Nearly every boat owner has experienced that initial intimidation of towing their boat trailer. Towing a trailer behind another vehicle requires an entirely new set of operating skills, techniques, and tricks. The ultimate goal of towing your boat is that you, the boat, and your trailer arrive at your destination safely. You want your towing adventures to go smoothly, and so do we! You want to know how to tow a trailer and we have answers.
In honor of trailer safety week, we will share some tips to help you become a trailer towing titan. So whether you’re beginning to plan your first trip or have already taken a few, let’s make your journey a little safer and boost your confidence with these 11 trailer towing tips!
1. Slow It Down
When hauling a trailer, it takes more time for you to stop both your vehicle and the trailer. To keep you and your trailer safe, give plenty of space between you and the vehicle in front of you. In addition, most states require you to limit your speed to 55 mph when towing. Not only does this help keep you and those around you safer, but it’s also more economical. Keeping the speed at or below 55 mph consumes less gasoline. With gas prices on the rise, who can say no to that?
As stated above, more weight requires more time to stop. Regardless of whether your trailer has trailer brakes, your tow vehicle will need more time to stop than if it wasn’t hauling anything. In general, you should strive to keep 325 ft between you and the vehicle in front of you (roughly 5 seconds). In addition, slamming on your brakes is hard on the brakes and your passengers! Give yourself plenty of room to prevent your brakes from overheating and your passengers from overheating at you.
3. Opt for the Right Lane
When driving on a highway or arterial with more than one lane, stick to the right lane whenever possible. Driving in the right lane gives you the option of using the right shoulder of the road if you have a mechanical problem or need to brake unexpectedly.
4. What’s Going on in Your Mirrors?
Always keep a watchful eye on your side and rearview mirrors. Be aware of your surroundings and what is going on behind you. You not only want to keep an eye on what’s happening around you but also on your load itself. If the trailer and your load (your boat) are higher than your towing rig, monitor the clearance and watch for low tunnels and drive-thrus.
5. Pull Over When Needed
Sometimes, despite our best efforts and precautions, emergencies happen. There is nothing wrong with pulling over when needed. However, when pulling to the shoulder, remember to give yourself enough of an opening to safely get back on the road; it takes longer to accelerate when pulling a heavy trailer.
6. Turn Wide
One of the biggest trailer towing tips we can give you is to turn wide! You will need to make a wider turn at crossroads, curves, and corners. The turn radius of your vehicle inevitably increases when towing a trailer. Certain trailer hitches, such as a gooseneck or fifth wheel, have tighter turn radiuses than the traditional ball mount attachment. The best way to familiarize yourself with your vehicle and trailer’s turn radius is to practice.
7. Practice Makes Perfect
Speaking of practice, it is extremely beneficial to practice driving with your trailer and tow vehicle. Go through all the things you will be doing on your actual journey, but in a safe, low-risk setting. The more familiar you are with your trailer and how it tows, the more confident and safe you will be. Drive a few laps around your neighborhood or an empty parking lot and practice accelerating, braking, backing up and cornering.
Whenever you go up or downhill, always slow down and shift into a lower gear. Shifting into a lower gear will help reduce your speed and take some of the load off your brakes when going downhill. Taking the load off your brakes prevents them from overheating and also helps stabilize your vehicle and trailer.
9. Backing It Up
One of the hardest and, therefore, most intimidating parts of driving while towing a trailer is backing up. If possible, try to use a spotter to help guide you when backing up. Often, mirrors don’t provide all the visibility you need to back up successfully. It is easy to miss objects, people, and other vehicles in busy areas.
When backing up, remember that the trailer moves in the opposite direction of your tow vehicle; when you turn right, your trailer goes left and vice-versa. An easy trick to help keep it straight is to hold the bottom of the steering wheel. If you need to turn left, move your hand to the left; if you need to turn right, then move your hand to the right. Remember that axle trailers cut more quickly than a tandem axle trailer will. Don’t panic if you jackknife or turn too far one way. Simply pull forward and start again.
When towing a trailer, passing takes more time and requires more distance. Similar rules apply when towing a trailer as driving without one: Do not pass on a hill and do not pass on a curve. Both hills and curves limit your visibility, and you need to ensure there is adequate clear roadway ahead to pass another vehicle safely. In addition, keep in mind that your vehicle is larger and heavier due to the weight it is towing, causing both your vehicle and the vehicle you are passing to sway more than usual. Ensure there isn’t a tight squeeze for you or the vehicle you pass.
11. Respond To Sway
It is tempting (and easy) to panic and desperately pump the brake if your vehicle and trailer start to sway. Whatever happens, do not try to stop the swaying by slamming on your brakes or turning the steering wheel, as this can make the swaying worse. Instead, take your foot off the gas, steer straight, and wait it out.
We hope you feel confident and safe using these 11 trailer towing tips before taking off for your next adventure. At Rocket Marine, Inc., we are advocates for helping get you and your boat safely to your destination! This is why we have an incredible team of experienced mechanics to keep your boat trailer in road-ready condition. Worried your boat trailer might be ready for retirement? We carry a selection of top-quality trailers to fit your needs.
Here’s to your safe travels!