How Much Towing Capacity do I Need to Tow a Boat?

How Much Towing Capacity do I Need to Tow a Boat

Towing your boat allows you to transport it wherever you want and wherever you wish to go. This will allow you to move the vessel across land as you seek other places to maximize your sailing experience. However, before you start towing your boat, you have to have things ready first including the truck you’ll be using.

There are several options in the market available including a small SUV that can hold 1,000 pounds, mid-sized SUVs with an actual weight capacity of 2,500 pounds, a medium pickup that can hold about 3,000 pounds, and a full-size truck that can hold 5,000 pounds or even more. 

Gross trailer weight vs. gross vehicle weight rating: what's the difference?

The following are terms that you will most likely encounter while looking to buy a tow vehicle. You have to understand what these mean to avoid purchasing the wrong one. Tow ratings will show the maximum capacity of the vehicle when it is with specific equipment. Although this may be the case, it would be best if you confirm the actual tow ratings of the vehicle you want with its manufacturer. 

  1. Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)- This refers to the weight allowed for the vehicle to carry including fuel, passengers, cargo, and even how much the hitch ball and the trailer weigh. It is also sometimes called Gross Trailer Weight Rating.
  2. Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR)- This refers to the allowed total weight including the fuel, the cargo as well as both the truck and the trailer. 
  3. Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR)- This means the total weight allowed on the axle. It also includes the weight of the axle itself, the brakes, the tires, and the wheels. 
  4. Maximum Tow Rating – refers to the weight limit of the vehicle for towed loads as indicated by its manufacturer. For most trailers, this includes the limit for the hitch weight. Take note of the indicated weight limit. Once you exceed the numbers, chances are you’ll get the vehicle warranty voided and the engine too strained as a fully loaded trailer exerts more load on the motor. 

Understanding what tongue weight is

Understanding what tongue weight is

As weird as it may sound, you need to understand what tongue weight is. You will be hearing or even reading about this term quite a lot when you’re eyeing to get the right vehicle for your towing needs. Tongue weight actually means the weight that a fully loaded trailer utilizes on the hitch ball. This force is exerted downward that is why it is advised to not put too much tongue weight as it will severely impact your truck. The tongue weight should be just around 10% to 15% of the gross trailer weight. For example, if your potential vehicle has a total capacity of 10000 lbs, then your tongue weight should be between 1000 lbs to 1500 lbs. Anything over that weight is already considered too much tongue weight.

Why is tongue weight so important? This is because too little of it can get the trailer swaying which is also unsafe. However, if there is too much tongue weight, the vehicle performance can also handle poorly. Moreover, if your vehicle has the right weight carrying capacity, then fuel efficiency is improved and it prevents from getting the axle overloaded.

Can you tow a dinghy easily?

Can you tow a dinghy easily?

First, let’s find out what a dinghy is. It is actually a small boat that can be easily towed considering that some are made with rubber and can be easily inflated. It weighs around 120 lbs and the inflatable ones weigh 85 lbs. If your truck has around 100 lbs., then you can easily tow-boats of this type. 

You can even use the roof rack of your mid-size car to carry your dinghy home. Make sure you put some roof cover to avoid it from getting scratched. You also have to make sure you are physically capable to carry the dinghy and put it on top of your car or you can ask someone to accompany you so that you will have extra help in case storing it becomes too heavy for one person to handle towing. 

Towing a small sailboat that weighs around 1125 lbs. with a compact SUV, a van and a truck that has a 2000 lbs. capacity will not be a problem. One of the small sailboats is the Caprice 15. It is made of fiberglass and its dry weight is 250 lbs. If you have a smaller or medium-sized car, you must also take into consideration what your sailboat is made of.

Is your tow vehicle good enough?

Is your tow vehicle good enough?

Every car is different and so are its towing features. Take SUVs and trucks as examples. These cars have multiple axle configurations that cause their towing capacity to change. That is why it is very important to know the exact total weight of the boat before trying to tow it, in order to avoid damage and further problems. If you overestimate the capacity of your car, even if you think you missed calculating just a couple of pounds, you might damage your axles, suspension, wheels, and other necessary parts of the vehicle.

Check out the Toyota Tundra as it has a good reputation as a heavy-duty truck. It has a single payload capacity of between 9400 and 10100 lbs single load depending on the model you buy. It can tow a ski boat and a small bass boat. On the other hand, a Ford Expedition is also a popular choice. This is among larger SUVs that can tow up to 9300 lbs when properly equipped with the right tow package. It can carry jet skis, a bass boat, and some fishing gear as some of its quoted towing ability.

Another favorite in the market is the Nissan Titan. Its tow capacity depends on the various models available. Including the boat trailer, the maximum weight capacity of the Titan is 9310 lbs. There are also other models that have optional diesel engines. A boat owner would often go for trucks with diesel engines because of their high torque and great fuel efficiency.

Problems you can encounter using a wrong boat trailer

Problems you can encounter using a wrong boat trailer

If the trailer weight is too heavy, it will make your truck fully loaded. This will result in the rear tires of your towing vehicle exert more force than needed causing difficulty in controlling it. This can also make turning a challenge and the brakes may become a little bit ineffective. You will also be left with a lot of expenses repairing once your axles, tires, and suspension break off due to overstraining as you have surpassed the allowed maximum weight. 

Always be aware of the information you receive. When you get your car, you’ll usually get an owner’s manual sometimes with a list that contains the car’s towing capacity. If the source of your information is known to be reliable, get as much information for accurate towing capacity. Remember that there are a lot of similar cars that don’t match the capacity of the four-wheel-drive you are looking for.

You must also consider the ratio of the axle and engine size of your car when finding its payload capacity. You will often see dealers listing the general towing capacity of the vehicle but not including the axle ratio and engine size or even its tongue weight.

Take the 2006 Dodge Ram 2500 as an example. It is said in advertisements that it can tow a maximum of 16,320 lbs. but only with the V8 engine and a 6.4L HEMI. But if it is a standard engine that has a 4.10 axle ratio, it can only tow a maximum of 12,850. Now you see how it matters to look at every aspect of the four-wheel drive you want to buy as this is a must for every boat and trailer owner.

If you feel the pressure when searching the towing capacity of your car, you are not alone. Just take your time and continue to search for the information that you really think is reliable to meet specific towing capacities that you need while staying safe.

The towing capacity you need to tow your boat

The towing capacity you need to tow your boat

For boats that weigh 1000 lbs. or less, compact SUVs like the 2017 Nissan Rogue are enough because their maximum capacity is the same. Meanwhile, small SUVs, trucks, and 4×2 wheel drive vehicles have a payload capacity of 1500 lbs. These car classes are capable of towing dinghies, fishing boats, and small sailboats that weigh under the maximum towing capacity.

Specific examples are the Nitro Z18, which has a dry weight of 1700 lbs. This model comes with spacious legroom below the helm console, it also has an angled panel to elevate the bow fishfinder, and it has net storage behind the seats. The 175-hp Mercury Pro XS. It features a 3.4-liter and a V-6 4-stroke power. It also has a lot of features that make the engine more efficient and easier to sustain. The 2017 Chevrolet Equinox. This tow vehicle has a standard capacity of 1500 lbs. it can tow a small sailboat easily just under its maximum towing capacity. 

To get the exact curb weight of your boat together with the trailer, get it to a truck scale. A truck scale is designed with a large set of scales. This is usually used to weigh vehicles on the road or for vehicles that are for the rails together with their contents.

So how do you weigh on a truck scale? First, you have to drive on the scale and drive forward until only your trailer wheels are there. Get its weight and don’t remove it from the hitch of your vehicle. Then you remove your trailer from your vehicle’s weight-distributing hitch ball. The trailer should be weighed alone.

To get your tongue weight, you have to subtract the weight you get from the initial weight. The answer will give you the tongue weight. To get your boat’s dry weight, it must be empty. Repeat the process of driving with the trailer on the scale. Record the weight and subtract your trailer’s weight from it. 

Remember to add up the weight of your fuel and other things like supplies when trying to know how much a vehicle needs to be capable of towing. If your only choice is to just look at the capacity figure, it is recommended to overbuy even just a few pounds off. If your boat and trailer weigh 14,000 lbs. altogether, it is recommended to have a tow vehicle with about 15,000 lbs. tow capacity to get the weight distributing feature even. 

Don't forget to always do the Math

Don't forget to always do the Math

Always calculate. Calculating everything first gives you that assurance that you will not have additional bills to pay just in case you decided to go for a heavier boat. Making the slightest changes can affect the whole math of how much your boat and trailer weigh.

Think about the total weight of the boat when you add something. For example, add the boat’s weight and the weight of possible passengers as there will be instances when you’d be inviting your friends. If a friend’s weight is about 130 lbs. then this will put more load to your vehicle if the maximum weight capacity was not calculated correctly in the first place.

One more important reminder: Be sure that your weight-carrying hitch matches with the GTW and TW of your truck. These weight distributing hitches are usually for trailers with 3,500 lbs GTW and 300 lbs tow weight. Vehicles and mid-size SUVs with extra cargo capacity also make use of these weight-carrying hitches to accommodate more loads.

Frequently Asked Questions about how much towing capacity do I need to tow a boat

Frequently Asked Questions about how much towing capacity do I need to tow a boat

How much towing capacity do you need to pull a boat?

Your tow vehicle should have the proper capacity that corresponds to the weight of your boat. Generally, two-wheel drive cars and small SUVs can hold 1000 pounds, midsize SUVs can pull a 2500 pound boat, and midsize pickup can pull 3000 pounds. Full-size SUVs and trucks can hold 5000 pounds or more. Boat weight depends on the materials your boat is made of together with its length and width. 

Boat dry weight is the number you need to know before attempting to tow a boat. It refers to the boats’ weight without fluids in the tank. This is crucial to know if your tow vehicle is capable of doing its job. Aside from that, knowing your boats’ dry weight can also determine the type of trailer you need to haul your boat.

The Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) capacity of your vehicle is often listed in the owner’s manual.  This will also allow you to understand what gross vehicle weight rating is. When you know how the combined weight of both people and a loaded trailer works, you will be able to choose the right one that is capable of securing your trailer and boat to your vehicle.

What size engine do I need to tow a boat?

The gross trailer weight of your boat will determine the type of power your tow vehicle should have to successfully haul it to your chosen aquatic location.  Choosing well-equipped tow vehicles capable of trailing your boat is important.

Aside from checking the features of the vehicle like suspension, large radiator, torque, etc., you need to find your vehicle’s maximum tow rating to know its potential capability.  Knowing its Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) will help you keep in mind not to go close and beyond those numbers as it will stress out your vehicles’ transmission and engine.

Larger vehicles tend to have powerful engines and that gives them the ability to tow any large objects. A general rule applied to calculate horsepower by boat weight is that 25 pounds boat weight needs one horsepower to move. If your boat’s curb weight is 2,500 pounds, you will need 100 horsepower vehicle to haul it. If you want to make sure of the exact curb weight your boat and trailer have, the reliable way is to bring it to a truck scale.

This is a large set of scale – a measuring device that is permanently mounted on a concrete foundation that is used to weigh vehicles and their contents. It would greatly help to exactly know the weight of your boat and trailer to avoid the risk of overloading your truck.  As for engine size, car experts do agree that a V-8, such as a Chevrolet Tahoe, can be the best option when it comes to having a good tow capacity.

A 5.0 liter v-8 can have a towing capacity of 12000 lbs. Since towing a boat does not only haul boats and trailers, it would help to note that there things that be categorized as added weight like your passenger, gears, fuel for the boat, and other supplies. 

Can a V-6 truck pull a boat?

Yes, it can. Engine power is the deciding factor when choosing a truck. Having a vehicle equipped with the strongest motor you can afford is important especially if you plan to use the truck for hauling or moving heavy things. Horsepower refers to the top speed at which your vehicle can operate.

With more horsepower available, you can harness the added maximum payload and tow capacity of your truck. Even if you will use the truck for commuting and recreation, having the extra power is a plus.

The torque attribute in heavy-duty trucks is important just like its engine since it represents the engines’ capacity to handle the given tough jobs. People shopping for vehicles also look at the torque output since it will determine the amount of time needed by the vehicle to reach its speed. A vehicle with strong torque is capable of pulling additional loads and will allow you to speed more efficiently and easily. 

What kind of truck do I need to pull a boat?

For boat trailer towing, the best-suited vehicle to do the job are the large, heavy-duty trucks. There are lots of brands available in the market that fit this purpose. You can freely choose a manufacturer for these truck types to safely tow your boat.

These trucks can feature a steel vehicle frame designed for hauling heavy loads and the towing capacity figure to stand the enormous strain. They come with engines with lots of low-end torque. One of the benefits of having a pickup truck is its truck bed. Loading your gears can be done easily and will keep away those messy and wet things from your trucks’ interior. 

If you are looking for a vehicle that can be useful on both weekend getaways where you need to haul your boat to a lake and at the same time can be used for everyday errands, there are four-wheel-drive SUVs with impressive towing capability that can handle this job and are comparable with their pickup truck counterparts.

Your weight requirements will help you pick the kind of truck with the right towing capacities for your boat. Aside from that, your choice will come down to your personal preference. A lot of towing options are available that also have effective working tow rating and towing ability.

Wrapping things up before towing away

You probably want to hit the dealership now and get that dream truck with a great towing mode feature after learning about the different information listed here. Take note that there are different all-wheel-drive vehicles available that are equipped with efficient gas engines that can take you far off the road after that long boat ride.

An all-wheel drive with the right trailer hitch will guarantee safe and efficient towing. Some trucks already include a receiver hitch while others don’t. Here’s the biggest takeaway: Remember that peak torque is more important than the horsepower in terms of towing. This means that the higher the torque is, the easier it is to carry heavier loads. Where can you find all of these? Check the manufacturer’s data plate as they are all listed in there.

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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