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Tips for Towing Big Boats

Tips for hauling a maxed-out fishing machine safely on the highway.

Heavy duty pickup truck, triple-axle trailer and a 34 foot boat topping 10,000 pounds.

A center console boat over 32 feet used to be an oddity, but now you see them at the boat ramp more and more.

The biggest concerns about trailering an oversized boat are dealing with state requirements and having the right size tow vehicle.

Let’s deal with the legal stuff first. Florida state law requires any trailer over the gross weight of 3,000 pounds to have brakes on each axle and if the beam of your boat is over 8 feet, 6 inches, you will need an over-dimensional permit also. Many of the fishermen I’ve talked with, who own an oversized center console in this class, frequently don’t bother with a permit if they are towing within the state but they are “skating on thin ice” according to the State DOT (Department of Transportation). The DOT issues permits in an attempt to protect motorists from traffic hazards from oversized loads and to guard against undue delays in the normal flow of traffic. Obtaining an over-dimensional permit is an easy process by going to the Florida State DOT website and filling out an application through the Permit Application System (PAS). Depending on the frequency of which you plan on trailering you can get a blanket permit or a trip permit. Get caught without a one and you can be fined as much as $1,000 and made to park your trailer on the spot until you obtain the proper permit.

Sizing the trailer to the boat is the single most important factor in safety, comfort and the longevity of your tow truck or SUV. Be sure that the trailer’s gross weight capacity is sufficient to not only carry the weight of the boat and motor(s) but fuel and additional gear you may have on board as well. Remember that the actual weight of the trailer itself has to be included in this equation. Towing with a trailer that’s near its maximum capacity will lead to premature tire and brake wear. In severe cases, max loads will put a permanent bend in the trailer axles, where the hub spindles are no longer parallel to the road. This puts uneven loading on the wheel bearings evidenced by the insides of the tires wearing bald while the outsides still have plenty of tread left.

When it comes to trailer brakes, one option that’s very popular is electric over hydraulic brakes. The main benefit is the smoothness of the braking. It’s controlled electronically and can be fined tuned, so the truck and boat trailer both stop equally. An additional safety benefit is the ability to activate just the trailer brakes in the event the trailer starts to sway or get squirrely. One tap of the electric brake controller pulls the trailer instantly in line.

Obviously, because of the greater width, proper clearances have to be taken into consideration. Toll plazas, especially, catch a new, large-boat owner by surprise. Turning corners is another area where extra caution has to be taken. Plan your turn wide and watch your trailer wheels in the side mirrors to keep from hopping curbs. Of course, U-turns are pretty much out of the question. One angler I spoke with who travels the state extensively with his 35-foot center console, said he likes to pull into a large parking lot prior to heading out on the open road. There he can test the brakes, adjust the electric brake controller and do a final inspection of the trailer. Another tip he passed along was to wait until you reach your destination to take on fuel. Many of the larger open fishing boats have fuel capacities that top 500 gallons, and carrying that extra weight adds to the stress on the trailer and decreases the gas mileage on your tow vehicle. FS

Stopping a Heavy Load

Much like sizing the trailer to the boat, your truck or SUV needs to have the sufficient capacity to handle the weight of the entire rig you are towing. Here again, towing at or near the maximum manufacturer’s suggested ratings of your vehicle can lead to a variety of mechanical issues. To ensure your vehicle, hitch and trailer can safely handle your oversized boat, refer to the manufacturer’s ratings for these four limits:

Gross Trailer Weight – Weight of the fully loaded trailer

Tongue Weight – Weight applied to the hitch ball created by the trailer tongue

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating – Maximum weight of a vehicle when fully loaded

Gross Combination Weight rating – Weight of the loaded tow vehicle and trailer

First published Florida Sportsman June 2014

  • 996699

    so the cheap boat companies make the trailer weigh just one pound under 3,000 to avoid inspections. If you don’t have inspections on boats over 3,000 pounds how do you expect people to keep them safe? go to dangerous trailers DOT org.