How to Buy a Truck or SUV to Haul Your Boat

Look for Towing Power, Versatility and Practicality When You Buy

At last, you've done it: You bought a boat. Whether you're using it for water skiing, fishing or aimless putt-putting about, at some point you're going to tow it. Here are tips for choosing the right boat support vehicle for your needs.

There is one general principle to keep in mind: Your boat should become a part of your life, not the other way around. It's easy to upend your life in order to accommodate your new floating toy. But if you do that, you wind up resenting it. Remember that most of your life will still be spent on dry land.

Know What You Need

If you hit the Powerball, congratulations: Go ahead and buy a vehicle purely dedicated to towing your new yacht. But if you're like most boaters, your tow vehicle will also be your commuter vehicle, family hauler and pet transporter. So choose a truck or SUV that can assume the necessary identity when it's not in front of that boat. If you're looking for suggestions, we have a list of 12 2016 SUVs and trucks that will do the job.

Large full-frame pickup trucks such as the Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150 (and its bigger kin), GMC Sierra, Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra are a natural choice for towing. Their full-steel ladder frames mean they have the strength to lug most anything. Their engines — whether they're V8s, turbo V6s or diesels — are optimized for the low-end torque that's vital for towing. And every manufacturer has engineered its pickup trucks to be good at towing.

But a full-size pickup is big. It may not fit in your garage. It means that when you pull into a parking spot, the door may swing open into the car next to your beast. The fuel economy will only be so-so, and most of your storage space is outside. All of those disadvantages, and a few more, are only amplified when the truck is a 1-ton-rated dually.

Large, full-frame pickup trucks are a natural choice for towing. Their full-steel ladder frames mean they have the strength to lug most anything.

If you need a tow vehicle that will double as a commuter vehicle, consider an SUV. Full-frame, large SUVs — such as the Chevrolet Tahoe and Chevrolet Suburban, Ford Expedition, GMC Yukon and GMC Yukon XL and Toyota Sequoia — offer tow ratings comparable to those of the pickups to which they are closely related. And that's usually far more than what's necessary for recreational boating.

A Chevy Tahoe or Toyota Sequoia is still a big thing to drive every day. But smaller SUVs with or without full frames — particularly those with V6 or V8 engines mounted longitudinally in their nose like a truck — can still handle most towing jobs. A properly equipped Jeep Grand Cherokee, for instance, is rated to tow up to 7,400 pounds. That's a lot of boat.

The Right Rig for the Right Boat

Trucks are marketed with numbers: horsepower and torque numbers, numbers of cylinders, numbers of gears and, most temptingly for anyone considering doing some towing, the numbers that announce maximum tow ratings. The easiest thing to do is to buy the truck that can tow the most and stop thinking about it.

A small boat, such as a Boston Whaler 110 Sport, only weighs 460 pounds. Throw on a 180-pound outboard engine and 40 pounds of fuel and that's all of 680 pounds. A properly equipped Ford F-450 dually crew-cab truck is rated to haul more than 45 of them. Most midsize pickups, such as the Chevrolet Colorado, are more than equal to the task. Even a Toyota Avalon sedan is rated to haul 1,000 pounds.

Most boats don't weigh a lot. Even a slick cruiser like the 21-foot Bayliner 642 Cuddy weighs in at 3,084 pounds. That's well within the ability of most half-ton pickup trucks such as the Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150, Ram 1500 and Toyota Tundra, even when they're equipped with a base six-cylinder gas engine.

Of course, buying too little capacity is bound to lead to mechanical failures and voided warranties. So don't skimp on tow capacity either.

When you're boat shopping, ask about total weight of the boat and trailer combination. Don't wait to discover you don't have enough truck — or too much boat — until after you've made your purchase. If that means having the boat and trailer taken to a public scale before you buy it, do that.

Prepare to Get Wet

Towing a horse trailer means preparing to slog through muddy fairgrounds and trailheads. If you're towing a travel trailer, make sure the tow vehicle can handle the electrical load of a house on wheels. A boat brings special considerations, too.

Most of those challenges are directly related to water. Boats usually launch off trailers positioned at the bottom of concrete or asphalt ramps. That means the tow vehicle is often near or in the water. And these ramps are often slimy, slippery and prone to serving as the backdrop in amusing YouTube videos.

So you need to have an idea about where you'll be launching your boat. Is it a lake with a gentle slope and good traction? Or are you launching into the ocean from a ramp covered in moss? All-wheel drive or four-wheel drive can be a vital element in overcoming the low-traction situations that a boat tow vehicle can encounter. In two-wheel-drive vehicles, make sure the drive wheels are connected by a limited-slip differential or an electronic traction control system.

All that water will also intrude into all sorts of places in your vehicle. Make sure you're willing to clean the entire vehicle after it gets wet, particularly if you're launching your craft into corrosive salt water.

For truck beds, particularly those that are being used around salt water, consider using a spray-in bedliner. Products such as Line-X will completely seal a bed from water intrusion. That's different from a drop-in plastic liner, which can hold water. Don't invite rust to attack your new truck.

Swimming, water skiing, fishing and every other thing you do with a boat will bring moisture back to the tow vehicle. So protect the vehicle's floors with rubber mats to capture all the drips. They'll be a lot easier to clean than carpet. And consider investing in covers for the upholstery, too.