Chapter 3: Launching and Operation

Towing Preparation: Vehicle, Trailer, and Hitch

Now that one has gathered the essential safety equipment, fulfilled your pre-departure checklist, and prepared a float plan, one is ready to head out on the water. Since the first step towards boating is getting the vessel to the shore, here are some guidelines for safe towing preparation.

For smaller personal craft, one will need to tow the vessel out of the water after boating. Ensure that the vehicle can handle the weight and do not risk using a smaller vehicle which may not be able to properly tow the boat. Make sure the appropriate safety chains, trailer, and hitch to tow the vessel are on hand.

A trailer should come with a capacity place. One must verify that the trailer is capable of carrying the full weight of the boat which will include the fuel, equipment, motor, and any gear on board. Also, pay close attention to the tongue indicated on the capacity plate. If the tongue is too light, your boat can dangerously fishtail behind the vehicle. If it is too heavy, it will impair steering.

The safest way to check whether a vehicle is capable of safely towing the boat is to check its Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) and the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). These two values measure what the vehicle and trailer are capable of towing, and can be found in the manufacturer's manual of each.

Boat Towing Preparation

Never exceed 80% of either the GAWR or the GVWR. When purchasing a vehicle or trailer for the purposes of towing a vessel, ensure the vehicle can safely support and tow the weight of the boat.

Finally, always match the trailer class with the appropriate hitch. Before heading onto the street, verify that the coupler is not smaller than the ball hitch and that the hitch and ball are secure.

Remember the following guidelines for the total weight a trailer can tow, based on class:

Trailer Class Towing Weight
Class 1 Never exceed 2,000 lb.
Class 2 2,001 lb. to 3,500 lb.
Class 3 3,501 lb. to 5,000 lb.
Class 4 5,001 lb. up to 12,000 lb.