Tilt & trim tips

How to set your tilt and trim

By David HarrisDavid Harris


Photo by Pep Montserrat

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Trim refers to the angle of the engine drive leg to the boat. A trim “up” is farther from the transom; a trim “down” is closer.

Trim up, drive leg out

An engine trimmed up forces the bow higher at speed

When the boat is light, trim up to go faster: when scooting into town for the paper, or on a solitary cruise •At high speeds, too much trim up will cause the boat to porpoise, bouncing the bow repeatedly as you go down the lake. And, if your trim is too high, the prop could over-rev, spinning air not water.

Trim down, drive leg in

The bow sits lower in the water when the trim is down

When the boat’s full of supplies or a gaggle of guests, start out with the trim down to help get up on a plane more efficiently, then trim up gradually as you increase speed. If you don’t trim up, the bow will dig in, soaking those in the bow and making it harder to steer. But, trim down a bit in choppy waves for more control.


The tilt mechanism allows you to lift the engine high enough out of the water to change a prop.

You can also tilt up to beach the boat or paddle it over shallows. Don’t drive with the engine in this position: You risk overheating if the engine-leg cooling-water intakes are too near the surface, or you may cause damage to the drive couplings in a sterndrive. Also tilt up for trailering.

Illustrations by Pep Montserrat

This article was originally published on September 18, 2009

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David Harris