How To: Proper Boat Towing

There has been a ton of information written for anglers on what to do in order to catch fish once they get to the water. But there’s not a lot of attention paid to an important topic that can destroy a fishing trip even before it gets started. Now might be the time to give it some thought before the open-water season gets underway. I recommend that you do some research and educate yourself in order to keep yourself and others safe.

A two-year study called, “Towing Troubles: Danger on America’s Road,” was released in 2006. This study noted that towing problems led to more than 400 deaths and almost 30,000 injuries in 2004, which was the latest year that towing issues like this were thoroughly researched.

Although this online survey focused on folks who tow boats and trailers, only one third of them felt they were very knowledgeable about safety and proper towing practices. Almost three-quarters admitted they were not very knowledgeable. Now, this is what is amazing…almost one third of them indicated they had no knowledge of the issues when towing a trailer at all.

There are just way too many people who are inexperienced with towing, shifting loads and the knowledge you need to safely tow a boat. You are definitely endangering yourself and others if you don’t properly educate yourself.

More than half of the people surveyed did not even know or were unsure of their trailer’s gross weight. The trailer’s gross weight is critical information for the type of hitch you need. Another half of these folks didn’t know or were unsure of the class of hitch on their vehicle. This classification determines how much weight can be towed by the vehicle without experiencing some problems.

Truck buyers are often only concerned with horsepower, payload and towing capacity. While this is important, people should also consider other factors like spring ratings, stopping power and how the truck handles the load.

Consider issues such as gas vs. diesel engines. A gas engine is pretty common when driving a car or a truck without towing much. A diesel engine is superior when towing large boat trailers as the torque and power a diesel possesses is incredible. I’ve towed with both gas and diesel. The diesel engine just does not blink an eye when towing up large hills as the gas engine lugs and your speed drops dramatically without stomping on the gas.

Tongue weight is another critical factor to be considered. This is a measure of what the back bumper or hitch can handle. A good rule of thumb is to use when determining your tongue weight is to estimate that 10 to 15 percent of the total trailer weight will rest on the tongue.

Some trucks have good traction even when they only have two-wheel drive by utilizing computer-controlled slip/traction mechanisms. But four-wheel drive is a great to have and can truly make a big difference, even on dry pavement, when pulling a heavy load or while taking a boat out of the water on a slippery ramp.

When considering a truck, always ask about the brakes. It’s great to have a discussion about towing capacity and horsepower, but if you can’t stop, you’re going to have issues.

Trip Checklist:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Institute offers a checklist of safety issues regarding tow vehicles:

• Before buying, make sure the vehicle has the capacity to tow your trailer and boat. Consider a diesel engine if you are pulling a large boat and trailer.

• Make certain your hitch can handle the load.

• Your truck’s tow package should have “beefed up” all of the following components including a heavy-duty radiator, battery, alternator, suspension, and brakes. In addition, an engine-oil cooler, transmission-oil cooler and appropriate wiring harness should be included.

• Towing packages on trucks should include a draw bar, which is an assembly on which the hitch ball is mounted. Get the right component for the weight of the trailer you are planning on towing.

• Before leaving home, check your tires, lug nuts, the hitch, coupler, draw bar, lights and brakes. Utilize all of the safety gear, including hooking up the breakaway surge brakes to stop the trailer in the event it comes loose.

• Connect your safety chains below the hitch to keep the trailer connected to your vehicle if the hitch slips free.

• Feel your trailer hubs after driving a few miles. If they are hot, the bearings need to be greased or replaced in a hurry.

• Always drive at moderate speeds.

Be safe and avoid disaster by paying attention to the details while towing. You’ll be glad you did, and that you got to the lake safely as you’re reeling in fish!