Tips for Towing a Trailer

By Dan Armitage
Published: Summer 2013

Heading for the wide-open spaces with a boat in tow means leaving some space ... more than you would without the boat in tow.

Hitting the highway with a boat trailer that has been properly matched with and secured to the vehicle goes a long way toward assuring a trouble-free trip (see video checklist details). If you've double checked everything, and given the rig a "sea trial" run around the neighborhood and a leg on the highway at freeway speeds, you're clear to take to the road.

But there, you have additional responsibilities as you share the highway with fellow travelers. The extra weight, length, and axle or two combine to make your rig a bigger threat to other drivers, and it's important that you recognize your limitations when towing the family boat.

Ford Explorer towing a boat

Spot The Difference

The first difference you may notice when towing a boat trailer is how much longer it takes you to accelerate when compared to driving the same vehicle without a load in tow. The added weight of the trailered boat makes the rig heavier and therefore harder to get up to speed. The weight factor also contributes to the second difference you will note when towing a trailer: how much harder it is to slow the rig or bring it to a stop.

Know Your Distance

Even if the trailer is equipped with surge or electric brakes, stopping distances will likely be far longer and you will need to factor in how far it takes to slow or stop your rig on-the-road.

That's why one of the most important considerations to keep in mind while towing a boat is that it will take you longer to accelerate and longer to come to a stop. That means giving yourself added space when accelerating to pull out into traffic or pass another vehicle, as well as added distance between your vehicle and one ahead of you when underway. When it comes time to slow for a turn, or stop for a traffic light, toll booth, or traffic, you need to have given yourself enough room ahead to do so without excessive, last-moment braking.

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Keep the Rubber on the Road

The National Association of Trailer Manufacturers says boat trailer tires have a maximum speed rating of 62-68 mph, so keep this in mind when driving on interstates.

Road trial: Make sure the boat, trailer, and tow vehicle are loaded as close to the weight as they will be on your trip and that you get up to cruising speed on the highway to test for any tendencies to fishtail.

Braking: While underway in traffic, double the old "car length for every 10 mph of speed" advice you learned in driver's ed to maintain a safe braking distance ahead. Then be ready to get cut off by fellow drivers who see the void between you and the vehicle ahead.

Shift: Downshift to a lower gear instead of riding your brakes when going downhill for any distance to allow the engine to help keep your speed in check.


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