Prep Your Tow Vehicle

Ready your rig for a safe trailer-boating getaway

February 22, 2012
tow vehicle

tow vehicle

Randy Scott

The magic of a trailer boat is its mobility. If tarpon are erupting on the other side of the state, you can tow across to reach them. If striped bass are thick 150 miles down the coast, you can intercept them at highway speeds. If it’s snowing up north, you can trailer south to fish in warmer weather.

Yet, to complete these long hauls safely, your rig needs to be capable and well maintained.

Today, nearly all tow vehicles are trucks, sport utility vehicles and vans. No matter what you choose, it should be properly equipped and factory rated to tow the combined weight of your boat and trailer with a margin to spare.


For example, if the weight of your 24-footer and trailer is 7,000 pounds, your tow vehicle should be rated to tow at least 9,000 pounds. This ensures the tow vehicle is not overburdened, particularly when towing up the steep grades. Similarly, the trailer should be rated to handle the total weight of your boat.

Don’t guess when it comes to weight. Take your boat and trailer — loaded with fuel and gear, as it would be for a fishing trip — to a certified scale for an accurate weight.

Check the rating of the vehicle hitch and tow ball to ensure these components will also handle the weight.


Vehicle Prep
Once you have the right vehicle, adhere to the recommended maintenance schedule, which might be accelerated for heavy-duty use such as towing. Check your owner’s manual for this schedule.

In addition, before you head off on a far-flung fishing trip, pay special heed to tires (including the spare), brakes, belts and hoses, especially if your trip will take you outside the U.S. Taking a selection of spare parts is a good idea as well.

Look at the vehicle’s factory jack to make sure it will work for the boat trailer too. If it won’t fit under or sufficiently raise the trailer in case of a flat, you’ll need a separate jack. Make sure you have a lug wrench that will fit the lug nuts on the trailer wheels.


Trailer Prep
Before leaving on a trip, inspect every element, paying particular attention to tires (making sure they are at or just below the maximum inflation). If the tires are five or more years old, replace them, no matter how the tread or sidewalls appear, as trailer tires often rot from the inside.

Trailer wheel bearings and seals are trouble prone, and so have these completely serviced, packed with fresh lube and capped with a bearing protector before a long trip.

Malfunctioning trailer brakes can also be problematic. If they bind, the wheel hubs will overheat. This can literally weld the bearings, hub and spindle together within a few miles on the freeway. So having the trailer brakes and surge-brake actuator inspected and serviced before a trip is critical.


Trailer lights are a constant source of maintenance. Make sure your trailer’s running, brake, clearance and turn-signal lights are operating properly, regardless of whether you plan to drive at night.

Critical Connections
There are key elements that tie the tow vehicle, trailer and boat together, and they all bear special attention periodically during a long haul.

Pull off the road every couple of hours to inspect and, if necessary, adjust the trailer coupler, trailer safety chains, trailer-lights plug, bow-winch strap, bow safety chain and transom straps.

In addition, make sure the outboard or sterndrive remains tilted up and well supported, and that everything inside the boat is still secure.

Towing your boat is a marvelous way to enjoy saltwater-fishing ­adventures on any coast. Having the proper vehicle and trailer — and keeping both in top shape — will help ensure you and your rig reach your destination and return safely.

Spare Parts

In addition to a fully stocked tool kit, here is a list of important parts and supplies for your vehicle and trailer when towing to distant fishing destinations. These are particularly ­important if you are towing your boat outside the U.S.


  • Wheel bearings and seals
  • Spindle hardware
  • Bearing protectors
  • Bearing grease
  • Brake fluid
  • Trailer light bulbs
  • Jack
  • Tire-puncture repair kit
  • 12-volt air compressor
  • Lug wrench
  • Assorted 12-volt wire connectors

Tow Vehicle

  • Motor oil
  • Oil filter
  • Fuel filter
  • Air filter
  • Transmission fluid
  • Fan belt
  • Radiator hoses
  • Coolant
  • Radiator cap
  • Jumper cables

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