Trim Tabs: What Are They and How Do You Use Them?

One of the most common beginner boater questions is “what does it mean to ‘trim’ a boat?” It makes sense why this is such a common question the term is not self-explanatory. To put it simply, adjusting the trim modifies the angle of the boat as it travels through the water. These adjustments can enhance a boat’s performance and fuel efficiency.


The trim system of a boat relies on hydraulic rams to adjust the running angle of the boat. Adjusting the angle of the boat as it travels through the water changes the amount of water resistance affecting the boat’s propulsion. So, with the right angle, you can minimize the water resistance thus increasing the performance and fuel efficiency of the boat.

You adjust the trim of the boat through the boat’s trim tab control buttons. They are typically placed directly on the throttle control, so using them should feel as natural as operating your car’s indicators. It’s adjusted in three different levels referred to as negative trim, neutral trim, and positive trim.


A negative trim lowers the bow and gets the boat off to a good start by optimizing propeller thrust. When making high-speed turns the trim keeps the propeller underwater, thus making it easier for the pilot to control the boat. A negative trim also maintains the boat’s comfort in rough seas by limiting hull impacts when facing waves in a head sea.

To set a negative trim, you press the trim button down. This causes the prop shaft to point slightly upwards pushing the stern of the boat up. When the stern of the boat is being pushed up, this makes the bow of the boat lower just like a seesaw.


A neutral trim is best when sailing at cruising speed and helps control fuel consumption. This causes the boat to plane along the water drastically reducing water resistance.

To set a neutral trim, press the trim button parallel with the water.


A positive trim lifts the front of the boat, minimizing friction between the hull and the water. This increases the speed and makes it easier to change direction. When sailing with a back wind and with the waves, a positive trim also provides greater comfort by easing the bow and reducing hull impacts.

To set a positive trim, press the trim button up. This causes the prop shaft to point slightly downward pushing the stern of the boat up which makes the bow of the boat raise.