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Boat Trailer Showdown: Bunks vs Rollers

Boat Trailer Showdown: Bunks vs. Rollers

Ask a long-time boater whether they prefer carpeted bunks or roller bunks, and you’ll find avid supporters on either side swearing that they’ll never go back to the other. But if you’re buying a new trailer, replacing the bunks on your old trailer, or building a new one from scratch, you have the chance to choose your own path. Bunks vs rollers. Which is right for you? We’re here to outline the major differences and help you figure it out. Let’s get to it!In this article:Bunks vs rollers:

Bunks vs Rollers: Which is Best for You?

Boat Trailer with Carpeted Bunks
Carpeted Bunks
Carpeted bunks rely on friction to support and launch your boat.Best for you if:
  • You know where you’ll be launching and can count on a good ramp
  • You’re comfortable with partially submerging your trailer in water
  • You want even support on your boat hull
  • You boat infrequently and want a budget-friendly option
  • You want a low-maintenance option
Not for you if:
  • You plan to launch mostly in shallow water or less-than-ideal conditions
  • You want the easiest possible launch off the ramp
Boat Trailer with Roller Bunks
Rollers
Rollers rely on gravity to pull your boat easily into the water. Best for you if:
  • You boat in areas with shallow or rocky waters and can’t submerge your trailer much when launching
  • You prefer a launch/retrieval of your boat that’s less physically demanding
  • You boat frequently and don’t mind spending a little extra cash
Not for you if:
  • You want the lowest-maintenance or most budget-friendly option
  • You require more support on your boat’s hull (such as for larger boats or longer distances)

Bunks vs Rollers: Which is Easier to Use?

Bunks

Carpeted bunks are pretty easy to use — provided conditions are right. If you have access to a good ramp, good wind, and good tide conditions (because that always happens, right?), bunks will work for you. To launch or retrieve your boat with bunks, your trailer will need to be submerged so your boat can float off and on. Since the trailer is deep enough in the water, some boaters choose to “power load” their boats by driving onto the trailer and save themselves the trouble of cranking the boat up. Just keep in mind that some locations strictly prohibit this because it erodes sediment at ramps over time, and it can also wear out your carpet faster. Tip: If your trailer doesn't already have one, we recommend installing a keel roller at the front of your trailer to help guide the boat’s bow for easier loading.
"I purchased these as a replacement for my Tracker fishing boat trailer. One year later, and BAM! They're still in great shape and working as I would expect. I have absolutely no concerns recommending these. Great quality, great price, great service from etrailer.com."-Kevin, etrailer neighbor (5/5 Stars)Purchased item # CE27840
Boat trailer with bunks

Rollers

On the other hand, if you boat in locations with shallow ramps, rocky waters, strong winds, or other less-than-ideal conditions, rollers are your up-for-almost-anything option. All you really need are rollers and gravity, and your boat will slide on down into (or out of) the water with little resistance or friction. So if you aren’t comfortable submerging your boat trailer (if you want to keep it out of salt water, for instance) or you simply can’t back your trailer far enough to float your boat off, you need rollers.Tip: Make sure not to release the boat connection until you’re ready, because your boat will roll off. You wouldn’t be the first boater to accidentally send their boat crashing to the pavement near the dock, but we recommend learning from others’ mistakes here.
"It's been about a year since I replaced the bunk boards on my C.E. Smith Sport Utility Trailer with roller bunks and I couldn't be more pleased with the result. My boat is so much easier and quicker to unload and load. However, you have to be careful not to detach the winch strap without someone holding onto or tying off a mooring line before you back the trailer down a ramp into the water as the boat will roll off the trailer and float out of reach. Duh!!! Something it wouldn't so easily do on bunk boards. That describes just how easy it is to launch and retrieve your boat using roller bunks. Fortunately, the wind was blowing in exactly the right direction to bring the boat back to the doc. A cold swim was the only other option since no one else was on the lake. A valuable lesson learned!"-Alfred, etrailer neighbor (5/5 Stars)Purchased item # CE27710
Boat trailer with rollers
Ease of Use Winner: Rollers

Bunks vs Rollers: Which Provides Better Support and Safety?

Bunks

Before you can ever launch your boat, you have to get where you’re going, and this means you need proper support to transport your boat to the water. Although both bunks and rollers should safely support your boat as long as they are properly adjusted, there are a few things to note here. Bunks provide more even support, since your boat’s weight is distributed along their entire length rather than a few contact points. There’s less chance of your boat hull bouncing around and being damaged during towing. Bunks sit lower to the ground than rollers, so your boat will have a lower center of gravity (always helpful for limiting sway when towing a trailer). Because bunks rely on friction to keep the boat in place, there’s also less danger of the boat sliding off the back of the trailer if the winch strap fails. (Just note that the friction of the carpeted bunks can potentially wear on your boat’s paint job over time.) Pro Tip: Installing keel rollers in the center of the horizontal beams can help to relieve some of the stress on the bunks and reduce the overall friction. Keel rollers will also help with launching and retrieving your boat if the tide is low.
"These were set-up to hold a 15' sailboat. I recently purchased a 12' (plastic) jon boat, and I felt that the jon boat needed better support on the trailer so that it didn't warp or dent. After doing a lot of research, I decided to go with two horizontal mount 6' bunks. They were pre-finished at a cost less than if I were to purchase the individual components (wood, glue, carpet, staples, etc.) and do the assembly work myself. Attaching the hardware and mounting them to the trailer was a snap."-Peder S, etrailer neighbor (5/5 Stars)Purchased item # CE27845
Boat trailer with bunks

Rollers

This isn’t to say that rollers don’t provide good support. As long as you're using rollers that are properly sized and rated for your boat, and you’re securing your boat properly before departing, rollers will give you an equally sufficient amount of support. However, rollers have many different contact points with your boat’s hull, and for some boats (such as those with foam cores) this contact can leave little dents or “dimples” behind over time. This is mainly an issue we hear about when someone leaves their boat on their roller trailer for an extended period of time, and it doesn’t happen to every boat, but it is something to keep in mind. Also, because rollers don’t use friction to keep the boat in place, the boat may shift during transport if not properly and tightly secured. There’s nothing but your straps holding your boat in place, so it’s important to keep them attached until you’re ready to launch.
"Very good quality with all components included. This has been my experience with every item that I have purchased from etrailer. Items that are properly designed for a purpose, built with quality, for easy installation, durability for the intended use, and while maybe not the best price that is available, it is a fair price that's built as advertised. I will continue to buy from them as I trust what I am buying. Very good company."-Michael, etrailer neighbor (5/5 Stars)Purchased item # DL21741
Boat trailer with rollers
Support and Safety Winner: Bunks

Bunks vs Rollers: Which is Easier to Maintain?

BunksSince carpeted bunks are essentially just carpet and wood, they don’t require much upkeep. You can usually get up about 6 years of a set of bunks before you start thinking about replacements, although it also depends on how often you boat and what type of boat you have. (For instance, you’ll probably wear out your carpet faster if you often “power load” (drive on) onto your trailer. Another good reason not to do that.) Wooden boards can also rot, so keep an eye out for that. Check the carpet frequently for worn areas (the wood bunk beneath can damage your hull). When it’s time, replace the carpet with marine-grade carpet to prevent mildew and rot. Because they’re so simple, bunks are a more economical choice both upfront and over time. On the other hand, bunks can cause a domino effect that leads to additional maintenance on your trailer itself. Since bunks need to be fully submerged in water, this frequent submersion can cause your trailer’s running gear (springs, axles, hubs, brakes, etc.) to corrode more quickly, especially in salt water. This means you’ll probably have to replace these components more frequently than if you had rollers.
"The bunks are still performing perfectly - no signs of wear or weakening. Great price, delivery, product. Very much the same as when we bought the boat 10 years prior. Eventually all things wear out, but we expect these will last another 10 years! Thank you."-Ken, etrailer neighbor (5/5 Stars)Purchased item # CE27845
Boat trailer with bunks

Rollers

Rollers have more moving parts, and as we all know, more moving parts means more opportunities for things to break, fail, and need replacing. Rollers cost more upfront, and they cost more to replace, so just keep this in mind if you’re looking for a budget option for a trailer you don’t use often. The good news is that since you don’t have to fully submerge your trailer in the water, your running gear won’t corrode as quickly as a trailer being frequently exposed to water.
"Arrived on time and in good shape. Got a 4ft-er and 5ft-er. Have 9 ft bunks. Boat goes on and off like glass. Heavier built than I thought they would be. Sure they will last long time. I will never have to replace them in my life time.. Excellent quality and product. Easy to install. Took longer to realign bunks than to install. Will recommend them to anybody and buy them again!! Great product and service!!"-Rick, etrailer neighbor (5/5 Stars)Purchased item # DL21741
Boat trailer with rollers
Maintenance Winner: Bunks
In conclusion, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. If you're boating in locations with shallow water or you have trouble winching your boat into place, rollers are probably the better option for you. On the other hand, if you prefer a low-maintenance, low-cost, high-support option, stick with standard carepted bunks.
Olivia M.
About Olivia M.My journey with etrailer started in Customer Service, where I went through months of product training to make sure that I had all of the knowledge I needed to help our neighbors find a solution to any situation. I helped them with technical questions, troubleshooting, product information, and anything else they needed. Since it has always been my passion to write and express myself through words, I made the transition over to the content side of the website so I could combine my product knowledge and passion for writing.In order to make sure that I am giving you the most accurate, current information, I am constantly doing research and talking with people who are doing what I am writing about every day. I am constantly striving to find out what questions you are asking, and to give you an answer to every one of those questions, plus answers to questions you haven't even asked yet - yes, I'm that good. Plus, I am constantly getting hands-on training with our vendors and asking them all of the hard questions, that way you can have all of the information you need before making a decision.
Related ArticlesRelated ProductsWritten by: Olivia M.Updated on: 5/10/21

Will B.

5/26/2022

See above

David B.

5/26/2022

It could? PVC is slick already so carpet may give it more friction or at the least just act as extra padding.

Harry J.

6/27/2021

I have an ez loader trailer with rollers with 16 foot lund aluminum boat. What do I need to convert to bunks?

Etrailer Expert

Jon G.

6/27/2021

If the brackets holding your current roller bunks are adjustable then you probably just need the bunk boards. Rollers are typically preferred over the standard bunk board setup though. Is there a specific reason why you're wanting to go from the rollers to the bunk boards?

Sean P.

5/14/2021

I think your comments are too limited, there are more considerations to take into account. Rarely do the heavier, higher quality boats have a longitudinally straight bottom so Bunks rarely support it properly whereby a good roller trailer with self adjusting sub-frames will support these boats bow to stern. Cheaper boats work OK with cheaper bunk trailers because neither are expect to last very long. Also, driving a boat up onto a bunk trailer is asking from trouble, I've seen them end up in the tow vehicles trunk, this should never be tried. Lots of people think they can do this, until the one time they can't. To me the choice is simple, if you can afford a good quality trailer make it a roller trailer. And remember not all roller trailers are of equal quality, the more complex the roller system the better.

Etrailer Expert

Jon G.

5/17/2021

Great thoughts! Something to definitely keep in mind is that if you're buying expensive toys then be prepared to purchase expensive equipment to keep said toys nice. Far too often I've seen someone buy a bike that cost over $1,000 or a brand new 5th wheel trailer but then hesitate when it comes to buying a really nice bike rack or a really nice 5th wheel hitch. In this instance it's the boat and trailer that make up the scenario.

Stevein M.

9/11/2022

@JonG $1,000 bike is pretty much a cheap beginner unit these days. But your point is taken.

David B.

9/12/2022

A cheap bike for me is going to a rebuild shop and find a hand-me-down for a few bucks lol.

Ted H.

5/14/2021

Interesting article and mostly accurate. I always hear the "Bunk trailers have more support because the boat is sitting on a board that runs the length of the boat." statement. I had a boat that was sitting on bunks and I had it off the trailer 10-15 times a year and I looked at the bunks every time and after about a year, I found was, that where the bracket was that the bunk was attached to the trailer at was the only spot that was supporting the boat. The carpet was flat where the bracket was and the rest of the carpet stood up like new and you could seem the spots on the boat if you got it off position. My brother has bunks on his trailer with composite slides on them and I see the same spots on them as well. So, in my opinion, if you have rollers (not the old rock hard small diameter ones) your actual contact area is as much if not more than bunk trailers and the pressure points are spread out over more of the boat. Again, just my observed opinion. (I did switch over to a roller trailer and never regretted it.)

Etrailer Expert

Jon G.

5/14/2021

Thanks for the insight! Do you have the ability to adjust the brackets that were connecting the boards to your trailer frame? I had someone once ask me to help them determine the height needed for each bracket to fit best with their boat but unless the boat manufacturer has recommendations it is essentially a trial and error process to make sure everything is supported. Glad to hear you're happy with your rollers!

Ted H.

5/15/2021

You are correct, it's a trial and error thing. The trailer I had didn't have much for adjustments even. The newer trailers might be better, since they use more boards than the older trailers.


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