The best SUV to tow a boat: The facts

Finding the best SUV for towing a boat

There’s nothing like getting out onto the open water. Being able to have the freedom to travel along the coastline without the restrictions of traffic or being limited to roads – there’s nothing like it.

But getting the boat from land to water is the crucial step in being able to experience that freedom. And that’s where towing your boat comes into it.

So what’s the best SUV to tow a boat? The 2019 Ford Expedition has a maximum tow rating of 9,300 lbs, which is perfect for towing most large boats and boat trailers.

If you have a small boat, though, you may not need an SUV. Sure, it’s definitely an advantage thanks to their higher ride height (they can back down boat ramps a lot further than a sedan or wagon), and thanks to their heavy-duty ladder-frame construction and powerful engines, they’re able to handle the weight of both a trailer and a boat.

But does that mean you need a huge pickup? Not necessarily. There are plenty of full-size SUVs that will do the job just fine, and for smaller boats, some midsize SUVs will also have enough towing capacity. Let’s look at some of the suitable candidates:

Top ten SUVs for towing a boat

  • 2019 Ford Expedition – Max towing: 9,300 lbs
  • 2019 Lincoln Navigator – Max towing: 8,700 lbs
  • 2019 Dodge Durango SRT – Max towing: 8,700 lbs
  • 2019 Chevrolet Tahoe – Max towing: 8,600 lbs
  • 2019 GMC Yukon – Max towing: 8,500 lbs
  • 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.7 V8 – Max towing: 6,200lbs
  • 2019 Land Rover Discovery Sport – Max towing: 4409lbs
  • 2019 Audi SQ5 – Max towing: 4400lbss
  • 2019 BMW X3 – Max towing: 4400lbs
  • 2019 Toyota RAV4 Adventure AWD – Max towing: 3500lbs

We’ve listed five full-size SUVs and five midsize SUVs, with maximum figures, and we’ve chosen these vehicles not just for their towing capacity, but also their practicality and driveability. But as you can see there’s a wide variety of towing ability, mostly dependent on the size of the vehicle. So, knowing which SUV you will need will come down to knowing how heavy your boat is.

Finding out your boat’s weight

If you’ve just bought a boat and you haven’t been given the boat’s weight by the previous owner, there are a couple of ways to do it. And yes, some of them seem pretty obvious.

Firstly, go online and Google your boat. Often the specs are listed there. Or you can call the boat manufacturer and they should have that info as well. But that’s only half the equation, and this is where some people come unstuck.

Getting your boat to the water requires a trailer, and some of the trailers are very, very heavy indeed. So while you may have the weight of the boat, the weight of the trailer can add another 30-40 per cent to that weight, or more.

The most accurate way to ascertain the boat and trailer weight together is to use a truck scale, also called a weighbridge. Here’s a handy link to all the public truck scales in the US.

Now that you have the weight of your boat and your trailer, you can see what kind of SUV you’ll require. Job’s done, right? Not so fast.

While the vehicle you have may be able to tow, there’s a big difference between doing a job, and doing a job well.

Getting the best SUV for boat towing

Let’s talk torque

Having plenty of torque is the key to towing something comfortably. Torque is how much twist your engine is capable of making, effectively translating to pulling power of your engine once the torque is applied to the road.

If you want the most amount of torque, then you’re better off going with a diesel engine, as they traditionally have more torque than gasoline engines. It’s the reason that big rigs most often have diesel engines under the bonnet.

Thankfully, gasoline engines have come a long way, and with turbocharging, they’re producing mammoth amounts of torque. The Bentley Bentayga W12, for example, puts out a huge 664 lb-ft of torque.

As a rule, larger engines will produce more pulling power, which is why a lot of the vehicles above are V8s.

Looking after your tow vehicle

While it’s true that years ago manual transmissions were stronger and lasted longer, automatics are now just as strong, if not stronger. They also won’t suffer from clutch wear like a manual vehicle, and they’re easier to drive. Just watch the Porsche Cayenne below, which has an automatic.

Impressive stuff. However, the crucial detail is keeping on top of service schedules. Because the auto is trying to pass huge amounts of torque through the driveline, it also gets very, very hot. And heat is the enemy of lubrication.

This means you need to always keep your engine and gearbox running in tip-top condition. Don’t miss the service schedule and if you look closely at the owner’s manual, often it will say that in harsh conditions services need to be completed more often than usual.

Towing a heavy boat and trailer is absolutely classed as harsh conditions.

Towball loading is also critical

Getting any old towball isn’t good enough. You need something that’s strong and going to be able to handle the weight. So if you go cheap in this step, it could lead to a disaster.

Often dealerships can recommend the best towball, or you can head to a dedicated towing specialist. But you’ll need to let them know what the towball down weight will be.

If you haven’t heard that term befire, it’s how much weight is being pushed onto the towball by the trailer. There are towballs that can only take 220 lbs, and others that can take 350 lbs. Bigger is definitely better.

A good rule of thumb is the towball down weight is usually around 10 per cent of the total weight of the loaded trailer. Though this is a rough guide, the only weigh to be sure is to use truck scales and drive the vehicle off slightly. Your truck scale staff will be able to help with the math.

2018 Lincoln Navigator

Choosing the right SUV

When accounting for towing capacity, you need to also understand that loading the vehicle with luggage and passengers will reduce what you can tow.

For example, if you can tow 5000 lbs and you put 1500 lbs of gear in the back, you can now actually only tow 3500 lbs.

So if you decide to tow your boat but carry seven people for the day’s outing, then you’ll need to have an even higher capacity tow vehicle than you may have first thought.

The vehicle’s size will also have a bearing on your decision. Long wheelbase vehicles are more stable – important when towing on the highway at high speed.

Bear in mind that some large pickups are rear-wheel-drive, and so are some large SUVs, but if you’re using that same vehicle for other things in winter time, then having an all-wheel-drive machine is very handy.

Hitching up the trailer

Attaching the trailer to the tow vehicle is a crucial stage, and you need to ensure that the trailer is sitting on the towball properly. To be properly sure, give it a push or a kick to make sure it has slipped over the ball. You’ll be glad you took that extra step, trust me.

Watch this video for a great look at how the process works.

Trailers with a gooseneck-style hitch require a different technique, which is why we suggest you watch this video instead.

If your trailer and boat are heavy, then you’re going to need electric brakes. Some trailers have hydraulic brakes, and they’ll be fine, too, but if the trailer does start to sway, you’re able to tap on the brake controller to reduce the wiggle, something you can’t do with hydraulic brakes.

And last, but not least, we’d suggest taking a good look at the trailer’s and vehicle’s tyres. They always need to be in serviceable condition. The last thing you want is a blowout halfway down the interstate. You can read our piece on tyres here.

Follow these tips and you’ll have many years of happy motoring and happy boating.

Can an electric SUV tow a boat?

This is an interesting question that we’re starting to hear more and more. The answer, of course, is yes an electric SUV can indeed tow a boat, however the current maximum towing capacity for an EV is 5000 lbs.

That vehicle is the Tesla Model X, and you’ll need to have the correct sized wheels (20-inch) and a full charge to be able to do it. The major issue is how quickly it will deplete the battery when towing. As there’s a lot of rolling resistance to overcome, it’s going to chew up a lot of charge getting the boat moving.

Once rolling it’s fine, but it also needs to be quite cool. On very hot days, using that amount of torque for so long will not only affect the performance, but also the cooling capacity. So, at the moment it’s more ideal to tow with a gasoline or diesel powered SUV.

That said, with the Audi e-tron and Mercedes-Benz EQC entering the market, we may see a shift toward electric SUVs and as a result, manufacturers will have to take towing into consideration.

About Karl Peskett 431 Articles
A passionate writer, editor and driver, Karl is the go-to man when it comes to four wheels. With stints in television, radio, print and online, Karl has been writing about cars for more than a decade. He drives around 100 vehicles every year and has tested everything from Bugattis to Suzukis. Sometimes on track, sometimes off-road, his focus is on producing objective journalism without fear or favour.

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