Boat Towing and Trailering: The Basics

How to Tow and Trailer a Boat (for Beginners)

If you want to get your boat from storage into the water, you'll probably need to tow and trailer it. But what exactly is towing and trailering? What kind of equipment do you need? And what are the best practices to follow to increase your safety and keep your boat intact?

Which Boats are Trailerable?

The smaller the boat is, the easier it is to tow. Some boats are simply too large to trailer under ordinary circumstances – and in some cases, the size of your vessel makes towing it illegal.

The most important variable to consider is the weight of your vessel as it compares to the power of your towing vehicle. In the owner’s manual of your towing vehicle, you’ll find specific information regarding the maximum trailer weight and gross combined vehicle weight (GCVW). Make sure you stay well within these parameters to increase your safety (and the safety of everyone else on the road); some experts recommend keeping to 80 percent of your maximum GCVW or below.

If you’re not sure exactly how much your boat and trailer weigh, you can weigh them at a truck stop or get a weight from the manufacturer of each item.

There are also specific limitations for what you can tow on major roadways. In the United Kingdom, for example, the maximum trailer width for any towing vehicle is 2.55 metres. In the United States, it’s typically illegal to trailer anything wider than 8’6” without following protocols for a designated “wide load.” Similarly, most US states have limitations for the maximum length of a trailer (though this varies from state to state).

How to Tow a Boat: The Basics

These are the most important steps to follow to tow your boat:

  • Attach the trailer to your vehicle. Once your boat is on the trailer, you can attach the trailer to your vehicle. To do this, you'll typically align the hitch and ball, then gradually lower the hitch onto the ball. From there, you'll be ready to close the latch and insert the safety pin. As a measure of additional safety, you can cross the chains and attach them to your towing vehicle. Depending on the nature of your trailer, you may also need to attach a safety line to your towing vehicle to gain access to the trailer brakes, and you may need to plug in the trailer lights (and test that they're working).
  • Do a complete safety check. Below, you'll find a brief checklist of items you should always check before departure.
  • Obey all relevant traffic laws (and drive with caution). Double check the traffic laws that apply to you wherever you're towing; these laws vary from state to state in the U.S. and are completely different in Europe and in the United Kingdom, so don't assume that you know all the traffic laws that are relevant to you.
  • Launch. When you get to your destination, you can launch the boat and park your towing vehicle and trailer in a designated spot. Always respect lines and local etiquette when launching.
  • Retrieve. When you're ready to go home, carefully back up your vehicle and trailer to the water and retrieve your vessel for the return journey.

These are the most important safety items to check before towing:

  • Tire pressure. Check the tire pressure for the tires on your towing vehicle as well as the tires on your trailer. This is especially important if you haven't used your trailer in a while. If you're not sure what the ideal tire pressure is for either of these items, check your owner's manual.
  • Trailer lights. Trailer lights are there for your safety, as well as the safety of the people around you. Make sure these are working as intended before leaving.
  • Trailer brakes. Similarly, if your trailer has brakes, test them to make sure they're working before you depart.
  • Load security. Finally, make sure your load is highly secure. You should have multiple redundant measures to keep your boat intact and in place, and you should make sure there are no unsecured items that could fly off your boat while driving.

Additional Towing and Trailering Tips

Follow these tips for even more safety and control while towing and trailering your vessel.

  • Back up as straight as possible. Even tiny misalignments between your vehicle and your trailer can quickly spiral out of control, so when launching or retrieving your boat, try to back up as straight as possible.
  • Avoid oversteering. Similarly, turning the steering wheel too much can cause your trailer to fishtail or become misaligned, so commit to making only small adjustments as necessary.
  • Make wider turns. When driving on the roads, make wider turns than usual. This is especially important as you get used to the process of driving and steering your towing vehicle.
  • Leave extra room on the road. When towing a vessel, your total vehicle weight is going to be much higher than usual, which means you're going to need more time and space to slow down or stop. Accordingly, leave extra room between yourself and the vehicle in front of you.
  • Make use of your sideview mirrors. Your boat may completely or partially block your rear-view mirror, so make use of your sideview mirrors instead.
  • Don’t be afraid to get help. If you're new to towing, don't be shy about asking for help. Most seasoned boaters will be more than happy to provide you with advice or a helping hand.
  • Get practice. As with any skill, you’ll get better at towing and trailering a boat with practice. Get started on wide, low-traffic roads before hitting the major highways in your area.

Are you ready to load up your boat and hit the water? Or is it time for a change in your boating lifestyle?

If you’re interested in a new or used vessel, we have options for just about anyone in the United States or Europe – check out our best offers here! And if you’re getting ready to sell your old vessel, we can help you out with that too – it just takes a couple of minutes to sign up!

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