, it’s time to trim up to raise the bow so that the boat is skimming along over the water, rather than pushing through it.