How to Trim a Boat in Choppy Water

By Debbie Hanson

Nov 13, 2018

List of general guidelines on how to trim a boat in choppy water for new boaters, how to trim a boat in rough water using trim tabs, trim tab boating tips

Every boater will occasionally encounter rough water, which means knowing how to trim a boat is an important skippering skill to have. Your boating adventures will be safer and more comfortable when you can properly use your trim tabs to compensate for any change in conditions.

If you are a new boat owner who is learning how to boat, don’t forget to register your boat. You should also consider bringing an experienced boater along with you on your first few trips.

To gain a basic understanding of how to trim a boat in rough water, you should keep some general guidelines in mind. These guidelines apply to planing-hulled powerboats, such as center consoles or trailerable cruisers, that are up to 30-feet in length.

  1. Always operate at a safe speed. When trimming a powerboat in chop, the first thing you should remember is to apply conservative use of the throttle.
  2. When learning how to trim a boat in rough water, you will need to lower your trim tabs by using the trim tab switch at the helm. Trim tabs are lowered in order to bring your bow down when operating at a slower speed in rough waters. As the trim tabs are lowered, you will notice that the hull of your boat will start to ride flatter with the increased wetted surface area.
  3. There is no concrete rule about how trim a boat or adjust your trim tabs in any given situation. As you gain experience on the water, it will become easier to determine when your trim tabs have been lowered into an optimal position for the conditions and on-board distribution of weight.
  4. Pay close attention to the feel of the boat when adjusting your trim tabs. The goal is to match your engine trim, trim tabs, and speed to experience the most comfortable ride.


You know more about how to trim a boat in choppy conditions now, but do you know the most important boating terms? Use the boating glossary to check any terms that might have you befuddled. 

Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson is an award-winning outdoor writer, women’s sport fishing advocate, IGFA world record holder, and freshwater guide living in Southwest Florida. Hanson’s written work has appeared in publications such as Florida Game & Fish Magazine, BoatUS Magazine, and USA Today Hunt & Fish. To learn more about her work, visit or follow her on Instagram @shefishes2.