How to Protect Your Vehicle While Towing a Boat

Owning a boat can be tough. It needs attention, maintenance and transportation as well. And it can also get pricy, so, naturally, many people save money and tow their boats themselves instead of paying a few hundred dollars for hauling services.

A boat, depending on its size and build can weigh up to 5,000 pounds. Not every car is built to be up for this task. A lot depends on the specifications like torque, towing capacity, the weight of the vehicle itself, and of the boat, you want to pull. Additionally, it almost never boils down to just simple math in real life. So here are some techniques and tips that will help you tow safely without exposing your vehicle to excessive stress.

Use the right vehicle to tow a boat

The first thing you need to figure out is whether your car or truck is enough. Eyeballing the car will not help you calculate its limits. The easiest way to look up specifications is to open a towing cap finder and select the correct year, make and model. And if you want to be absolutely sure, this information is always present in the manual.

A regular car or a crossover can pull a lightweight sailboat or an aluminum fishing boat that weighs around 300-900 pounds without any issues. These boats are light and small and don’t interfere too much with steering and braking.

You will need at least an SUV type of car to tow anything heavier than 1,000 pounds. Their towing capacity allows them to pull boats weighing up to 6,000 pounds depending on the build and trim level.

Everything beyond 6,000 pounds requires a truck, no less. These vehicles are made for heavy-duty tasks impossible for other types, like extreme off-roading and hauling.

Do not tow at full capacity

It is critical to know the towing capacity before all else because all other tips and tricks will be ineffective if you accidentally or purposefully tow at max capacity or even exceed this limit. Whenever you pull heavy loads with your vehicle, it makes your engine, wheels, cooling and transmission work harder than ever. And the more you tow, the greater effort it takes.

The ideal option is to pick a truck or SUV with your boat’s weight in mind. Alternatively, if you only plan to get a boat or to replace your old one with something better, pay attention to its weight. It must be well below your vehicle’s towing capacity.

Unfortunately, improving the towing capacity with modifications or making the boat lighter is not cheap either and doesn’t guarantee great results. So the best thing you can do if your car lacks towing capacity to tow your boat is to find a local service or an annual subscription that will allow you to get it towed and receive other services without spending too much.

Towing capacity vs payload capacity

Knowing your towing capacity and the boat’s weight is useful, but keep in mind that these numbers dwell mostly on paper. In reality, your car will have quite a few extra pounds of luggage and a couple of passengers, while the boat can have a full fuel tank and equipment on board. The cargo and passengers inside your vehicle will take some of your payload capacity, while all you can pull behind is limited by towing capacity. These two specifications are closely related.

You must know your payload capacity to not put too much inside. If you reach the limit or exceed it, towing will become a risky endeavor. The weight of everything on board will press directly onto the vehicle’s axles. That is why if you compare towing capacity to how much you can carry inside the vehicle, you will see that pulling is much more effective.

To determine the payload capacity, first, find out the curb weight (how much it weighs empty) and GVWR (find it on the driver’s door or in the manual). Your payload capacity is GVWR minus curb weight. To get the most accurate result, you need to also subtract the tongue weight (10%-15% of the total boat weight).

Now, to get the actual towing capacity of your vehicle, not the recommended amount from the manual, you need to substruct the curb weight, cargo and passengers’ weight from your vehicle’s GCVWR. Only this way you can find the realistic towing capacity of your vehicle.

Maintaining balance

Weight distribution can have a nasty effect on your vehicle. Pay very close attention to how you place cargo inside your car. Step outside once all is ready and make sure there is no sagging. The boat can make the rear sag lower if it is not secured correctly.

Don’t drive away if you notice this issue. The best-case scenario you can hope for is bad alignment and increased tire wear from extra weight. If the sagging is very noticeable, the problems will be worse. Both towing and cargo weigh down on suspension, prompting its deterioration. If you tow with a badly unbalanced weight, the damage can be permanent and still affect the suspension even when you drive an empty vehicle.

The real danger of disregarding the problem with balance is running a risk of road accidents. Extra burden and poor alignment will impact your control over steering and braking. Moreover, the sagged rear will put more stress on the mount and hitch that secures the boat in place. This can result in metal fatigue and fast deterioration inside the material. And driving with a compromised hitch is irresponsible to other people on the road who can get hurt.

Create a checklist

Prepare a small checklist to remind yourself what you need to check before towing. Put everything essential on that list, like checking what you want to take with you, how your equipment is doing, is wiring working properly, etc. Taking your boat out for a trip or a fishing weekend must be fun. There is no room for worries and road assistance services.

Drive safely!