Most of the readers of Pontoonopedia will have purchased their boat due to their close location to a lake or river. Some of those boat owners might be lucky enough to be able to dock theirs on the water, meaning it’s so much less hassle when wanting to take their pontoon out for the day.
But the majority of pontoon boat owners have to keep their boat at home, trailered-up, meaning they have to tow it to and from the water each time.
For beginner pontooners, towing a pontoon boat for the first time can be a very daunting experience. You not only have the challenge of ensuring you have trailered her up securely, but then there’s the potential anxiety of what will happen once you are actually out and driving on the road.
There are risks involved whenever you tow a heavy weight, but as long as you are safe, secure, and well-practised, you should have no concerns with towing.
How to Tow a Pontoon Boat Safely
Below you can read my guide on how to tow a pontoon boat safely and securely, including all the aspects that you need to check and take into account before you get out onto the road. Please take the time to read all points, and don’t skip any sections if this is going to be your first time doing it.
1. Check Your Trailer and Vehicle Before Every Trip
Before you even consider towing your pontoon, you should perform a thorough inspection on both the trailer and towing vehicle. It should be a mandatory task that every responsible boat owner performs.
DON’T MISS THIS PART OUT!
Items that will need checking include:
- Tires – are they in good condition with no wear and tear? If in doubt get them replaced immediately. You should also tighten the nuts to make sure that nothing is loose. Also make sure that you have spare tires which are pre-inflated and ready to swap over if you suffer a blow out or puncture.
- Lights – Check that your trailer lights are operating correctly. Even if they worked last time you towed your trailer, it doesn’t mean they will be now. It’s against the law for your trailer lights to not be working so check the turning and brake signals regularly.
- Trailer Hitch – Lock it to the balls using chains, or an alternative securing method. Whilst you might think it’s okay just to rely on the ball for short trips, if it does fail it pays to have a back-up method in place.
2. Securely Strap Your Pontoon to the Trailer
The most common accidents will occur when your boat has not been correctly secured and strapped down to the trailer.
A great product that I use in addition to other straps on my trailer is the Steadymate Transom Trapper 2. Buy a couple of these as it offers great stability with a gel coat protector and snap hooks to give you peace of mind when hauling.
3. Check the Pontoon Boat Towing Weight
With the average weight of a pontoon boat coming in at 2,200 pounds, and the average sized trailer weighing 1,200 pounds, are you certain that your towing vehicle is equipped to pull that type of load?
If you aren’t sure how much your pontoon weighs, you can use this calculator for a very rough guide, but you must find out before you hit the road. The best way to do that is to consult the boat manufacturer’s website.
Once you know your boat weight, and combine that with the weight of the trailer, you will know what your pontoon boat towing weight will be.
Take that number and look-up to see what your vehicle’s towing weight payload is.
DON’T EXCEED THE TOWING WEIGHT LIMIT!
4. Have Adequate Insurance and Check it’s Valid
As soon as you attach a trailer to your vehicle, your insurance could be completely invalidated. Talk with your vehicle and boat insurance company to check that you are going to be insured for trailering and towing.
The law can change from state to state, and in some cases your pontoon boat insurance might not even cover you if you cross a state line.
If you are covered with national insurer, you should be fine, but it is essential that you check your insurance documents and policy before you tow your pontoon trailer.
5. Towing Practice Makes Perfect
You might think that you know your pick-up truck or towing vehicle like the back of your hand, but nothing can prepare you for driving once you’ve got thousands of pounds of weight attached to the back-end.
For the first few trips that you take when towing your pontoon boat, things are going to feel really weird. You will have to adapt the way in which you have been used to driving.
My advice is to practice with a few test runs before your first take your pontoon and trailer on a longer journey. A couple of days before your first-time trailer run try a few maneuvers in a local empty parking lot rather getting straight out into the highway with zero experience.
It might feel a little bit silly doing this for the first-time, especially if you are an experience driver, but you will need to go over the most basic of driving maneuvers again to see how your pontoon trailer and vehicle copes with towing and moving around.
Aspects to practice until you feel comfortable should include:
- Parallel parking
Not only do you have all that pontoon towing weight behind you, but there’s also a lot of length that you won’t be used to driving with. You need be certain that you feel safe and have confidence when towing a pontoon boat with a Tacoma, minivan, Jeep, RV, or truck – and practice will give you that.
It’s in your best interests to practice, but it’s also considerate for other road users that you will encounter when towing.
At the point you feel 100% at ease with towing your pontoon trailer, then it’s time for you to make your first ever proper trip to the water and hopefully go on to have an amazing time on the water.
6. Stick to Towing Speed Limits
Now you should be ready to hit the road and start towing your pontoon boat. But there are still many more considerations to take into account for towing safely.
Those who are experienced with towing pontoon trailers around the United States will already know that speed limits will vary from state to state.
Depending on which state you’re in, the speed limits set for vehicles towing a trailer can and will change. Before you set out, check the towing speed limits.
I have put together a list of the towing speed limits for all 50 states. Take a look at that before you embark on your longer journey. Please be aware that it could now be inaccurate, and you should always check with the local Highway Patrol and Department of Transportation to be 100% certain.
Above all, even if the speed limit is set, it pays to not hit those top speeds when towing a trailer, and to be vigilant rather than focussed on speed. You don’t need to get there quickly, the lake won’t go be going anywhere.
7. Take Regular Breaks on Longer Towing Trips
On longer trips there are additional worries that you should be aware of. Other than tiredness, which as you should already know is a killer on US roads, you can sometimes forget you are even towing a pontoon boat. Sounds odd I know, but it’s a common fact.
There are statistics available that show after five hours of continuous driving, a person towing a trailer can start to actually not notice the weight being pulled. You can imagine how dangerous that could be.
Becoming unware of your pontoon boat towing weight can lead to faster driving or lane changes without taking into account the extra length that’s behind your vehicle.
To help minimize these risks, take regular breaks. The advised frequency for road breaks is every 200 miles on longer journeys. This will help you rest, clear your head, and re-focus yourself for the remainder of the trip.
During your break I also advise that you perform another spot check on your vehicle and boat trailer, paying special attention to the connections, tires, cover, and straps.
8. Don’t Fight the Wind
You’re all set to drive off for the first time with your pontoon boat trailered up. You’ve got new mirrors fitted to your vehicle, have followed the tips in this guide, and are feeling confident that you can tow with no problems.
You take a look out the window, it doesn’t look great, perhaps overcast, and the wind is beginning to pick-up a little. But you don’t worry about that, after all, it’s not like it’s raining or snowing, so what harm can a bit of wind do?
Honestly, you would be very surprised at how intense wind can be, especially when pushing against a boat trailer. It can really have a massive impact on how you drive and how your vehicle handles. You need to be prepared for that.
But how windy is too windy?
Road safety experts say that you should take a break if winds are hitting in excess of 30 miles per hour. That is a strong enough wind for things to start getting risky, and inexperienced drivers certainly would be out of their comfort zone very quickly.
It’s not just the handling of your trailer that can be affected. Strong winds can also have an impact on your fuel consumption, as your truck or RV needs to work a lot harder in windy conditions. You might have to re-fuel more than you than you calculated for, so take that into account when planning your trip.
9. Remember to Turn Wide
Hopefully you will have mastered this during your practice sessions. It can be quite easy to forget though!
Just remember that you have at least 20 feet of trailer being towed behind you, and things like turning into gas stations, stores, or even the marina car park can take on a massive added dimension.
Your trailer will have a much tighter turning radius than your RV, Tacoma, minivan, Jeep or truck.
A simple rule to follow is this: if you can’t clear the curb with your towing vehicle, then your pontoon trailer definitely won’t!
10. Make Sure You Can Stop Safely!
You’ve got a far heavier payload than you have ever driven with before, and when you combine the weight of your pontoon boat, trailer, and passengers, speed and distance can become your worst enemy.
Think about how long it will take you to stop, as it’s going to be much, much, longer than it was without the trailer and boat attached.
Your trailer brakes are going to help you, but don’t let them lull you into a false sense of security. They can fail, and have failed for pontooners before, so don’t take them for granted and keep a safe distance from the vehicles in front of you.
If you do suddenly have to slam your brakes on due to not having a safe stopping distance, it can make the pontoon trailer jack knife or sway dangerously.
You should gradually apply pressure to the brakes, as that will help you to bring your heavy load under control much easier, and at a safer stopping speed.
11. Check Tire Pressure and Health
I’ve already mentioned tires previously, but it such as important consideration that it needs to be at the forefront of your mind when towing.
Whilst trailer ties are large, they won’t last forever. Potential hazards such as road debris, nails, rocks, and sticks could lead to a puncture, so it pays to check regularly and be prepared.
Also try to get into the habit of regularly testing and checking your tire pressure. You need to be sure that it’s at the recommended pound per square inch (PSI) for the pontoon boat towing weight and trailer set-up you have.
If it’s not a long journey to or from the water, then do a tire pressure check before you set-off and once you get there. For longer trailer towing trips, you should do a test every time you take a break stop.
If you have stored your pontoon boat away on the trailer for the winter, or there has been a long period of inactivity, then tire pressure is the first thing that you should check before you get out on the road again. Expect to have to re-inflate your tires at the beginning of the season before you start towing again.
It might seem like over-kill, but low tire pressure can lead to accidents and damage to both your trailer and pontoon boat, so don’t skip it.
12. Learn to Use Your Mirrors (Again)
With something that long behind you, your mirrors are going to be more important to you than they have ever been before.
You won’t simply be using them to check to the back and sides or your towing vehicle, but also for how you maneuver, back-up, and judging new distances you aren’t used to dealing with.
It’s almost like having to learn how to use your mirrors all over again, forgetting everything that you previously knew, and ignoring driving behaviors that have hard-wired into your brain.
Ultimately though, the mirrors on your truck, Tacoma, RV, minivan, or Jeep aren’t designed for using when you have 20 feet or more worth of trailer and boat being towed behind you. They simply aren’t cut out for the different length and width you’re now having to take responsibility for.
So, what do you need? You need extended mirrors in order to drive safely with a trailer.
There are the clip-on types, which just go over your existing mirrors. They attach on easily enough, and you can take them off in again in seconds. For occasional pontoon transportation, I would recommend these extender mirrors on Amazon.
If you are going to be towing your pontoon boat on a regular basis, it might be worth investing in permanently extended fitted mirrors. This is more of a job for a professional though. You can still use the permanent versions when you don’t have your trailer attached to the back.
13. Carry Repair Equipment When Towing
Make sure that you have the essential repair and maintenance items required when towing a trailer, as you never know what could happen.
If you do break down, or you get a flat and it’s something that you can fix yourself, then a jack that’s strong enough to lift the trailer and pontoon will be needed, as well as a lug wrench that can work with the nuts on your trailer.
Another potential accessory to consider would be one of those safety triangles that you can place in the road so other users know there is a hazard approaching if you have broken down. At night time it would also pay to have an LED road flare warning.
You can get many of these items in a car breakdown safety kit.
14. Have Adequate Breakdown Cover
But of course, you’re not going to be able to fix everything yourself in the case of a more complex breakdown, which is why you should have adequate breakdown cover.
You might have that as part of your pontoon boat insurance or main driving insurance, but if you don’t then please make sure that you take some out, as breaking down with a boat trailer is so much more hassle than a simple car breakdown as you can probably imagine.
15. Pontoon Boat Cover On or Off When Towing?
There’s a lot of disagreement online and amongst pontoon boat owners as to whether you should tow with the boat cover on, or with the pontoon cover off.
I am on the “pontoon boat cover on” whilst trailering and towing side of the argument. But that’s only because I have a custom cover that is designed for towing.
If you buy a cheap mooring cover then don’t tow with it on. It will rip to shreds once you get on the highway. Only ever tow with the cover on, if it’s explicitly designed for towing.
I prefer to do it this way, as when I’ve towed without a cover before I’ve got to dock and had to spend hours cleaning my boat up with bugs splatted and other debris, seats blowing open, items being lost and so on. I could have instead spent that time on the water rather than trying to fix things up.
But there are some caveats here which you need to put in place to make sure your cover isn’t ripped off by the wind.
It’s all about securing the pontoon boat cover when towing. If you don’t then you’re going to get yourself into a whole load of trouble once you hit higher speeds or the freeway. If that cover comes loose it won’t just damage your boat or trailer, but could also remove completely, becoming a massive hazard to other boat users.
Make sure that you have secure straps and snaps. If your mooring cover doesn’t come with them, buy some now.
An extra layer of security that I add is to double or even triple up my snaps in the places where I know the wind can get under and up into the boat cover. Typically, these potential wind-trapping areas can be the front edge and front corners so add more snaps on here.
For an even more comprehensive approach to wind testing so you can find where the stress areas are, I read a great hack on a boat forum recently. Here’s that advice:
“If you really wanted to see where the wind pulls on it you could snap on some thin ribbon pieces between the snaps (pinching the ribbon inside the snap) then leave them dangle a foot or two and go drive it. The ribbons that tear off are where you want to put more snaps or straps.”
“Or watch in your mirror or follow the trailer on the interstate in another car while a friend drives your rig. It really wouldn’t be much work to put the ribbon on since you remover the cover a lot anyway. Just time it right before a trip.”
16. Secure Your Trailer from Theft Once Parked Up
Boat trailers, especially those with expensive boats on, are an inviting treat for opportunistic thieves. And there are even cases where trailers with expensive boats have been stolen to order. Don’t leave anything to chance.
When parked up, whether at home or a dock and marina, it pays to protect your trailer and boat from theft. There are some ingenious ways in which you can make things more difficult for thieves, and even the way you position your trailer up can put them off. That’s called preventative parking.
But the best way is to use anti-theft devices.
To find out what the best ways are in which you can protect your trailer from theft after you’ve towed it somewhere, read this essential anti-theft guide.
I hope that you have found these tips for towing a pontoon boat helpful, and know know how you tow your own boat. I am sure that there are many other tips and pieces of advice that could be added to this resource, so if you do have any suggestions, I would love to hear from you.
Meanwhile, now that I have you here, I wanted to tell you about the other resources available on Pontoonopedia.
As well as the how-to guides, there is also a new section which includes all of the gear I recommend you have. There is also an extensive list of pontoon accessories worth checking out before you set off for your next trip.