How to Tow a Boat: Step-by-Step Guide
Towing a boat makes it possible to explore more waterways and get the most out of your boating experience. Towing a boat is not difficult, but safety should always be a number-one concern.
Follow these basics for how to tow a boat:
- Couple the boat trailer to your tow vehicle.
- Run through a pre-trip trailering checklist to make sure the boat, trailer, and vehicle are ready to hit the road.
- Get your boat off the trailer and launch it when you arrive at your destination.
- Get your boat back onto the trailer when you’re ready to return home.
- Run through the checklist again, before towing home.
- Park and uncouple the boat trailer from your tow vehicle.
Prepare Your Tow Vehicle
Of course, the first step is to know that your vehicle has the proper towing capacity for your boat and trailer. Check the vehicle owner’s manual to determine the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) capacity, which is the weight limit for the combined vehicle, loaded trailer and people and gear in the vehicle. A professional scale like those at a truck stop will determine the exact weight of your boat and trailer. Also make sure your trailer hitch is rated for the weight of the boat and trailer.
Follow a Pre-Trip Trailering Checklist
Your vehicle should be in good order. Check the tire pressure and condition of the tires. Have the brakes inspected before boat-towing season begins. Study the owner’s manual for towing instructions, such as over-riding the transmission overdrive.
- Check the air pressure in the trailer tires before every trip. Low air pressure is a leading cause of trailer tire blow-outs, especially early in the season when the trailer may have been parked for a long time.
- Check the trailer lights before taking off, and take time to check them occasionally during the trip.
- Make sure the boat is secured at both the bow eye and with tie-downs at the transom.
- Have your trailer brakes inspected before the towing season or annually, and keep the wheel bearings properly lubricated.
- Make sure there’s no loose gear in the boat that could blow out at highway speeds.
- Make certain all the gear you’ll need for a day on the water is loaded and ready to go.
Getting Your Boat Off the Trailer
You’re at the launch ramp and ready to go boating. Get a good look at the launch ramp area and come up with a plan for backing down and launching. Prepare the boat, your gear, and your crew. Launch the boat and park your vehicle and trailer in a designated spot.
Getting Your Boat Back Onto the Trailer
Ready to load up for the trip home? Approach the launch ramp area and observe the flow of traffic to the ramp. Good etiquette is always appreciated and if you “glow with the flow” it helps everyone launch and load efficiently. Either drop off your driver at the dock, or tie up while the vehicle is prepared and back down the ramp. Give your crew instructions on how to help before backing down, then load your boat.
Run Through the Checklist (Again)
Before hitting the road, double-check that the trailer hitch is secure and that the boat tie-downs are tight and secure. Check that the trailer lights are functioning, and all tires are in good shape. Remove any weeds or marine growth from the boat or trailer, and clean out bait and live wells per local ordinance – both precautions keep invasive species from spreading. Once again, check the boat for loose items that could blow out at highway speed. Your driver should also be in top shape—sober and well-rested.
Remove the Trailer from Your Tow Vehicle
It’s always a good idea to chock the trailer wheels before uncoupling the trailer from your vehicle. To prevent mildew remove any wet gear from boat storage compartments, and clean up trash or food items that could attract mice or other critters. Use the trailer jack to raise the bow of the boat so any water in the bilge (from rain while parked) flows aft to the bilge pump or drain plug.