How Boat Towing Safety Works

Boat Towing Vehicle Safety Checks

Your vehicle is going to be working hard -- make sure it can handle the load.
Your vehicle is going to be working hard -- make sure it can handle the load.
© iStockphoto/ Tim McCaig

First things first, the vehicle that's going to be used to tow the boat needs to be checked out from top to bottom to make sure that it's able and ready for the trip. There are several things you'll want to ask yourself and several calculations you'll want to make before you start throwing the fishing gear into the back and loading up the kids.

One primary consideration is the tow vehicle's total towing capacity. The maximum weight capacity your vehicle can tow -- and just as importantly, the recommended capacity it can tow -- is usually something you can find out from the vehicle manufacturer or the owner's manual.

Next, determine whether the tow vehicle can handle the weight of the boat by getting the dry weight of the boat from the owner's manual. Then, slap on another several hundred pounds for all the fuel and gear you'll probably be hauling along, too. There are a number of components of the tow vehicle that'll be under considerably increased strain while you're towing, and this needs to be taken into account. Make sure the tow vehicle's engine, cooling system, brakes, suspension, tires, transmission and other components are all up to the job.

Don't underestimate the importance of having your hitch system checked out by a professional. He or she might recommend additional equipment like a weight distribution system or a sway control device, and he or she can tell you how much of a load the system can handle and make sure it's in good working order. Knowing how much total weight your hitch can haul -- and how much of the trailer's weight it needs to be bearing itself -- is critical for a safe and stable tow.

If those numbers and systems all check out, the next recommended step is to perform a rundown of your vehicles. A checklist is a good way to go; it helps make sure no important steps slip your mind. There are a number of items that are crucial to examine before every trip.

On the towing vehicle, the brakes, tires and wheel bearings should all be checked for wear and tear and operational soundness. Make sure the mirrors are large enough to give a full view of the rear of the trailer -- you don't want any surprises back there.

Next, we'll take a closer look at your boat's trailer, checking to make sure everything's shipshape before we head out to open water.