10 Things You Need to Know About Towing


Is there more to towing a boat than just hooking it to your vehicle and heading to the lake? Of course! There are lots of details you need to know about even before buying your boat. Here are 10 towing related questions—and answers—that every boater should know when it comes to towing a boat.

Do I Need Trailer Brakes?

Most states require brakes to be fitted on trailers with a gross weight higher than 3,000 pounds. Many experts recommend them on trailers rated for 1,500 pounds and above.

Tip: Trailer brakes are either disc or drum brakes. Disc brakes can replace most drum systems with minimum modifications and offer many advantages over drum brakes, including greater stopping power, fewer moving parts and lower maintenance.

Do I Need A Single Or Tandem Axle?

Pros: Tandem trailers are the choice for long-distance towing because they evenly distribute and balance load weight better. Another plus is the short-term backup should a tire or bearing fail. You can limp a short distance until reaching a safe place to change the tire or have it serviced.

Cons: their weight and limited close-quarters maneuverability. Single-axle trailers cost less and require less maintenance.

Tip: Single-axle trailers are easier to move around driveways and into garages.

What Is Gross Vehicle Weight?

It is the maximum loaded weight of your vehicle (or trailer), as determined by the manufacturer. GVWR isn't just the weight of passengers and cargo but also the vehicle itself.

Tip: Ensure that the vehicle's GVW—vehicle weight when empty along with the payload, the weight of all people and cargo in the vehicle—and the tongue weight of the trailer do not exceed the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), the maximum operating weight of a vehicle.

What Is Towing Capacity?

Towing capacity, on the other hand, is the maximum weight capacity of the vehicle, specifically in terms of how heavy of a trailer it can tow.

Tip: Never exceed the weight capacity of the lowest-rated component of your towing system. For example, your trailer hitch may be rated to tow 5,000 pounds, but your vehicle may only be rated at 3,500 pounds.

What Is Tongue Weight?

It’s the downward force that the tongue of the trailer exerts on the hitch. This is usually between 10-15 percent of the total weight of the loaded trailer, but some boat trailers may fall outside of this range.

Tip: Correct tongue load is critical in avoiding trailer sway. The tongue weight is also greatly affected by where cargo is positioned in a trailer, and is important for maintaining good control of the vehicle.

What Kind of Trailer Hitch Do I Need?

Weight-carrying hitches are the type most commonly found on vehicles. There are five classes, each based on the total combined weight of the boat and trailer. Class I hitches are rated for the smallest of boats, while Class II hitches are good enough for personal watercraft and jon boats. Class III hitches are rated for up to 6,000 pounds gross tow weight and 600 pounds trailer tongue weight. These hitches bolt to the vehicle frame and are the most common for full-size pickups and SUVs. The receiver accepts a 2-inch square drawbar. Class IV hitches are designed for maximums of 10,000 pounds gross towing weight and 1,000 pounds of trailer tongue weight. Class V hitches are rated for 12,000 pounds gross tow weight and 1,200 pounds trailer tongue weight. These are designed for heavy-duty pickups.

Tip: If you purchase a new pickup or SUV with a factory towing package, you are ahead of the game.

What Size Ball Hitch Do I Need?

 These come in three sizes—17⁄8, 2 and 25⁄16 inches—to match the coupler size on the boat trailer.

Tip: Don't mix sizes—a ball that's too big won't let you close the coupler latch; a ball that's too small can allow the trailer to come loose while you're on the road.

When Will I Need New Trailer Tires?

First, most trailer tire manufacturers recommend replacing tires that are more than six years old. Trailer tires are either bias ply or radial. Bias-ply sidewalls are stiffer, less expensive than radials and preferred if the trailer isn't used for long trips. If you take long trips, radials are a better choice because there's reduced heat buildup, greater load capacity and less road noise. Use all bias ply or all radials; never mix them.

Tip: Boat-trailer tires require a lot of air pressure—in most cases, between 50 and 65 psi. In fact, the correct pressure is almost always the maximum-rated pressure for that tire, which is molded right on the sidewall. Maintaining that pressure is critically important to towing safety.

Is A Steel or Aluminum Frame Best?

Boat trailers used in salt or brackish water are far more subject to ­corrosion than those used in fresh water, so picking the right frame material is critical. Aluminum or ­galvanized-steel trailers hold up better in marine environments than painted steel trailers. Aluminum trailers can cost as much as 50 percent more than comparable galvanized trailers, but aluminum models also tend to last longer and stay better-looking than ­galvanized-steel trailers.

Tip: For maximum service life, all trailer models should be thoroughly rinsed after each dunking.

Do I Need LED or Conventional Lights?

Two styles of trailer taillights and side-marker lights are available—conventional, incandescent bulbs and the newer LED lights. The advantage of the former is that replacement bulbs are inexpensive and readily available. LED lights have longer life spans, stay cooler and react to brake-light inputs milliseconds faster. Their downside is, because most are sealed units, if a light goes out, you have to replace the entire unit (not just the bulb cluster). The upside is they have far more illumination power and are safer.

Tip: LED trailer lights used to be far more expensive than conventional lights, but the good news is that LEDs are coming down in price, making them a more logical choice for boat trailers.

Here’s one final tip worth considering. Find answers to everything you need to know about towing at a Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Boating Center. The helpful experts share the same passion as you for boating, and you can find service, accessories and anything else you need for your boat. You can find that, too, and have the confidence that it will ride on a custom-matched trailer that is ideal for the model.


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