DIY Custom Trailer Tongue Extension

The one thing that my new Calkins trailer lacked compared to the old Trail Rite is an extendable tongue, a necessity at some of our local ramps. The only information on the Internet that I could find about adding a tongue extension was a universal aftermarket extension. But the cost was more than I paid for the entire trailer and I still needed to install a brake system. This looked like another $tingy Sailor project!

Two tubes are better than one

The center frame member of the Calkins trailer is 8′ of 1/8″ wall, 3″ x 4″ rectangular box tube. To make the tongue extension, I purchased 10′ of 1/8″ wall, 2-1/2″ square box tube to telescope inside it. The only obstructions were the wiring that exited the frame in the center of one side, the top two bolts that connect the side booms, and the front end of the frame that was squeezed partially closed at the factory.

I relocated the wiring exit to the empty bottom 1″ of the main tube and hammered out the front end. I removed the top two boom bolts and replaced them with a 3-1/2″ x 5″ square U bolt around the boom flanges.

To hold the inner tube in the top of the outer tube, I drilled new holes in the bottom of the front end of the outer tube for a new 1/2″ through bolt. Together with an original 1/2″ through bolt on the other end of the outer tube, they would hold the inner tube in the top of the outer tube when it was slid in, leaving a 1″ space in the bottom of the outer tube for the wiring and safety chain attachments. A third 1/2″ through bolt 2′ from the front end would hold the inner tube when the tongue is extended. I installed 1/2″ plastic conduit sleeves over the three through bolts to help roll the extension in and out of the outer tube.

Original tongue tube with extension removed to show one of the rollers
Original tongue tube with extension removed to show one of the rollers

Two tubes deserve two pins

I drilled pairs of 5/8″ pin holes through the inner tube to match the outer tube. This results in the tongue always being held by two pins whether extended or collapsed. I had my welding guy tack 1/8″ thick x 5/8″ ID washers on both sides of the inside tube at each of the connecting pin holes. Together, the washers take up the remaining space between the 2-1/2″ inner tube and the 3″ outer tube. Besides keeping the inner tube from sliding horizontally in the outer tube, they minimize the surface area of the inner tube that has to rub against the inside of the outer tube, which should prevent the tubes from rusting together, a common problem with the old Trail Rite tongue extensions.

One of the inner tube holes reinforced with a welded on washer
One of the inner tube holes reinforced with a welded on washer

Extending the tongue 8′ is as simple as removing the two connecting pins, sliding the inner tube out until the holes line up and reinserting the connecting pins. Launching from shallow ramps is no problem now.

The Bottom Line

Suggested price: $400
$tingy Sailor cost: $135
Savings: $265

How have you solved the problem of a too-short trailer?


4 Comments Add yours

  1. AaronD says:

    Our trailer has an extendable tongue, but it seems to be rusted in for the duration – I spent too many hours with sledgehammers, drills, various penetrating oils, and even a small jackhammer, and finally gave up.

    We bought a 18″ receiver extension (e.g. and a deep-drop ball mount. We swap in that assembly in place of the standard ball mount / stinger to launch and retrieve. That adds close to 2′ of extension, and drops the bow of the boat several inches, so the trailer is a little closer to level, even on the sloped ramp. Together, that gains about 3″ of depth (I.e., 3″ of car we don’t have to submerge to get her to float). Not nearly as nice as a real extendable trailer tongue, but pretty cheap and easy. And probably about the same amount of hassle in the parking lot as extending the trailer tongue (although I have no personal experience there, for which I’m still bitter at that rusty trailer…).

    Note: The extension is theoretically rated for Class III towing; I wouldn’t want to tow real weight with it on the road, but it’s fine for backing down the ramp.

    1. A good compromise there, Aaron, if a couple of feet more length is all you need to launch and retrieve.

  2. Tom Lampros says:

    I’m looking at a few trailers for my C22. I’ve found a couple that are listed for 17-19’and I’m wondering if I can extend the trailer frame and bunks to support the boat. Any experience with extending the back-end?
    Any thoughts on bunks vs rollers?

    1. Sorry, Tom, I don’t have any experience extending a trailer for a larger boat. I’ve read of others who have adapted conventional boat trailers to fit sailboats with good results, though. The prevailing wisdom is in favor of bunks over rollers so that you can float the sailboat on and off the trailer instead of winching.

      Hope that helps,

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