What You Really Need To Tow

June 2022 Feature Scott “Sky” Smith

Recently I was questioned by a new boat buyer about towing boats. In this case the question was in reference to the towing capacity of a small SUV with a tow capacity of 3,500 pounds. The feeling was that it would be more than enough for a 2,500-pound boat. But the person kept reading Internet forums where people were “horrified” at the prospect of towing a boat with such a small vehicle.

So I thought I might share my experience. I actually had a 2007 Dodge Nitro that I used for a few years to tow my sailboat and then my pontoon. The Nitro had a fairly low towing capacity, 3,500 pounds with the basic package and more with the tow kit, depending on who you talked to. Mine had the tow kit but I do not think its capacity was really much more than 3,500 pounds. I actually bought my pontoon with the towing weight in mind so that I could use the Nitro with the `toon. But I only tow the boat twice a year and only about five miles each way. Quick side note here: the Nitro had quite a few miles (I seem to drive a lot) and a few issues and was traded in for a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Anyway, I don’t think that the vehicle towing capacity is the only issue. The trouble with short or small vehicles is lack of control. The boat and trailer are often big enough that if the boat gets to swaying or drops off the edge of the road, the vehicle might not have the weight and mass to get it back on the road and back under control. Equalizer hitches will help reduce swaying and the lowering of the rear of your vehicle, but there is nothing you can do to increase the vehicle mass and its ability to control the trailer in adverse conditions.

Typically you will need a vehicle with a towing capacity that is higher than the load you plan to tow. The old recommendations I grew up with were to have a vehicle that was about 1,000 pounds more than what you were towing.

Most towing capable vehicles can be equipped with the additional “towing package.” You need a vehicle that has the weight and mass to control the trailer but you also need a hitch strong enough for the towing weight, a transmission capable of dragging the weight around without slipping or overheating and brakes that are big enough to stop the trailer without fading.

A couple other factors to consider are how often and how far you will be towing. If all you are doing is taking it to a local lake or to the marina a couple of times a year, and the road is pretty level, a small vehicle might do fine.

But if you are planning to take the boat and travel cross country, you need a “tow worthy” vehicle, something with pretty good size, weight and towing capacity. Most people look at the weight of the boat as the only factor. But remember, the boat might have a factory weight of 3,000 pounds, but you need to add the weight of the engine, fuel, all the stuff you loaded onboard and the weight of the trailer. That means you need a vehicle that has the power to pull “all” the weight. And not just on the highway, but up the boat ramp.

Another towing factor is the profile. A low-profile, sleek bass boat will not be affected by the winds as much as a 25-foot pontoon with a 250 horsepower outboard on a dual axle trailer. You know, it kind of reminds me of driving a U-Haul truck.

Oh, as far as insurance? Your boat policy should be able to include the trailer and may even include roadside assistance, but your tow vehicle insurance will need to cover the liability. Make sure you have towing coverage on your policy.

I do remember my favorite tow vehicle. It was a “testosterone”-filled Ford F250, Super Duty, crew cab, 4x4 pickup with a V10 engine. It pulled whatever I hooked up and never seem to flinch. Of course, my gas mileage wasn’t very good. But I do miss using it to tow. Although I don’t miss the parking issues or the fuel consumption.



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