Most of us bought a boat because we live near a lake or river or reservoir, and it's convenient to make the 10-minute drive to the water and get started on an awesome day. Unless you permanently dock your boat at the lake, this means you'll have to tow your pride and joy a short distance every time the kids want to go tubing. This is something most people are familiar and comfortable with. The trouble can come if you want to try a different lake and wish to haul your deck boat to a spot ten hours away, or if you're vacationing and want to pontoon on Lake Powell, but you live in Michigan. Towing a boat long distances introduces new factors into the haul: freeway speeds, possibly blowing a tire in the middle of nowhere and boat insurance questions are just some of these.
Time For A Physical
The first thing to note is that a thorough inspection of your trailer and towing vehicle are mandatory. Check your tires, all of them. You need to look at the tires currently on your truck and trailer to make sure there is no undue wear and tear. If there are any doubts as to whether they can survive the trip, replace them. Also check the spare tires to ensure they are properly inflated and ready to work if the situation arises.
As long as you're inspecting the tires, tighten the lug nuts to make sure they aren't loose. Losing a nut at 70 miles per hour is not a pleasant experience, and can lead to catastrophe under the right circumstances. Grease the wheel bearings, as prolonged use can magnify any rough patches in this area. You may even want to repack the bearings. You may need a professional to do this for you, but taking the time and money to get it done now is much better than seeing a wheel come bouncing off your trailer while underway.
Make sure the tire pressure is at the recommended pound per square inch (PSI) for your vehicle and trailer.
Double check to make sure you have a jack for the vehicle and for the trailer. Many a tower has discovered a flat on his trailer, only to realize he had no way to get it up off the ground to remove and replace the old one. Along these lines, ensure you have a lug wrench that fits the nuts on your trailer as well as your truck.
Check to see that the lights for the trailer are working. If you've only ever taken short trips, shame on you if you've never bothered to see if the turning and brake signals are functional. You might think you can get away with this in your hometown, but you need to ensure everything is good to go before leaving on a long journey. Besides being safe, it's the law.
Lock the trailer hitch to the ball using chains or another attaching method. Again, when making short trips you may think it's acceptable to only rely on the ball to keep everything secure, but anything can happen at 3 a.m. in the Nevada desert. If that ball fails, you'll be glad you had a backup system, which is something you should always do anyway.
Contact your boat insurance company and see if you are covered if you boat in another state. If you are with a nation wide insurer, you are probably okay, but it doesn't hurt to find out.
Finally, make sure your boat is strapped securely to the trailer. One product, Steadymate, is designed specifically for this purpose. The Transom Trapper II is a two-inch wide strap, complete with gel coat protector and snap hooks on both ends, to give you extra security while hauling your deck boat. A pack of two straps is $29.99 at www.steadymate.com.
On The Road
Once you've completed a thorough check of the trailer and towing vehicle, everything's ready to go. However, there are additional worries and dangers once the trip has begun.
One problem you may run into is forgetting you're even towing a pontoon. After five or six hours of continuous driving, the additional weight is no longer noticeable, and this can lead to you driving faster than is safe or changing lanes without accounting for the extra length. To combat this, stop at a rest area every couple hundred miles to clear your head. While you're stopped, take the time to do a walk-around check of your SUV and trailer to make sure nothing has come loose or could present a problem in the near future.
While driving, it can be hard to see if your boat cover has come loose or if your taillights are working. That's where Towpal comes in. Towpal is a unique service that allows you to use the drivers around you to watch for problems. After signing up with their service, you are given a sign (vinyl, aluminum or magnetic) to display on your vehicle as well as boat. The sign tells other drivers that if they see a problem, they should call the listed phone number and enter the displayed code. After doing this, they can leave a voice message that will be relayed to you, in the driver's seat, allowing you to pull over and correct the issue as soon as possible. First-time customers can get a sign, activation and one year of service (which includes unlimited alerts and messages) for the flat rate of $50. Visit www.towpal.com for more information.
Your towing speed should be near the posted speed limit, so long as your vehicle can handle towing a boat at that speed. Be aware of situations where you may need to drive below the limit, such as winding roads or windy conditions. As with any long distance car trip, stay awake and alert. If you feel yourself nodding off, either switch drivers or pull over for the night. It only takes a few seconds of drifting into dreamland to cause a tragedy.
I know this seems like a lot to handle, but safety in these situations is paramount. It's better to be adequately prepared for a road emergency than go on a trip hoping nothing bad happens.