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Trailer brakes: Surge or Electric Over Hydraulic?

When it comes to towing a boat trailer, safety and reliability are paramount. Trailer brakes systems usually consist of hydraulic brakes lines and disc brakes but the actuator can either be a surge actuator or an Electric Over Hydraulic actuator. Each system has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, making the choice between them an important decision for boat owners. In this article, we'll explore the pros and cons of electric over hydraulic brakes versus surge brakes to help you make an informed decision.

Electric Over Hydraulic Brakes

Electric over hydraulic brakes, as the name suggests, utilize both electric and hydraulic components to activate the trailer brakes. The hydraulic brake lines and disc brakes are engaged by an EOH braking system. The EOH unit consists of an electric pump that is controlled by the brake controller of the tow vehicle. It also has a battery for the breakaway cable. Here are some of the pros and cons of this system:


  1. Enhanced Control: Electric over hydraulic brakes offer precise control over braking pressure, allowing for smoother and more controlled stops, especially in varying road and weather conditions.

  2. Improved Performance: This system provides superior braking performance, particularly when towing heavy loads or navigating steep terrain.

  3. Brakes can also be applied when backing down a boat ramp.


  1. Cost: Electric over hydraulic brake systems tend to be more expensive upfront compared to surge brakes, due to the additional components and installation requirements.

  2. Complexity: The integration of electric and hydraulic systems adds complexity to the braking system, potentially increasing maintenance and repair costs.

  3. Power Dependency: These brakes rely on an electric power source to activate the hydraulic pump, which may pose issues in the event of electrical failures or battery depletion.

Surge Brakes

Surge brakes, also known as hydraulic surge brakes, operate based on the principle of inertia and hydraulic pressure. Here's a look at the pros and cons of surge brakes:


  1. Simplicity: Surge brakes are relatively simple in design and operation, requiring no electrical connections or brake controllers. This simplicity often translates to lower upfront costs, reduced maintenance requirements.

  2. Reliability: Since surge brakes are not reliant on electrical power, they provide a reliable braking system in case of electrical failures or battery issues.

  3. Wide Compatibility: Surge brakes are compatible with a wide range of trailers and towing vehicles, making them a popular choice for boat owners with varying setups.


  1. Limited Control: Unlike electric over hydraulic brakes, surge brakes offer limited control over braking force, which can result in less precise braking, especially in challenging driving conditions.

  2. Potential for Over-braking: Surge brakes can sometimes apply excessive braking force during sudden deceleration or downhill descents, potentially causing premature wear on brake components.


Both electric over hydraulic brakes and surge brakes have their own set of advantages and disadvantages when it comes to towing a boat trailer. Ultimately, the choice between these systems depends on factors such as towing preferences, budget, and the specific requirements of your boat and trailer setup. Whether you prioritize precise control and performance or simplicity and reliability, selecting the right braking system is ultimately a personal preference. Be sure to weigh the pros and cons carefully and consult with a professional if needed to make an informed decision. Word Boats Trailer Sales is always here to help, so give us a call on (425) 499-6883.

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