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How Much Towing Capacity Do I Need for a Boat? Can I Use My SUV?

Written by Anthony Roberts / Fact checked by Jonathan Larson

how much towing capacity do i need for a boat

How much towing capacity do I need for a boat? Is SUV pulling boat possible? Surprisingly, some people don’t give too much thought to whether their automobile has enough towing capacity for their newly purchased boat.

As a rule of thumb, your towing vehicle should have a maximum towing capacity that exceeds 15% of the combined weight of a full boat and trailer.

Nonetheless, trying to figure out the towing limits isn’t always easy. In today’s article, we’re going to run down a towing guide to help check the towing capacity of your vehicle, corresponding with the weight of the boat. Stay tuned!

How Much Towing Capacity Do I Need for a Boat?

1. Boat Towing Capacity Chart

What size truck do I need to pull a boat? What are models of SUVs that can tow a boat? The answers to these questions can be found in the chart below.

We have included the tow ratings by vehicle in the following chart. Read on for a better comparison among different models.

Class Model Engine Max Towing Capacity
I (<1500 lbs) GMC Acadia SUV  3.6L V6 1,000 pounds
BMW X5 4.4L V8 1,600 pounds
Subaru Forester 2.0 L 4-cylinder 1,500 pounds

II (<3500 lbs)

Envision (Buick) 2.0L I4 Turbo 1,500 lbs
Acadia (GMC) 2.5L I4 1,000-1,500 lbs
Escape (Ford) 1.5L I3 Turbo 2,000 lbs

III (<6000 lbs)

MDX (Acura) 3.5L V6 3,500-5,000 lbs
Q7 (Audi) 2.0L I4 Turbo-charged 4,400 lbs
Pacifica (Chrysler) 3.6L V6 3,600 lbs

IV (<10000 lbs)

Canyon (GMC) 3.6L V6 7,000 lbs
QX80 (Infiniti) 5.6L V8 8,500 lbs
Grand Cherokee (Jeep) 6.4L V8 7,200 lbs

V (<14000 lbs)

F-150 (Ford) 3.5L EcoBoost V6 13,200 lbs
Sierra (GMC) 5.3L V8 Turbo 11,100-11,300 lbs
Ram 3500 (RAM) 6.4L V8 Heavy Duty HEMI MDS 13,780-14,620 lbs

2. Different Terms Of Towing

There are several towing terms you need to know to figure out how much your vessel can haul. First, the term towing capacity refers to how much weight your automobile can tow safely.

  • GVWR



GVWR stands for gross vehicle weight rating, which is the total weight your vehicle can carry plus the weight of the vehicle. When buying a car, you can ask for this specification from the dealer or find it printed on the driver’s side door jamb.

Likewise, a trailer also has its own GVWR, which dictates the limit of allowable weight of a fully-loaded vehicle.

  • GCWR


GCWR refers to gross combined weight rating, which is the sum of the maximum weight of the vehicle and the maximum weight of the trailer. In other words, it is the car’s towing capacity including passengers and other allowed weights like fuel, cargo, and trailers.

GCWR equals the vehicle’s GVWR plus the trailer’s GVWR.

  • Tongue Weight


This is the heft that a fully loaded trailer puts on the hitch. This figure changes depending on how you distribute the load. In any case, it never falls out of 10-15% of the gross trailer weight range.

  • Dry Weight


This refers to the boat’s weight alone. When you add gas, motor, or anything else you may store on the vessel, that’s wet weight—which will make package weight if combined with the trailer’s mass.

Knowing the average package weight boat is as important as knowing the cars towing capacity of your vehicle; you need this information for the final calculation regarding how much your vehicle can haul.

  • Curb weight

It refers to the total weight of the vehicle when it is empty, including all of its standard equipment and a full tank of fuel. The figure does not include any passengers, cargo, or aftermarket modifications.

How to Determine Towing Capacity


You don’t really need to rely on a weight calculator to determine your vehicle’s towing capacity, as the process is straightforward.

The easiest way to determine the towing capacity of your vehicle is to examine the owner’s manual. Within this document, you’ll be able to find information such as GVWR, GCWR, aggregate weight rating, towball weight, etc.

Once you’ve located the gross combined weight rating, you’ll need to subtract the vehicle’s curb weight from it. You’ve now found your gross towing capacity. However, for safety’s sake, it’s recommended that your towing capacity is only 80% of the result you get from the subtraction.

Alternatively, you can look at the information on the VIN stickers, which you can find adhered to the door jamb on the driver’s side. Conduct a VIN number lookup, which should also tell you the information you need to go through the calculation process as above to learn the boat towing weight.

VIN Number Lookup


A VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) is a specialized code assigned to every automobile in manufacture. It is often printed in a single line with 17 characters, including digits and capital letters. For pre-1981 vehicles, however, the VIN would contain 11 to 17 characters instead.

No VIN code is the same, so you can rely on it to identify certain specifications of the vehicle you’re driving. In this case, it can come in handy to help you learn your car’s towing capacity.

You can find the VIN on the driver side’s door jamb when it’s open, on the dashboard in front of the steering wheel, under the hood near the engine block, or on your registration document.

Once you’ve found the VIN, all you have to do is enter the number into a VIN lookup tool online. Among the information the code provides, you’ll find the GCWR and the curb weight. From there, follow the instructions above to learn the car’s towing capacity.

How Much a Boat Tends to Weigh


A boat’s weight varies depending on its type and size. Obviously, a small pontoon boat weighs less than a larger one.

  1. Dinghies: Dinghies are among the lightest in the list of small boat weight. Almost any car can tow a dinghy as they only weigh around 85 lbs. Dinghies are known for their transportation convenience.
  2. Small Sailboats: These vessels have a wide weight range—from 400 to 2,500 pounds. However, given that sailboats for recreational purposes are usually on the lower end of the spectrum, a car that can tow 2,500 pounds should be enough to pull most vessels in this category.
  3. Medium Sailboats: These boats require a car that tows a considerable amount, like mid-size SUVs and trucks, as their average weight falls around 3,300 lbs.
  4. Large Sailboats: Full-size trucks are required to tow a large boat in this category. Large sailboats’ average weight is around 12,000 lbs, which is considered the heaviest on the list.
  5. Cruising Sailboats: Cruising boats are one of the largest boats on the list, weighing around 7,500 lbs. For these vessels, you’re going to need full-size SUVs and trucks to tow. A Tesla cybertruck will be able to tow cruising sailboats with ease as it poses a towing capacity of 14,000 lbs.
  6. Bass Boats: The weight of your bass boat depends on whether the hull is made of fiberglass or aluminum. Fiberglass is heavier than aluminum, but generally, a bass boat has an average weight of 1,700 lbs, which means a midsize vehicle may not be able to tow the boat with ease.

Just like bass boats, wake boats are also made of aluminum or fiberglass. Typically, a wake boat weighs around 3,000 to 5,000 lbs, so the towing capacity needed for wakeboard boat should be at least 3,600 to 6,000 lbs.

How Big a Boat Can I Tow?

It depends on several factors to answer this question. If you have to have a camper van, don’t be surprised to find that it can tow from 3,500 lbs to 40,000 lbs.

On a general scale, it wouldn’t be possible to tow a boat that exceeds 45 feet in length, not without a commercial trailer and rig, at least.

In addition, some states require a permit for vessels that are over 8.5 feet wide and over 53 feet in length. That said, several states allow up to 75 feet in length as exceptions.


What Boat Can I Tow With 3,500 Lbs Capacity?

As long as the weight you’re towing stays within the vehicle’s capacity, you can rest assured that your car can tow the boat with ease. For example, aluminum fishing boats (average weight of 300-500 lbs), small sailboats (400-800 lbs), or bass boats (1,700 lbs).

Take ski boats as another example. The average weight of a ski boat is 4,657 lbs, let’s say 4,700 lbs. Following the rule of thumb, we’ve mentioned, you’re going to need a vehicle with a towing capacity of at least 5,640 lbs for a ski boat.

How Big Of A Boat Can A 1500 Tow?

If your vehicle only has a towing capacity of 1,500 lbs, it’s best not to risk it and haul anything too big. Dinghies (6-20 feet), skiffs (typically under 20 feet), and small sailboats (14-20 feet) are on the list of lightweight boats.

How Much Towing Capacity Is Needed For Pontoons?

For a pontoon boat, vehicles with 3500 lb towing capacity can usually suffice.

To learn the exact towing capacity required, calculate the total weight of the loaded boat and trailer. Add 15% of the combined weight to the result – the figure you get is the minimum towing capacity.


How much towing capacity do I need for a boat? By now, you’ve learned that the towing capacity should always be 15% more than the gross weight of the full boat and trailer. And to determine the towing capacity of your vehicle, you can take a look at the owner’s manual or VIN code.

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