Towing a boat can be intimidating, especially your first time! You have the added length, weight, and responsibility of towing a very large vessel. Suddenly, simple things like navigating traffic, making a left-hand turn, or driving through a parking lot can feel like impossible feats!
It can be hard to prepare for your first tow! We are here to encourage confidence for your first towing experience! So we are going to discuss 9 boat towing tips to help you and your boat reach your destination safely!
1. Be Comfortable
Until you are comfortable and confident driving your rig with the boat trailer and boat attached, try to avoid doing it around many other people. Practice in a large empty parking lot or around a quiet neighborhood to increase your confidence. Practicing will also help you know where your blind spots are, your turn radius, and how to back up safely.
Use cones or garbage cans to help you learn the characteristics of your boat trailer. While it might make you feel like an amateur, each crumpled or knocked-over cone is saving you from an accidental bump in with someone’s car later on.
2. Recognize Your Limits
“I can make that turn,” or “I can fit in that spot.” We have all been there. Often it does not end with a victory dance but instead an exchanging of insurance cards. When you are hauling your boat, you are operating with extra weight and length. Because of this, your setup is a more significant threat to other drivers, and it’s important to acknowledge your limitations when towing the boat.
Make your life easier by giving yourself plenty of room and space when navigating small parking lots or a tight turn. Sometimes it is better to take an extra lap around or park farther away to ensure you have the space you need.
3. Tighter Turns
Your trailer will turn tighter than the vehicle you are using to tow the trailer. Therefore, your boat trailer is going to turn inside of your turn. What does this mean? Well, you will need to make wider turns than what feels natural or normal. This is especially true at slower speeds when navigating parking lots. When starting a turn, position your vehicle on the outside of the lane. This allows your vehicle to turn wider. Don’t cut your steering wheel until the vehicle’s rear wheels are past the inside curb.
A general rule to follow is when driving at higher speeds such as highway driving or arterials, give yourself a little bit of extra room when turning. However, at slow speeds, such as through a parking lot or when making a turn at a stoplight, give yourself plenty of extra space. Another tip is that your trailer wheels will usually follow the path of the rear wheels of your tow vehicle.
4. So Left is Now Right
It is opposites day when backing up with a boat trailer. If you turn the wheel of your vehicle to the left, the trailer will go to the right. If you turn the wheel of your vehicle to the right, the trailer will go to the left.
When backing up, don’t overcompensate by turning the wheel too far to one side or the other. Typically, a slight turn followed by straightening the wheel will get you better results!
5. Longer Acceleration and Longer Stopping Times
Remember, it will take you longer to accelerate and longer to come to a stop due to the extra weight you are moving. This is true even if your trailer has surge or electric brakes. Therefore, you need to give yourself plenty of added space when pulling out into traffic or passing a slower-moving vehicle. Additionally, give yourself extra distance between yourself the vehicle in front of you. If you think you can make that yellow light, you probably shouldn’t. Instead, give yourself plenty of time to slow down for upcoming stopped traffic, a stoplight/sign, or a toll booth. Giving yourself plenty of room to brake will help ensure your safety and the safety of those around you.
Finally, if you downshift to a lower gear when traveling downhill, this will reduce the toll on your brakes and allow the engine to help keep your speed safe.
6. Do Not Overload
Before starting on the road, make sure you are within your vehicle’s towing capacity. Check your vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW), the vehicle weight when empty, the weight of each person and piece of cargo in the vehicle, the payload, and the tongue weight of the trailer. It is essential not to exceed the maxim operating weight of your rig.
In addition, do not go over the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), the most weight that your vehicle can safely handle. Often you can find the GVWR on the certification/tire label on the driver’s side door.
7. Properly Pack Your Trailer
While it is imperative to have your boat correctly positioned on the boat trailer to achieve balance, do not overlook that the load inside your boat will impact your ride. Do not overload your boat with too many extra things. You want to ensure you stay within your trailer’s maximum load capacity. If you are unsure what your trailer’s load capacity is, double-check on the label. You will also want to make sure weight is evenly distributed on the left and right sides of the boat to promote a smoother ride.
Properly position any extra gear in the boat so it won’t shift during transit. Things like coolers, fuel canisters, fishing supplies, lifejackets, and flotation devices can quickly move around. It can change the balance when your gear shifts around, making your boat front or back-heavy. A boat that is front or back heavy is unsafe.
Finally, double-check the supplies stowed in the cabin. While they won’t fall overboard during your trip, they can easily shift around and throw your boat off balance.
8. Check Your Gear Before You Leave
Before embarking on your trip, check that your tire pressure is sitting at the correct spot. This means checking the tire pressure of your vehicle’s tires and your boat trailer’s tires. Also, make sure your tires are still in excellent shape. Most manufacturers recommend replacing your trailer tires if they are over six years old.
Finally, check the speed rating for the tires for your vehicle and your boat trailer. Generally, trailer tires can handle speeds of up to 65 mph.
Before you leave the driveway, make sure your tail lights, brake lights, and turn signals are all functioning properly. Have someone stand behind your tow rig while you go through each light.
Check to see that your brakes are ready to go! Double-check that your emergency “breakaway” cable is correctly attached to your vehicle – just in case.
Additionally, you should regularly inspect your vehicle and trailer at each stop when making a longer trip. Take time to do a careful walk around to ensure nothing has shifted. Check your hitch/ball attachment to ensure that the ball, coupler, and tow bar are securely attached and that the safety chains still cross. Make sure your lights are still in proper working order. Check your trailer wheel lug nuts for tightness. Finally, look over your trailer wheels’ bearing covers to check for overheating or grease leaks.
9. Tongue Weight
You want to make sure the weight of your boat is evenly distributed to avoid tongue weight trouble. What does this mean? If there’s too much weight loaded on the front of the trailer, the tongue weight will be too high. This puts extra weight on the vehicle’s rear tires and less on the front tires. The result is squirrelly steering. If this happens, you will want to redistribute the weight to better balance the boat.
If you don’t notice this until you are driving, do not panic. While it might be tempting to brake to reduce speed quickly, braking can make your troubles worse. So instead, take your foot off the gas pedal, stay in your lane, and let your vehicle start to slow down. If your squirrely steering is a tongue-weight issue, it should resolve once you’ve reached 25-25 mph. Once you can safely maneuver to the side of the road, rearrange the weight in your boat, so it is more evenly distributed.
If you are in a passing lane, stay in your lane while letting your vehicle slow down. Then, once your trailer has stopped swaying, move to a safe place along the side of the road.
If you don’t have enough weight on the tongue, then you will want to redistribute the load to shift more weight forward. This doesn’t always mean you have to reload your boat. It could be as simple as moving a few heavy coolers around. You might also need to move the trailer’s winch forward so the boat sits farther forward, and the weight shifts to the tongue.
Like with any new hobby or skill, the secret to success is practice! Do not let hauling a boat trailer intimidate you! Once you’ve completed a few successful trips driving with a boat in tow will feel like a walk in the park.
A key component of towing safety is ensuring your trailer is road-ready. At Rocket Marine, we pride ourselves on offering quality parts and maintenance services to ensure you have a great ride to and from the water. If you have any concerns about the safety of your trailer, contact us today!