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You are probably thinking of buying a boat and joining in on the fun you see people having every weekend at the lake, skiing, tubing, and fishing. However, you’re likely a little nervous about the process of getting your new boat to the lake. How do you tow a boat? Is there a checklist boat owner’s should follow? What vehicles can tow my boat to the lake? Don’t worry because thousands of people dive in for the first time every year. 

How do you properly tow a boat? 

A Ford SUV towing a boat on North Lake Road at the Bartlett Lake Recreation Area in Tonto National Forest of Arizona
A Ford SUV towing a boat | Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The first thing you’ll need to do when you pick up your new boat is connect the boat trailer to your vehicle’s trailer hitch. The website Boats offers this simplified list for this process:

  1. “Align the hitch and ball, then lower the trailer hitch down over the ball.” Aligning the hitch and ball is the most challenging step when hooking up your trailer. You’ll need to back your vehicle into position with the hitch ball directly under the trailer coupler. There are cameras designed to help when doing this alone, but most people use someone to give them guidance with hand signals. 
  1. “Close the latch and insert the safety pin.” Once the trailer tongue jack is raised and the coupler is fully seated on the hitch ball, you may need to apply a little forward pressure with your vehicle to get the latch to close. The key is to ensure that everyone is clear and apply pressure without moving the boat trailer. 
  1. “Cross the safety chains, and attach them to the truck.” Crossing the chains creates a basket of sorts for the trailer tongue if it should come off the hitch ball while driving. Attach the chains to the trailer hitch at the provided locations. 
  1. “If your trailer has brakes, attach the safety line to the tow vehicle.” This safety line engages the trailer’s brakes if the trailer becomes separated from the tow vehicle. Always attach it directly to the tow vehicle and not to the safety chains. 
  1. “Plug in the lights and run a full check to make sure they’re all working.” Plug in the trailer light connection and ensure it is fully seated so it won’t pull out. Have someone turn on the lights, push the brake pedal, and operate both turn signals while you check that all the lights work as they should. Turn on your emergency flashers to check the lights if you are performing this step alone. 

If you’ve never towed a trailer, it’s advisable to get some practice beforehand. First, scout out a parking lot with wide-open space and a time that it’s empty. Then rent a trailer (including the insurance) for a few hours when you know your parking lot is vacant. Next, take some orange cones or boxes to simulate other cars at an intersection or the sides of the boat ramp and practice navigating those obstacles. 

Pre-trip checklist for towing

Boat towing season for most parts of the country only involves the summer months. Discover Boating tells us that before boating season, or otherwise annually, you should inspect the brakes on your tow vehicle and boat trailer and ensure that your trailer’s bearings are adequately lubricated. Discover Boating also provides the following checklist:

  • 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 check them occasionally during the trip.
  • Ensure the boat is secured at both the bow eye and tie-downs at the transom.
  • Make sure there’s no loose gear in the boat that could blow out at highway speeds.
  • Make sure all the gear you’ll need for a day on the water is loaded and ready to go.”

2022 trucks and SUVs capable of easily towing a boat

Boats come in many different lengths and weights. While you could easily tow a small rowboat with nearly any vehicle, a large cabin cruiser may require the towing capacity of a semi-truck. Your fishing or skiing boating needs will likely fall in between these two extremes resulting in the need for a truck-based SUV or a half-ton pickup truck

Examples of truck-based SUVs include the 2022 Chevrolet Tahoe and the 2022 Ford Expedition. Half-ton pickup trucks include the 2022 Ram 1500 and 2022 Toyota Tundra. These and other similar offerings will likely meet your needs for towing the average fishing or ski boat weighing up to 7,500 pounds. 


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