Boat Trailers: How Much Hitch?

Hauling a boat to your favorite lake or river can be a challenge. Oftentimes, boats are some of the heaviest loads you can pull. The good news is that most boat trailers use surge brakes, which means you won’t need to buy a brake controller module, like you would if the trailer had electric brakes.

Knowing the weight of your boat and trailer combined is key to getting the appropriate receiver that is built to handle the load.  This is a Class IV receiver.

Knowing the weight of your boat and trailer combined is key to getting the appropriate receiver that is built to handle the load. This is a Class IV receiver.

You do need to be sure you install the right kind of hitch on your truck so you can pull the load safely. The last thing you need is a hitch that wasn’t engineered to pull the weight of your boat.

In some cases, your boat might be light enough to require a Class II hitch. A Class II hitch, which is identifiable by its 1-1/4-inch receiver and draw bar, is good for trailers up to 3,500 pounds with 300 pounds of tongue weight. These are often the same kinds of hitches used for motorcycle and ATV trailers. For these kinds of loads, you can use either a 1-7/8-inch ball or a 2-inch ball with a 3/4-inch shank. Be sure you know which ball size is compatible with your trailer. The ball diameter required is stamped into the coupler handle or body, and on top of the ball. Even though the difference in size is only one-eighth of an inch, they are not interchangeable.

For example, a 1-7/8-inch trailer coupler will not fit properly over a 2-inch ball. Conversely, a 2-inch coupler will fit over a 1-7/8-inch ball, but it can slip off when traveling over bumps, even if the coupler is latched. And if something like that happens while you’re on a freeway, you’ve got trouble, friend. If the coupler ever does slip off the hitch ball you should feel it happen. Remember to lift off the throttle gently, and slowly bring your truck and trailer to a stop.

A Class III round receiver.

A Class III round receiver.

If your boat weighs more than 3,500 pounds, even if it’s only by a hundred pounds, you need to move up to a Class III hitch for safety’s sake. A Class III hitch has a larger 2-inch receiver and draw bar, and is good for up to 7,500 pounds with a tongue weight between 350 and 600 pounds. You can use a 1-7/8-inch or 2-inch ball, but now you need to be sure you have a 1-inch shank. If you get a ball with a 3/4-inch shank, it won’t bolt snugly into the draw bar and it can work itself loose over time.

For boats from 7,500 to 10,000 pounds you must have a Class IV hitch, which can handle the accompanying tongue weight of up to 1,000 pounds. Your trailer usually dictates the size of the ball you use, but if you have a choice, go with the larger 2-5/16-inch ball, which is in this case a substantial increase in size over the 2-inch ball.

As loads increase, it’s important to remember that not only are the hitch balls increasing in size, but the receiver also is engineered to carry more weight. Don’t be fooled and think you can tow a 10,000-pound trailer with a Class III receiver simply because you have installed a 2 5/16-inch hitch ball. Remember, you can safely tow less than what the hitch is rated for, but not more.

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