Boat Trailering: the Tow Vehicle

Driving down the road the other day I noticed a pick-up truck pulling an empty boat trailer. I started to wonder what kind of boat would fit on the trailer. It was obviously a power boat trailer with heavy duty rollers instead of bungs.  Then I started looking at the tow vehicle.  An immaculate white Ford F-150, in other words a 1/2-ton pick-up, the kind with the tow hitch bolted to the frame instead of some flimsy ball mounted on the bumper. My breathing became ragged.

I’ve been longing for a new boat just under 30-foot in size, something that I can keep on a trailer in my yard and won’t require special permits for width to tow.  The economics of keeping a boat on a trailer versus in the water or docked at a boatyard seem to make sense.  My biggest impediment isn’t the kind of boat I want or even the cost of the boat. It is justifying the tow vehicle cost on top of the boat expenses.  I have a 30 – to 40K boat budget in mind, but I can’t get mentally by the $50K tow vehicle budget to pull my dream boat.  Especially if the tow vehicle is not going to be my primary commuting vehicle—meaning that now I need two vehicles, not one.  Renting doesn’t seem to make sense since I anticipate 10 or more long distance trips a year.

The size boat I want dictates that the tow vehicle have a “tow package” that includes the aforementioned hitch bolted to the frame in order to haul the anticipated 5 thousand pound tow weight.  And the tow vehicle also needs an engine and transmission with stepped-up cooling capacity for those long high-speed highway runs.

My tow vehicle should also have room for a 4 person crew and all our gear.  Oh, they are out there, those brutish SUVs of my desire. I even enter all those raffle drawings at every boat show and regatta I go to, hoping I might win one. It seems extreme that the little-used tow vehicle costs more than the boat, especially when it only gets 9 miles to the gallon.  Like my boat and trailer, the tow vehicle doesn’t have to be new, but it does have to be dependable. I can think of nothing worse than taking hard-won time off only to be stranded on the side of the road with my boat and best friends fuming and frustrated over missing some regatta.

When I was a kid, my dad just slapped one of those adjustable hitches that fit over the chromed bumper on our family station wagon and towed our centerboard sloop to and from the town landing each spring and fall.  I guess the boats have gotten bigger, the distances greater and the requirements more sophisticated since those days. Buying a boat on a trailer makes sense, but buying a tow vehicle that costs more than the boat—not so much.

P.S.  I’d appreciate some feedback on tow vehicles—what is your solution/choice and why? How big is your boat and how far does it need to be towed?


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