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?


  1. Bill T says:

    $50k seems a bit steep for a tow vehicle. A nicely equipped 2011 Ford F150 4×2 with 4-door crew cab and tow package is going to run just about $35k MSRP. That is brand new. The used market is a great place to go for a bargain as well.

    Before selling my Trophy 2002, I pulled it with a 1998 Ford Expedition 4.6L and currently tow a 4200lb travel trailer with the same truck. While sluggish on the west coast mountains, it gets the job done. Ideally, I should’ve opted for the bigger engine (5.4L). Another Important consideration is trailer tongue weight. Trailer design is a factor as well (single axle vs. multiple). You also have to look at the need for trailer brakes. The electric variety require the installation of a brake controller in your tow vehicle.

    You are right about one thing…there is a lot to like about trailering a boat vs. keeping it in the water. Outside of the economics, you also have the freedom to access a variety waterways a lot more quickly than if the boat was stuck in a marina.

  2. JonesAct says:

    I completely agree with you; you shouldn’t spend more money on the towing vehicle than on what you actually going to need it for. Especially if thats not going to be the vehicle you use all the time. Why would you want to pay all this money and just have the vehicle sitting all the time except when you take your boating vacation?

  3. Well, This is nice post and I would like to say some thing that The boat should also be balanced from side to side. If the vessel has side mounted fuel or water tanks and only one side is filled, then this will lend the rig to maneuver poorly. Proper balancing will also prolong the life of your trailers tires.

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