Here’s How To Tow a Boat

I’m (gonna be) on a boat!

Time Needed: <30 minutes, Difficulty: Easy, Cost: Varies

Introduction 

 If you’re someone who enjoys all things gas-powered, owning a boat is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. There’s nothing quite like being out on the water, but if you’re inexperienced it can take a lot of effort just to get the boat to the boat ramp.

Towing a boat trailer is a basic driving skill that anyone can master with a little time and practice. Car Bibles’ editors have towed everything from riding lawn mowers to broken-down dump trucks and are here to help you understand the basics of towing a boat.

Let’s get rolling.

Here’s How To Tow a Boat
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The Safety Brief

You may be the most experienced driver in the world, but you’ll still need to perform a pre-trip check on your tow vehicle, trailer, and boat.

  1. Make sure that your tow vehicle is capable of pulling the weight of the boat and trailer without exceeding its towing capacity.
  2. Give yourself plenty of room between your vehicle and others on the road and anticipate that you’ll need extra time to react and slow down.
  3. Focus on your side-view mirrors. They are the best way to view the action behind your vehicle when towing.
  4. Practice backing the trailer up in a calm environment, away from traffic. Give yourself plenty of time to get used to how the truck behaves with a trailer hitched up.

The Tools & Parts You Need

Beyond the tow vehicle, trailer, and boat, you may need:

Here’s How To Tow a Boat
RAM

The How-To Tow a Boat

Here’s what you’re gonna need to do.

1. Back the Tow Vehicle up to the Trailer

Your tow vehicle’s trailer hitch and ball must be aligned with the trailer. Back your vehicle as close to the trailer hitch as possible. Crank or lower the trailer onto the ball. For more information about how to back up a trailer, check out The Drive’s guide.

  • It’s easier to have a friend help guide you as you back the tow vehicle toward the trailer.
  • Before backing all the way to the trailer, crank the trailer hitch up so that it will be high enough to be lowered onto the ball.
  • Try to get the vehicle’s ball hitch directly under the trailer’s hitch. You won’t always be able to move the trailer by hand if you’re off by a few inches.

2. Secure the Trailer

Once the trailer has been lowered onto the ball, secure the latch and safety pin. Make sure to cross the safety chains and attach them to the tow vehicle.

  • The trailer hitch needs to be in the unlocked position, which should mean that the trailer’s handle will be perpendicular to the trailer neck.
  • Crank the trailer hitch down so that it sits on the vehicle’s ball hitch.
  • Continue cranking to raise the trailer’s wheel and secure it properly to the trailer.
  • Fold the handle down and insert the safety pin into the handle.
  • Cross the trailer’s safety chains and connect them to either side of the vehicle’s tow hitch. If the chains are long enough to drag the ground, you can twist them a bit to shorten them for driving.

3. Connect Lights and Brakes

Plug-in light connectors and brake connectors to the correct harness on the tow vehicle. Test your lights before heading out and make sure that the trailer’s brakes and systems have been serviced or inspected recently.

  • Your vehicle’s lighting connector, if installed, should be just below the bumper, which can be connected to the harness on the trailer side. 
  • Remember that friend that helped you back up to the trailer? You’re going to need them again. This time, they’ll need to help you check your trailer lights to ensure that brake and turn signals are working properly. Better your friend find it than Johnny Law.

4. Pull Away Slowly and Drive With Caution

One of the most important things to do when driving with a trailer in tow is to make your actions as smooth as possible. No sudden starts or stops, and be sure to approach curves with caution. Plan on giving yourself an extra few seconds of reaction time to safely slow and maneuver your vehicle with a trailer hitched up.

Things To Consider When Towing a Boat

Aside from getting a boat, there are some things you need to consider, such as:

Towing Capacity

A vehicle’s towing capacity is a measure of the gross weight it can safely tow behind it. This number is the absolute maximum weight that you can hook up to the backside of your tow vehicle without smashing its suspension, twisting your frame, voiding your warranty, or forcing you to make an embarrassing call to your insurance company – or worse, your spouse. Keep in mind that, just because your truck says it can tow 10,000 pounds, it’s not a good idea to shoot for the top end of that number. You’ll find that towing a large boat up a hill without any wiggle room in your tow capacity is no fun at all.

Boat and Trailer Size

Even if you’re not towing a Scarab for a night off the coast of Miami, you still need to be aware of your trailer size. How wide is it? Are you going to embarrass yourself in the Arby’s drive-thru? Understand where you can and can’t drive with that trailer, and send us some curly fries. 

Driving With a Boat and Trailer

The biggest thing to remember when towing is that you’ll need extra time and space to do everything. Acceleration takes longer, stopping takes longer, and turning takes longer with more space. Give yourself more space on the road, especially for stopping. Your vehicle’s brakes are capable of handling the boat and trailer, but they can fade over time if you like to ride the pedal. Finally, practice. There’s nothing worse than ending up in a situation where you have to back the trailer out of a tight spot, and you’ll be very unhappy if you’re just learning how a trailer behaves in reverse.

The Car Bibles Questionnaire

Car Bibles answers all your burning questions!

Q: Do I Have To Buy A Truck To Tow A Boat?

A: No, you don’t have to buy a truck to tow. Many SUVs and crossovers offer enough towing capacity to get the job done. In general, though, it’s best not to attempt to tow a boat trailer that comes close to the max tow rating for your vehicle. Give yourself some wiggle room with weights.

Q: Do I Need A Special License To Tow A Boat?

A: In most cases, a standard noncommercial driver’s license will do the job. The size and weight of your boat matters, though, so make sure you’ve done the research to know if your rig needs a special license to be towed.

Q: How Fast Can I Drive With A Boat Trailer?

A: You won’t be competing in any local autocross events with a boat and trailer in tow. Not successfully, anyway. Assuming your tow rig is up to the job, you should have no problems reaching and maintaining standard highway speeds, but be aware that some states have special speed limits for vehicles that are pulling trailers.

Video Tutorial on Towing a Boat

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Best Places To Buy Tools and Parts to Tow a Boat

As a beginning boater, it can be frustrating to shop for products to help you get in the water and be on your way. That’s why Car Bibles’ editors have done the legwork for you. Our favorite products include the Camco Heavy Duty Safety Chain, CIPA clip-on tow mirrors, and Nilight trailer lights.

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