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10 Tips for Towing Your Boat

Sometimes the best part of owning a boat that you can tow is the ability to enjoy it in so many different locations.  The first boat that I ever owned was a 24 foot cruiser that was the perfect weekend boat for me but I also could put it on a trailer and take it anywhere I wanted to explore the waters outside of my home state.  For the first 10 years or so of boat ownership, I dragged that boat just about everywhere around the southeast.  My family and I created some great memories that will not soon be forgotten.  We also learned some lessons about how to properly and safely tow a boat.  From blown tires to shattered hubs and busted cooling hoses, we experienced it all.
Here are 10 tips that will make towing your boat easier.
Use the Right Tow Vehicle – Some people spend a lot of money on their boat and figure they can skimp a little on the tow vehicle and get by.  If all you do is tow your boat from your house to the lake 10 miles away, you may be able to get away with this but if you are planning to tow long distance, don’t do it.  
As you know, a tow vehicle will have a maximum tow rating that is determined by the vehicle’s body construction and drive train.  That maximum rating tells you the amount of weight that your vehicle will safely tow.  Using the wrong tow vehicle can not only result in unsafe operational conditions, but it can also result in damage to the vehicle itself.  

Choosing the right tow vehicle can make towing safer and more comfortable.

Don’t forget that when determining the weight to be towed, you must include the following:
                -Weight of the boat
                -Weight of the trailer
                -Weight of gear on the boat including fuel, water etc. (Water weighs about 8.3 pounds per gallon and fuel weighs about 6.3 pounds per gallon)
You can, take your tow vehicle and boat by a local truck scale to determine what the weight is and the cost is minimal.  Make sure you note the gear and fluids on board at the time of weighing and you now will have a basis for estimating your weight each time you tow.

Use the Right Trailer – Not only can you overload a tow vehicle but you can overload a trailer too.  Each trailer will have a maximum weight stamped on the tongue somewhere.  This capacity is based on the trailer construction, the axle type and the number of axles.  An overloaded trailer can result in anything from failure of the frame to tire and/or brake failure.  At best, a trailer with too much weight on it will not track well and make the tow vehicle more difficult to handle.  Be sure to also have the trailer adjusted properly to the boat to ensure that it supports the boat at the right locations. 
Multiple axles on a trailer not only give it more capacity but more stability as well.

Keep Your Trailer Maintained – For some of us, our trailers sit in a storage yard or the back yard until we decide to pull it out for that summer vacation.  We often do not realize that until that point, we have ignored it and not done any maintenance.  Before that long trip, there are a few things that you should check:
                -Tires.  Make sure the pressure is correct and ensure that they are not cracked or dry rotted.  Trailer tires often have to be replaced well before the tread is worn because they end up rotting before they are worn out.  If your tires are 10 years old or older (6 years if they have been sitting out in the sun), or have cracks in them, get them replaced before you take that trip.
                -Lights.  Make sure they all work.  Replace any blown bulbs and fix any faulty wiring.
                -Bearings.  If necessary, disassemble the hubs and repack them to make sure you have fresh grease in them.  Replace any bearings that are worn.
                -Hold down straps.  Make sure they are not worn, dry rotted or frayed.  
                -Brakes.  Make sure they are operational and the shoes or pads are not worn.
Bearing Buddies or other similar fixtures help by making it easier to keep trailer bearings lubricated.

Keep Your Tow Vehicle Maintained – This may be easier to do than keeping your trailer maintained because you probably drive this vehicle several times a week but here are a few things to keep in mind. 
Towing is very hard on the cooling system and the drivetrain.  Making sure they are in good working condition before your trip can save you some headaches during your trip.  Have the cooling system and transmission checked or serviced before towing. 
Check the tow vehicle brakes too.  Even if your trailer has brakes, stopping when towing places a lot more pressure on the vehicles braking system.  Check for worn pads and rotors and replace them.  Don’t forget, stopping is just as important as going.

Practice Launching and Retrieving Your Boat – This is only necessary if you are a newbie.  If you have been launching and retrieving your boat for years, then you already have a system and you know the ins and outs.  If you have not developed your system yet, don’t let you’re your vacation be the first time you have done it.  There are many things that can make the difference between a nightmare and a smooth operation during launch or retrieval and it can differ from rig to rig.  Things like how far into the water your trailer should be or the proper angle of approach when loading can all vary from one boat/trailer combination to another and a busy Saturday afternoon on a ramp in unfamiliar territory is not the place to start learning your equipment.  
Take the time to go to a local ramp on a quiet weekday and practice your method.  If you know someone that is experienced with launching and retrieving a boat, take them with you so they can give you some tips.  If you do this, you will be glad you did and the folks behind you at the ramp will be too.  Don’t forget that when you are at the ramp, load or unload your gear while in the parking lot or staging area and not on the ramp itself. 

Be Prepared for Something Bad to Happen – Whenever I towed my boat, I always had a trailer emergency kit in my truck.  Here is what it contained:

                -Extra Wheel Bearings
                -Extra Brake Drum
                -Two Grease Guns
                -Brake Cleaner
                -Trailer Jack
                -Trailer Tire Lug Wrench
                -Spare Trailer Lights
                -Brake Fluid
                -Tool Kit
Consider carrying spare parts for your trailer when on the road. 

Having this kit in the truck allowed me to handle just about anything that may have happened with the trailer on a long trip.  I rarely had to use it but when I did, it made things go so much better.  It was also great peace of mind knowing that I was prepared for whatever may occur.  Of course, I also kept a spare tire mounted to the trailer frame as well.  Don't forget to check your spare tire before hitting the road. 
Allow For Greater Stopping Distance – You hear this all the time when you hear discussions about safe towing.  That is because it really is true.  Your average pickup truck or SUV weighs about five thousand pounds.  In many cases, the towed weight may be more than that.  My 24 foot cruiser with trailer, some fuel and gear easily gave me a towed weight between seven and eight thousand pounds.  Even with trailer brakes, a rig with a total weight of twelve to thirteen thousand pounds will take a lot longer to stop than just the vehicle alone.  Make sure you plan for this by keeping plenty of distance between you and vehicles in front of you.  Take your foot off the gas earlier when approaching intersections and start slowing earlier.  Also, be on the lookout for other drivers who are not paying attention.  Too often, I had cars jump in front of me and hit the brakes as if I could stop as easily as they could.

Stay Alert – Towing over long distances can take a lot out of you and it can be stressful.  I still remember the very first time I towed my cruiser long distance several years ago.  I was going from just north of Atlanta to Destin, Florida which is about 330 miles.  I remember that once I arrived in Destin, my fingers were so stiff and cramped because I had been gripping the steering wheel so hard for such a long period of time. I almost had to pry them from the wheel.   I didn’t realize how much stress I had been under while driving.  Of course, over the years, as I did it more and more, I became a lot more used to the conditions of towing and it was no longer a stressful event for me.  
Having all that extra weight behind you is less forgiving and you can’t afford to make a mistake that you can’t recover from.  Take breaks every now and then to give your mind, eyes and body a rest.  Avoid distractions in your vehicle such as cell phones and most importantly, stop and rest when you are tired.  It is better to get off the road and get a good night sleep than for you and your rig to end up in the ditch.

Use Cruise Control – I am a pretty fast driver, but not when towing. I found that if I did not use cruise control when towing, my old speed demon driving habits would sometimes come back and I would find myself running down the highway at 80 mph with 8,000 ponds in tow! . . NOT GOOD!  To prevent this, when towing on the open highway, I would set my cruise control to 65 mph.  This would ensure that I always ran at a safe speed.  This also helped ensure that I kept a safe distance between me and the vehicle in front of me because most people run at faster speeds which would naturally keep them well ahead. 

One way to ensure your speed does not creep up is to use cruise control.

Check Your Rig – When towing long distances, it is recommended that each time you stop you should do a walk around your rig and check things out. 

-Make sure tie downs have not come loose. 
-Check the hitch system including safety chains.  
-Check the tires visually and by touch.  
-Check to make sure the hubs are not too hot.  Warm is okay but if you cannot rest your hand on them comfortably, you may have a bearing going bad.  
If you notice anything unusual about how your rig sounds or handles during a tow, pull over in a safe location and check it out.  It is much better to catch any issue with your rig before it become a major problem.

If you have anything else you think should be added to this list, please comment below.

Happy Boating

Captain Frank

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