Interestingly, many modern boat trailers are called “high-speed trailers.” We never know what that means; is it at a call to travel as fast as possible, or does it mean they can be used for long-distance hauling at highway speeds. Whatever the case, many drivers take it as a license to travel as fast as possible.
You can tow a boat at whatever speed you are comfortable at, and as long as your luck holds out, there will be no problem. Lady luck has an unfortunate habit of disappearing when she is needed the most. If you are traveling at a very high speed, there is no margin to help you.
There is no speed at which towing a boat trailer is completely safe as it is an inherently unstable combination. If you choose to travel at the maximum speeds your rig can, you are deliberately throwing away precious safety margins that you may need if something catastrophic happens.
The Speed That You Can Tow A Boat At
If everything is going well, there is little wind, and the road surface is in good condition, theoretically, you can tow a boat at whatever the legal limits are in the area being towed.
Whether this is the wisest course of action is a different matter.
The problem with trailer towing accidents is that there is very little warning that a catastrophe is about to hit. While many people will boast that they have driven incident-free, at high speeds, for many years, it says less about their driving skills and more about the fact that they were lucky.
When towing a boat, or any trailer, there are a couple of things happening that end up being hidden risks and which can change a great day into a bad one very quickly.
The following section includes 7 tips to help ensure your towing experience is as incident-free as possible.
1. Have The Boat Trailer Serviced
The wheel bearings, electrics, and brakes on a boat trailer experience a lot of abuse.
- they travel for long periods and heat up extensively (as they are designed to)
- They are immediately pushed underwater on arrival at the resort (so the boat can be launched).
- They are pulled out of the water where they are stored (often in a dusty environment).
- They are dunked back underwater when they are needed again while the boat is loaded.
- They then have to carry the boat weight over a long high, speed distance
- When the trailer arrives at home, it is stored without much care until the whole routine gets repeated.
The potential for brake pads to crack and wheel bearings to lose their lubrication is very high, so they should be serviced regularly.
2. Check The Tires
The tires on a trailer are subject to significant abuse in ways often not considered.
Boat trailer tires have a large number of demands on them.
They Are Not Used For Long Periods
Boat trailer tires sit for long periods between boating adventures, where they do not move.
While the best way to make tires last longer is to put them into a climate-controlled room, boat trailer tires remain outside and exposed to direct sunlight and the associated UV rays.
When a tire is driven, the oils in the rubber compound heat up and circulate within it, which greases the rubber, preventing premature drying.
If a tire is not rotating regularly, the oils contained in the rubber compound aren’t able to circulate, and so the tire starts to dry out, making it less flexible and able to handle the stresses imposed on it.
The result is a tire failure, and if this happens at high speed, there is the potential of the boat overturning and taking the tow vehicle with it.
Boat Trailer Tires Take More Stress
It is always interesting why boat trailer manufacturers use skinny 15 and 16-inch tires.
While on some model trailers, there are two sets of wheels that carry the load, the stresses these tires are exposed to are very high.
A car’s tires enable a forward and reverse direction of travel, and they have to cope with controlled cornering.
A trailer’s tires are exposed to very high lateral loads as the trailer develops a slight swaying motion caused by a passing truck or a strong gust of wind blowing from the side.
It is one of the reasons we do not recommend steel belt tires be used for trailers. The sideways movement of the trailer tires causes the steel belt to exert pressure on the sidewalls and has been known to cause tire failure.
3. Watch Your Following Distance
A 2018 Monterey 258SS weighs 2,313 kg (5,099 lbs) without fuel or any water, toys, or other paraphernalia stored inside.
Assuming the trailer weighs a further 272 kg (600lbs), the total towed weight is 2,575 kg (5,699lbs).
Being conservative, let’s assume the tow car is a 2022 Ford F-150 with a curb weight of 1,823kg (4,021lbs) and a gross weight of 2,726g (6,010lbs).
It means that the trailer and boat weight is almost equal to the tow car’s weight, and the gross weight is doubled with no increase in braking ability. The result is that your stopping distances are increased by FOUR.
The ideal following distance at any speed should follow the “3” Second Rule.”
To work this out, select a point on the road and when the car in front passes it, count to 3 seconds.
If that point is still visible, then your following distance is sufficient.
If you are towing a boat and trailer which weigh as much as the tow car, you need to maintain a twelve-second (four times more) following distance to the vehicle in front to keep a space that will enable you to stop in time.
It’s Not Only The Boats Gross Weight Which Comes Into Play
It is generally accepted that 10% of the trailer and boat weight will rest on the tow hitch of the tow vehicle.
Using the above example of a 2018 Monterey 258SS with trailer, which has a total weight of 2,575kg (5,699lbs), there is an additional weight of 257kg (569lbs) sitting on the back of the tow vehicle.
Unless you have a sway bar attached that can redistribute the weight across the tow vehicle chassis, there is less weight on the front wheels to assist with braking capacity. This factor has a further adverse reaction on stopping times.
4. Assume The Worst
When things continue to go right, it is very tempting to sit back and relax, assuming that it will stay that way.
A tire blowing out or a wheel bearing seizing happens incredibly fast, and you should try to be prepared all of the time.
When an aircraft pilot is a briefing for departure, one of the checks he will do, either by himself or with a co-pilot, is to agree on the actions they will take if a serious situation occurs at different points during the take-off roll.
While it may seem like overkill, it is good practice to decide on a course of action that you will take if a problem suddenly occurs with the towing rig (trailer and tow car).
If a blowout occurs, agree with yourself that you will.
- Not brake sharply.
- Release the pressure on the gas pedal and allow the rig to slow down.
- Hold the steering wheel very tightly in a straight-ahead position without trying to adjust for any swaying in the rig.
- When the rig speed reduces to a manageable value, gently steer it to the road’s edge.
Assume that a gust of wind will upset the rig, and it may start to sway. Agree that you will.
- Not press the brakes at all.
- Release pressure on the accelerator.
- Hold the steering wheel very tightly and do not try to compensate for the swaying motion.
5. Take Regular Breaks
If you are towing the boat, it is important to make the journey enjoyable and less stressful.
Stopping regularly, not only when you need gas, creates an adventure and allows the driver to take a break and rest a while to maintain the necessary concentration to complete the trip.
6. Come Prepared
Just like the boy scouts, when towing a trailer, come prepared.
Make sure you have enough spare tires to fix a puncture on the boat trailer and the tow car.
Before you leave home, check that the wheel nut wrench fits both the car and the trailer wheels.
Nothing is more frustrating than having a trailer puncture and knowing that you have a good spare wheel but not having the tools to change it.
Likewise, ensure that the car jack or a supplementary one can easily lift the boat trailer up and that it has sufficient travel to do so.
Bring along a portable air compressor to fill the tires with air.
7. Don’t Speed
With all that you have read up to now, we hope it helps you decide not to speed.
So, what if you have an impatient line of vehicles behind you? As long as you try to give way when the road conditions allow, you are perfectly in your right to travel safely.
Remember speeding up to the maximum limit of your towing rigs capability is not the goal.
Getting there safely and enjoying your time on the water with your family is.
While you may be lucky and get away with towing at excessive speeds for a long time, it only takes a gust of wind, a failed tire, exploding wheel bearings, or the vehicle in front coming to an emergency stop for your luck to disappear.
At that time, if you are pushing the odds, there is very little margin left to help you out.
While you can travel at any speed while towing a boat, we hope that this article has demonstrated that if your luck runs out, it is a better idea to have some margin in hand to help you maneuver out of an emergency event.