When I was growing up, we trailered our boat. It’s just how it was. The reservoirs in the area weren’t that big to begin with and there was definitely no room for multiple standing docks. It was a new concept for me when I began meeting people who don’t even own a trailer because their boats never leave the lake. On the flip side, it was strange to them when I asked how often they loaded their ‘toon up.
This leads me to believe there are two types of people in the pontoon world: those who trailer boats and those who don’t. Trust me when I say, there are pros and cons to both. But for the purpose of this column, let’s see if we can put some people’s minds at ease who dread trailering their boats. I realize it’s not the most aerodynamic boat on the market, but if you let go of your NASCAR dream while towing it, you’ll be fine.
Start At The Front
If you are going to trailer your boat, then obviously you have to own a vehicle that is physically able to tow it. There’s a lot of debate on exactly what it takes. Remember though, pontoons are generally light vessels. Traditionally, an I/O version will weigh a little bit more but overall, pontoons aren’t that heavy compared to other boats. The thing here to consider is your transmission. If you have a standard overdrive tranny in your vehicle, it’s not optimal for towing. Towing in overdrive, especially with the load the size of a pontoon, creates excessive internal pressures in the transmission and will eventually ruin it. Turning off overdrive will hurt your fuel economy, but you can improve it by driving at a slower speed. While you’re pulling a pontoon, it’s much safer anyway for you and others to go at a slightly slower pace. A transmission temperature gauge is a really smart addition if you're going to be regularly towing. They cost less than $100 and are an easy DIY install.
Other than that, it’s important to keep your vehicle in good shape with regular oil and air filer changes. This is just good ownership practice in general.
Make sure your tires on the vehicle are correctly inflated as well. While it's not a good thing to have overinflated tires, it’s even worse to drive a vehicle with low tires. For your trailer, familiarize yourself with the tires as well. A tire's sidewall is where you learn everything you need to know, including dimensions, capacities, age and most importantly, purpose. A tire made for a boat trailer will have "ST" on the sidewall or, in some cases, the words, “Trailer Use Only.” Unlike tires on your car, trailer tires have strengthened sidewalls to handle the weight of a boat, especially when rounding corners.
A trailer parked for an unseasonably long time is not ideal for tires. For starters, it means you aren’t boating enough. But it’s also not good for the trailer or its tires. When the tires bear the weight in the same position for a long period of time, it results in flat spots. Don’t forget to check the tire pressure to ensure the tires are properly inflated.
Another concern for sitting trailers is prolonged exposure to the sun's UV rays because it will cause the tires to crack. Combat this by throwing on tire covers. But the absolute worst thing you can do to a trailer is to park it on grass for a long period of time. Moisture will work its way up and will slowly get into the tire's protective surface. This can be solved by either removing the tires during the winter or positioning the trailer tires on concrete or plywood.
Now that we’ve covered the tow vehicle, let’s discuss the trailer. It is important to have a trailer that is professionally built and is in good working order. Little mistakes can be the difference between life and death. Examine your trailer thoroughly between each trip. Make sure the hook-ups and wiring are in good condition. When preparing your setup, calculate your tongue weight, which is the downward force that the tongue of the trailer applies to the hitch of the tow vehicle. To reduce the sway as your drive, manufacturers recommend that the tongue weight of the trailer be 9 to 15 percent of the gross trailer weight. There's good reasoning behind these numbers, too, because they will affect your ability to safely tow. If the tongue of the trailer does not exert enough downward force on the hitch, meaning that the trailer's tongue weight is too light, you are risking trailer sway. If the tongue weight is too heavy, the steering of the tow vehicle will be affected. As you can see, tongue weight is a big deal.
Don’t let it stress you out. Tongue weight is something that can be easily adjusted. If you have a scale that can go up to 9 percent of your proposed gross trailer weight, you can set it up on a box or stool that is level with the trailer hitch. Weigh it and then simply move the unstationary items around until you get the desired weight. You’ll be a pro in no time.
Now that you know what to look for and how to take care of it, go get yourself a trailer and explore a new area. You’ll make memories to last a lifetime.