How Much Towing Capacity Do I Need to Tow A Boat? [Complete Safety Guide]

How Much Towing Capacity Do I Need to Tow A Boat? [Complete Safety Guide]

Last year I decided to save up enough money to buy a sailboat. Not knowing whether my Jeep could handle the load or not; I went to Google to find the dry boat weight. However, the search results would waver between 400 pounds to 5,500 pounds.

The most reliable information regarding your vehicle will come from the owner’s manual, so be sure to check for specific tow capacity.

How Much Towing Capacity Do I Need to Tow A Boat?

In general, small SUVs and two-wheel drive cars can hold 1,000 pounds, whereas a midsize SUV can hold 2,500 pounds, a midsize pickup can hold 3,000 pounds and lastly full-size SUVs as well as full size trucks can hold 5,000 pounds or more.

These are averages of different vehicles popular amongst their class; your specific vehicle tow capacity will vary based on any modifications done to your vehicle.

In order to make the prior information useful, you are going to need to know how much every boat tends to weigh. Boat weight can vary based on boat width, boat length, and the materials your boat is made of.

Boat Dry Weight

DRY WEIGHT: The weight of the boat itself without any fluids in the tank. It is crucial to know the exact dry weight of your boat before attempting any tow. Towing too heavy will only result in further mishaps that could have been avoided otherwise.

Dinghies (12’ or Less Avg. 120 lbs.)

Dinghies are considerably light, and inflatable ones can weigh around 85 pounds, which makes towing them a breeze. One of the biggest advantages of owning a dinghy is their convenience factor. Any car able to tow 100 lbs. will find transporting these a breeze.

 You can strap a dinghy to the roof rack of a mid to full-size vehicle and avoid towing altogether. However, only do so if you have two or more people or in the case that you are certain you can lift it by yourself. If you decide to cartop your dinghy, put a protective layer on the roof rack to avoid scratching your dinghy against the rack.

Whenever you decide to cartop, you must always keep safety in mind. Team lifting is essential if solo-lifting is not a viable option. This ensures that no property gets damaged and no parts must be replaced!

Small Sailboats (14’ – 20’ Avg.  1,125 lbs.)

Compact SUVs, vans, and trucks that have a towing capacity of at least 2,000 should have no problem towing a small sailboat. A Caprice 15, for example, is a day sailor made of fiberglass. Its dry weight comes out to about 250 pounds while having a 14.67’ LOA.

Bass Boats (16’ – 22’ Avg. 1,720 lbs.)

Fiberglass boats tend to be heavier in construction, whereas aluminum boats are usually going to be lighter in construction. If you have a mid-size or smaller car you should take this into account.  A Charger 210 Elite is a boat that looks good and drives like a sports car while doing it. It weighs around 1,900 pounds in dry weight and spans 20’10” long.

Medium Sailboats (21’ – 26’ Avg. 3,300 lbs.)

Mid-size SUVs and trucks will be able to tow boats in this category. The Marlow Hunter 22 is a boat that can still be towed by some mid-sized SUVs, despite having a LOA of 21.4’. The Marlow 22 has a dry weight of 1,700 pounds, making it an ideal mid-sized boat.

Cruising Sailboats (27’ – 32’ Avg. 7,502 lbs.)

Full-size SUVs and trucks will be able to tow boats in this category. The Hunter 28.5 is an example of sailboat in this class. Made of fiberglass with a LOA of 28.5, the Hunter is a boat with a dry weight of 7,000 pounds. If your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity is 8,000 pounds, you should look into buying a smaller/lighter boat.

Large Sailboats (33’ – 40’ Avg. 12,000 lbs.)

Full-size trucks and some SUVs will be able to tow boats in this category. A timeless classic, the Cigarette 38 Top Gun, boasts a length of 37.6’. As a race boat, its twin Mercury Racing 565 engines allows this boat to reach top speeds of 83.7 mph. This boat has a dry weight of 9,900 pounds which is why only larger vehicles will be able to tow it.

How Much Towing Capacity Do I Need to Tow A Boat?

Can My Car Tow It?

Bear in mind that every vehicle is different and may tow depending on the specific modifications done to your vehicle. SUVs and trucks, for example, have multiple axle configurations that can drastically change the towing capacity.

Dealers will always advertise the highest towing capacity of a vehicle; despite a base model not having those same capacities.   It is imperative for you to know the exact weight of whatever you are trying to tow prior to attempting to tow it.

A 2006 Dodge Ram 2500 is advertised as being able to tow a maximum of 16,320 pounds, however this is only the case with a 6.4L HEMI V8 engine. A standard-engine 2006 Dodge Ram with a 4.10 axle ratio will only be able to tow 12,850 pounds.

Although only a few thousand pounds off in this case, by overestimating the towing capacity of your specific vehicle, you risk damaging your axles, suspensions, wheels, and any other parts necessary for driving and breaking.

Whether you are a person with a newfound interest for boats or a veteran sailor who wants to ensure no damage occurs to their property; knowing your exact tow capacity will save you headache and heartache down the line. This will lead you to wonder: how heavy of a boat can my vehicle tow safely?

Do Not Overload Your Vehicle

When deciding whether you should tow a boat or not, keep in mind the weight distribution. Weight distributing hitches are available to assist your vehicle with the loadout. 

Weight distribution works to distribute the tongue weight of a trailer up to the front axle of the tow vehicle so that it will sit more level and handle/brake better.

These hitches help with vehicle sag, provide improved steering/handling and prevent overloading the back tires. Having a trailer tongue that is too heavy for your vehicle will put excess force on the rear tires.

This causes difficult controlling the vehicle; corners or curves may become more difficult to maneuver and your vehicle may be less responsive when you try to brake.

You lose essential steering control by overloading your vehicle weight with an improperly loaded/balanced trailer and this can also affect your breaks. Your front tires are essential to any road trip being that they control most of the braking that your vehicle does.

The axles, tires, and suspension of your vehicle co-labor in order to make the slightest movement. Loading too heavy will put these at risk for damage, leaving you with costly repairs.

How Much Towing Capacity Do I Need to Tow A Boat? [Complete Safety Guide]

Trust Credible Sources

A licensed owner’s manual will have information regarding your vehicle, and some may list their tow capacity. If it is from a valid source of information, you should use every resource at your disposal to find an accurate tow capacity. A google search resulting in various answers for a multitude of similar cars will not help you very much.

Consider your engine size and axle ratio when determining whether a source is credible or not. Plenty of times, I have seen dealerships listing a general towing capacity for vehicles of the same make not taking axle size and engine type into account.

I can understand if you initially are bombarded with information and feel a little overwhelmed. When I began researching tow capacity, it seemed that way to me as well. Keep in mind that the goal is to operate under safe conditions, thus ensuring the safety of your family.

How Heavy Can My Vehicle Tow?

Here are some terms you need to know to get started:

  • Dry Weight: The weight of an empty boat without any fluids such as gas and water.
  • Gross Vehicle Weight Rating: The maximum operating weight of a vehicle as specified by the manufacturer. Including the vehicle’s chassis, body, engine, engine fluids, fuel, accessories, driver, passengers and cargo. Also includes the tongue weight of the trailer. Some vehicles will exceed their GVWR when loaded stock full of passengers and their luggage, without even attaching a trailer.
  • Towing Capacity: The maximum weight capacity a vehicle can tow.
  • Payload Capacity: The amount of weight a vehicle can carry within its cabin or on the truck bed. Anything you put inside your vehicle, whether it be supplies or passengers, counts towards this number.
  • Curb Weight: the weight of the vehicle without any additional load or passengers. Gross vehicle weight minus payload.
  • Gross Combination Weight Rating: A specific maximum weight limit determined by the manufacturer. This number includes the vehicle, all passengers, cargo, and fuel plus attached trailers.
  • Max Trailer Weight: The most amount of weight that a vehicle can tow.
  • Max Trailer Payload: The maximum amount of utilities, water and gas that can be safely carried in a trailer.
  • Tongue Weight: The weight that a fully loaded trailer exerts on the hitch ball of the tow vehicle.
  • Max Tongue Weight: The maximum amount of weight that can be put on the hitch; must be accounted for in the tow vehicle’s payload capacity. This will vary based on the type of hitch being utilized. Class 1 hitches will be lighter whereas class V hitches are heavier.
  • Trailer Gross Vehicle Weight Rating: The total weight of the trailer with all its content. In general, there is a plate somewhere on the trailer showing its GVWR.
  • Weight Distribution Hitch: Allows you to tow at the maximum capacity authorized by your hitch. It also helps correct tow vehicle sag, improve steering and stopping, and—when used with sway control—correct trailer sway.
  • Weight Carrying Hitch: weight-carrying hitches are common with light-duty pickups and are frequently used for smaller trucks with a tow rating up to 5,000 pounds. That weight directly affects truck handling and braking which is one of the reasons why they are limited to lesser loads.
  • Length Overall (LOA): The total length of a vessel’s hull measured parallel to the waterline.

How Big of a Boat Can I Tow?

So, you’re looking into buying a boat and need to know how big of a boat you can purchase without needing a new car?

First and foremost, you want to check your owner’s manual for any information on tow capacity. The owner’s manual and manufacturer website will provide you with the most information regarding your specific vehicle and its capabilities. Stay below the maximum tow capacity in order to prevent any premature wear to your vehicle.  

I compiled statistics on vehicles popular amongst their class to calculate the following data.

What Boats Can a Jeep Gladiator Tow?

How Much Towing Capacity Do I Need to Tow A Boat?

Many small SUVs, two-wheel drive cars, as well as trucks, can tow at least 1,500 pounds. A compact SUV such as the 2017 Nissan Rogue, for example, has a maximum tow capacity of 1,000 lbs.

Although limited to only a thousand pounds, it is still capable of towing Dinghies as well as fishing boats. It is even capable of towing small sailboats weighing under the towing capacity.

A boat that vehicles in this class can tow is a Nitro Z18, which has an average dry weight of 1,700 pounds. The Z18 comes with an angled panel to mount the bow fish finder, copious leg room under the helm console, and an integrated net stowage abaft the seats.

A 175-hp Mercury Pro XS outboard adds 3.4-liter V-6 4-stroke power and numerous features that help make the engine easier to manage and maintain.

An SUV such as a 2017 Chevrolet Equinox has a normal towing capacity of 1,500. It will comfortably tow a small sailboat weighing under this maximum capacity.

However, choosing to purchase an optional 301-horsepower V-6 Engine will raise the SUV’s maximum towing capacity from 1,500 pounds to 3,500 pounds. If you know that you will be using a vehicle to tow, it may be better to over-buy in preparation for future need.

Smaller vehicles fill up quickly which makes it easy to overpack and exceed the max tow weight. Ensure that you do not exceed the payload capacity when loading your vehicle.

Class II: <3,500 lbs.

Some mid-size SUVs and trucks will be able to tow upwards to 3,500, however, this will vary with every vehicle. A 2019 Volvo XC40, for example, has a maximum tow capacity of 3,500 lbs.

A boat that vehicles in this class can tow would be a Stingray 212 SC. This deck boat is just under 22’ with an average dry weight of 3,100 lbs. In true deck boat style, the spacious floor plan is maximized with an open floor plan.

The addition of the optional porta-potty option will add slightly to GCWR but won’t make much of a difference. Hidden storage in the side-entry steps, beneath the seats, and below the cockpit floor provides plenty of room to store the necessities, leaving more room in the cockpit for friends and family.

If you plan to go out on the water with one or two other people, the Stingray 212 SC is a great option while remaining relatively lightweight.

Class III: <6,000 lbs.

Standard size SUVs and cars will have a larger tow capacity than their smaller predecessors. A 2016 Toyota 4Runner, for example, has a maximum tow capacity of 5,000 pounds. Most V6 models can tow up to 5,000 pounds and most V8 models can tow up to 7,300 pounds.

Upgrading to a V8 engine will greatly increase your towing capabilities, making it possible for you to tow heavier for further distances.

A Glastron GTS 205 is a viable boating option for vehicles in this class. With a dry weight of 3,010 pounds and the ability to seat 9 people, this boat is ideal for family outings.

The GTS 205 is a spacious and sporty 20’ Bowrider that excels at both style and performance. On board, you’ll find bucket seats with flip-up bolsters, a sundeck, and an abundance of storage space.

Purchasing the XL Package adds features such as an extended swim platform, and a wakeboard tower, allowing you to personalize your boat from the ground up.

Class IV: <10,000 lbs.

When equipped with a tow package, if available, most SUVs can tow at least 6,000 pounds, and some can even tow up to 9,300 pounds. Larger SUVs and full-size trucks will mainly fit this category.

The 2019 Toyota Land Cruiser is an example of a SUV that can tow heavy comfortably. Being able to tow a maximum of 8,100 pounds makes this vehicle a great option for outdoorsmen.

A boat that will be towable by cars in this class is a Boston Whaler 285. The Boston whaler 285 ConquestOpens in a new tab. has an average dry weight of 7,300 pounds. Comfort-minded features and amenities enable active day cruises, serious saltwater fishing runs and impromptu overnighting with equal aplomb.

The port lounge seating is convertible and features plush backrests as well as cooler storage. You can drive in comfort thanks to a helm seat with flip-up bolster and armrests. Design details throughout maximize helm visibility, walkaround space, seating comfort and more.

Class V:<14,000 lbs.

When equipped with the standard 4.3L V6 engine, the 2019 Silverado 1500 has a tow capacity of 7,600 pounds. With the 5.3L V8 engine, the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 can tow 11,100 pounds.

However, when equipped with a 6.2L V8 engine, the 2019 Silverado 1500 reaches its maximum towing capacity of 12,500 pounds. Any vehicle that can look that sleek while also being able to tow heavy is a great purchase in my book. If you are not sure of your specific vehicle engine type, consult your owner’s manual or look on the manufacturer’s website.

Boats in class IV are likely going to be impossible to tow by car being that their LOA are typically longer.

The Moody 34 is an example of a yacht that can be towed by vehicles with towing capabilities over 11,500 pounds. Moody Yachts were a pioneer in fiberglass work, they are widely known for their comfortable center cockpit designs.

The Moody 34 is a very solid cruiser, with great layout for extended cruising, yet not so big that you can’t get a slip at most marinas.

The Moody 34 houses a huge aft cabin, a great galley, a spacious salon and a large V-berth with good ventilation. This boat is equipped with autopilot, electric windlass (cockpit remote) and dinghy davits.

This boat would be ideal for any sailors looking for a more spacious ship. When purchasing a vehicle for towing, it is always recommended to over-buy. This way you will know for certain that you can tow whatever trailers or boats you may own or plan to own.

Put it on a scale

The most reliable way to know exactly how much your boat along with the trailer weigh is to bring it to a truck scale. A truck scale is a large set of scales, usually mounted permanently on a concrete foundation, that is used to weigh entire rail or road vehicles and their contents.

Drive onto the scale and pull forward enough so that your truck is not on the scale, only your trailer wheels. Get the weight of the trailer while it is still hooked up to the hitch on your truck.

Next, back your trailer up and detach it from your truck’s hitch, then weigh the entire trailer. Now you can calculate your tongue weight as the difference between the two measurements.

In order to find the dry weight of your boat alone, it is going to have to be empty. Repeat the same process of driving only the trailer onto the scale. Subtract your trailer weight (usually comes as a GVWR plate) from the final number. This will give you your boat’s dry weight.

When trying to determine how much a potential vehicle needs to be able to tow, remember to include the weight of fuel and supplies kept on board. If you must rely on the towing capacity figure, I highly recommend overbuying in the case that the number is off even by a few pounds.

If a boat and trailer weigh 9,000 pounds together, then your vehicle should be able to at least tow 10,000 lbs.

Math is Your Friend

In order to tow with a sound mind and nip any future expenses in the bud before they occur, you should always calculate. No matter if you think, “it should be fine, I only added a few extra people”, there are always consequences to your actions! Adding two people weighing 130 pounds each will add a 260-pound strain to your vehicle.

Let’s imagine we are attempting to tow a boat using a one-ton extended cab, 2WD gasoline-burning pickup. We will assign it a GVWR of 9,900 lbs., a GCWR of 23,000 lbs. and a maximum tow rating of 17,000 lbs.

Pickup trucks like this usually have a starting capacity of approximately 6,000 pounds. With a full tank of fuel and a trailer hitch, the weight goes up to 6,500 lbs. Cargo can weigh almost 400 pounds depending on what you need and the amount of people. If you add two people each weighing 130 pounds, the weight goes up to 7,160 pounds.

The maximum tow rating cannot apply with the truck fully loaded because the GCWR (23,000 lbs.) minus the GVWR (9,900 lbs.) leaves 13,100 lbs. This is about 4,000 pounds less than it’s quoted towing ability.

After adding utilities and people to the sample truck and then subtracting that value (7,000 lbs.) from the GCWR (23,000 lbs.), the effective working tow rating of the truck becomes 16,000 lbs., which is about 1,000 pounds less than the truck’s quoted maximum towing rating.

Standard Vehicle Ratings

Towing with a vehicle not designed to do so will cause wear to your vehicle. I recommend using a proper towing truck, however, if you insist on doing so, do not tow more than half the weight of your unloaded vehicle. *

Featherweight. Featherweight vehicles are those with towing capacities less than or equal to 2,000 lbs. An example of vehicles in the class are the 2018 Dodge Challenger as well as the 2018 Dodge Charger.

Both cars have a maximum towing capacity of 1,000 lbs. Keep in mind these vehicles were not designed to tow luggage, but rather to race down desert roads.

Lightweight. Lightweight vehicles can tow at minimum 2,000 lbs. to an upwards of 4,000 lbs. A 2017 Volkswagen Tiguan is a compact SUV that can tow a maximum of 2,200 lbs.

This may seem like a low number, but you have to keep in mind that these cars were not made to tow often. Even being able to tow 2,000 pounds is an achievement compared to other Volkswagen of the same year.

Middleweight. Middleweight vehicles can tow at minimum 4,000 to an upwards of 7,000 lbs. An example of a vehicle in this class is a 2013 GMC Yukon Denali hybrid with its max towing capacity being around 5,700 lbs. If you choose to purchase additional features to boost the output of this vehicle, it’s maximum tow capacity will raise to 6,000 lbs.

Heavyweight. Heavyweight vehicles can tow at minimum 7,000 lbs. to a maximum of 10,000 lbs. An example of a vehicle in this class is a 2020 Nissan Titan which boasts a towing capacity of 9,210 lbs.

Super Heavyweight. Super Heavyweight vehicles are any vehicles that can tow at least 10,000 lbs. An example of a vehicle in this class is a 2019 Nissan XD. The base model is capable of towing 10,990 lbs.; with additional features this truck can reach a maximum towing capacity of 12,640 lbs.

Hitches

Class I: Class I hitches are weight carrying (WC) hitches rated up to 2,000 pounds gross trailer weight with a maximum trailer tongue weight of 200 pounds. Class I hitches usually attach to the bumper, truck pan or vehicle frame.

Class II: Class II hitches are weight carrying (WC) hitches rated up to 3,500 pounds gross trailer weight with a maximum trailer tongue weight of 300 pounds. Class II hitches usually attach to the bumper or vehicle frame.

Class III: Class III hitches are weight carrying (WC) or can be weight distributing (WD) depending on your vehicle and it’s hitch specifications. Class III hitches used as weight carrying are rated up to 6,000 pounds gross trailer weight with a maximum trailer tongue weight of 600 pounds.

Class III hitches used for weight distributing are rated up to 10,000 pounds gross trailer weight with a maximum trailer tongue weight of 1,000 pounds. Class III hitches attach to the vehicle frame only.

Class IV: Class IV hitches are weight carrying (WC) or can be weight distributing (WD) hitches depending on your vehicle and it’s hitch specifications. Class IV hitches used as weight carrying are rated up to 10,000 pounds gross trailer weight with a maximum trailer tongue weight of 1,000 pounds.

Class IV hitches used for weight distributing are rated up to 14,000 pounds gross trailer weight with a maximum trailer tongue weight of 14,000 pounds. Class IV hitches attach to the vehicle frame only.

Class V: Class V hitches are weight carrying (WC) and weight distributing (WD) hitches depending on the vehicle and hitch specifications. Class V hitches used as weight carrying are rated up to 12,000 pounds gross trailer weight with a maximum trailer tongue weight of 1,200 pounds.

Class V hitches used for weight distributing are rated up to 17,000-pound gross trailer weight with a maximum trailer tongue weight of 1,700 pounds. Your ball mount and hitch ball need to both be rated for Class V to safely tow these weight loads. To use this class of hitch for weight distribution requires a weight distribution system. Class V hitches attach to the vehicle frame only.

VIN lookup

A more efficient way to confirm vehicle capabilities is by checking the VIN sticker in your window. This is the easiest method as it will list your vehicles’ GCW, GVW, as well as any other vehicle add-ons such as a tow package. It is possible to find your specific vehicle specs by using the VIN number on a website such as this one: https://vpic.nhtsa.dot.gov/decoder/.

Use dealership advertisements selectively. Unless you know it is an authorized source of information, you can’t simply believe it because they said so.

Dealerships advertise towing packages on vehicles where there is only a hitch receiver; while this may be a viable option, it limits the towing capacity. Few ads will list everything you need to know about a vehicle, the axle size and the size of the gas tank for example, this information is useful for determining how well a vehicle can tow.

Doing a quick internet search should always the first place you look when looking to obtain new information. Searching the year, make and model of your car plus “towing guide” will bear results that may be of use to you.

Most manufactures have towing and/or trailering guides that will help you determine your own safe towing guidelines.  Furthermore, you want to utilize information from the window sticker, any available build codes, and any available sales brochure to confirm which specs your vehicle has.

Max Tongue Weight Limits Trailer Size

Most experts agree that an acceptable tongue weight for any trailer is somewhere between 9 and 15 percent of the gross trailer weight. Commonly, people utilize the 10-15% rule when determining the tongue weight of the trailer.

Let’s say, for example, that we have a pickup truck with a maximum towing capacity of 9,800 pounds. Let’s also say that the tongue weight is 1,200 pounds with a weight distributing hitch. If we use the 10-15% rule, a 9,800-pound trailer will have a tongue weight between 980 pounds and 1,470 pounds. Meanwhile, the truck is limited to 1,200 pounds on the hitch. By having a 9,800-pound trailer, you risk overloading your vehicle resulting in premature wear.

If the tongue of the trailer does not exert enough downward force on the tow vehicle’s hitch ball, meaning that the trailer’s tongue weight is too light, a dangerous condition called trailer sway could result.

Using a tongue that is too heavy may impede with the steering of your vehicle. Having too much rear weight will make it more difficult for you to control the vehicle, while also disrupting most of your vehicle’s breaking power. While this weight should be thought of as a big deal, because it is, tongue weight is also easy to adjust.

If the trailer tongue is too light, you need to move some of the cargo forward of the trailer’s axle. If the tongue is too heavy, you need to adjust the load so that more of the weight is behind the trailer’s axle. It is very difficult to manually fine-tune the tongue weight in order to have it between 10% – 15% without already knowing the gross trailer weight.

Engine

Car experts all agree that in gas engines, a V-8 minimum is required for towing. Ford’s F150 is available with the turbocharged EcoBoost V-6 in 2.7-liter and 3.5-liter versions, however purchasing a 5.0-liter V-8 will result in the maximum towing capacity of 12,000 lbs. Most heavy-duty trucks are available with optional diesel engines. Diesel engines generate more torque

Additional Weight:

A few things that can add to weight include:

  • Fuel: A gallon of diesel weighs around 7.1 pounds. Gasoline on the other hand, weighs about 6.1 pounds per gallon. It is necessary to add the fuel weight when considering the total weight.
  • Supplies: The weight of supplies can quickly add up and become taxing on your journey. Fishing gear for just a few people can easily fall anywhere from 100 pounds to 150 pounds. This is especially crucial when driving Class I vehicles being that they need precise estimates to prevent vehicle wear.

Towing Guides

How Much Towing Capacity Do I Need to Tow A Boat? [Complete Safety Guide]

Chris Mills

Chris bought his first boat a few years ago and he has been learning about boating and boat care ever since! Chris loves to share what he learns with others and we are excited to have him writing for us here at Best Boat Report!

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