A Primer on Towing Safely

While towing, you can almost measure acceleration with a sundial, and you can forget about passing anything — especially a gas station. You can’t stop all that quickly, either, and turning takes up more room than some motorists are willing to give you. But you have to get your boat to the lake, right? Right, so we’ve put together a brief primer on towing safety that we hope will help keep you safe — boating season after boating season.

A tow vehicle, boat, and trailer are a trio of valuable moving parts. It pays to develop skills and habits to keep them -- and you -- safe.

A tow vehicle, boat, and trailer are a trio of valuable moving parts. It pays to develop skills and habits to keep them — and you — safe.

  • Before getting under way, slide the draw bar into the receiver and insert the pin in from the left. That way, if the cotter pin falls off, you have one to two degrees of road camber to help keep the pin in place.
  • If the draw bar has multiple holes, use the hole that brings the hitch ball closest to the rear axle of the tow vehicle, unless you have interference with an exterior-mounted spare tire. The inner-most position creates less leverage, which is safer and provides greater stability while towing.
  • If you don’t have a backup camera or a friend to help you back up to the coupler, try it this way: Back up in 4- to 6-foot intervals at first, to get your truck pointed in the right direction. As you get closer to the trailer, make the intervals shorter, periodically stopping and getting out to check your progress. Before long, you will have stutter-stepped the hitch ball into place under the coupler.
  • Once you’ve lowered the coupler onto the ball, lock it in place and raise the tongue jack to its highest position. Crisscross the safety chains under the coupler, connect them to the loops on the receiver, and plug in the wiring harness. Crisscrossing chains forms a “cradle” that will catch the coupler should it come off the hitch ball. If you have “S” hooks, put the “S” over the eyelets on the hitch to minimize the risk of them falling off. Your chains should be long enough to accommodate tight right- and left-hand turns without dragging the ground. If they hang too low, twist them to reduce their length. Have at least four to five inches of clearance.
  • If you have a hand wheel-style coupler, be sure it’s as tight as can be. If you have the throw-latch coupler, padlock it closed. Now check your turn signals and brake lights.
  • Because boat trailers are almost invariably wider than the tow vehicle, set your mirrors so you can see the trailer’s orientation within the lane you are using, yet still offer a glimpse into the flanking lanes.
  • In terms of actual driving technique, a good rule of thumb is that the trailer wheels generally follow the path of the rear wheels of the tow vehicle. As for backing a trailer, the relationship with the direction of the trailer and your steering wheel inputs are inverse. In other words, to get the trailer to go left, you steer to the right. You can’t read it in a magazine and get it. Like docking a boat, it just takes practice.

For more trailering tips and information, visit OnlineTowingGuide.com.