Boat Towing and Trailering

It is crucial to have the right vehicle, trailer, hitch, and safety chains to tow your boat.

Trailers, similar to boats, have capacity plates. This plate will tell you the capacity your trailer can carry. The capacity includes the ship’s weight, motor fuel, and all gear carried on the boat.

The tongue weight (TW) is the total weight that a fully loaded trailer puts on the tow vehicle’s hitch ball. This weight should never exceed the capacity of the tow vehicle and towing components. Exceeding the capacity can cause the towing vehicle to experience difficult steering or braking, which can be extremely dangerous. Having too light of a load may cause the boat to fishtail and could even result in separation of boat and tow vehicle.

Always make sure that the trailer class matches the hitch. The ball hitch must be larger than the coupler. Ensure the hitch and ball are secure before you get on the road.

Match the trailer class with the proper hitch.

Class 1Not to exceed 2,000 lb.
Class 22,001 lb. to 3,500 lb.
Class 33,501 lb. to 5,000 lb.
Class 4Over 5,000 lb. up to 12,000 lb.

Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) and Gross Vehicle Weight Rating

The Gross Axle Weight Rating and the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating will let you know if your tow vehicle and trailer can safely handle the weight you want to tow. Both the trailer and vehicle have these ratings, which can be found in the owner’s manuals. You should never exceed 80% of the recommended weight rating for your vehicle or trailer.

Always consult with the dealer when purchasing a trailer or a towing vehicle. They can help you understand which option will work best for your needs.

Final Preparation for Towing a Boat

Before getting out on the road with a trailered boat:

  • Make sure that the boat is centered on the trailer and fuel and gear are distributed evenly. An uneven load can make steering and maneuvering difficult, as it causes instability.
  • Make sure all equipment in and on the boat is properly tied down and secure.
  • Always crisscross the chains under the frame between the trailer and the towing vehicle. These chains are critical and act as a backup if the hitch breaks.
  • Always make sure that trailer lights are in working order so that other drivers know when you are stopping, turning, or braking. 
  • Always check tire pressure, and ensure lug nuts are secure.
  • Make sure that your side-view mirrors are correctly positioned so that you have a clear view.
  • Practice turning and backing up with the trailer. It can take some time to get used to maneuvering with a trailer; the more you practice, the easier it will become.
  • Use additional straps to tie the boat to the frame of the trailer.

Road Handling

When you are driving with a load such as a boat, you need to be extra cautious. Any additional burden will make your vehicle much less responsive. Reduce your speed and allow more distance between you and the vehicle in front of you.

Always remember, you have another vehicle attached behind you. That means you need to take corners at slower speeds and at wider angles to make sure your trailer can get around a turn safely.

You should also read:

Boating Terminology

Parts of a Boat