Getting your craft to the water means using the proper vehicle and procedures for safety
Originally published July 12, 2017 (with video)
There is one right way to trailer a boat, regardless of size.
And so many wrong ones.
For six years, Nissan Canada has been teaming with BOATsmart!, an organization that promotes safety in recreational motorized activities. BOATsmart! is accredited by Transport Canada to provide Pleasure Craft Operator Cards, a requirement in Canada for anyone using a pleasure craft outfitted with a motor. The test is available online for fifty bucks (note: it can take about six hours to complete. The section on buoys is hard – take notes), but once you pass, you’re are licenced for life.
To test out my newly licenced self, I took to cottage country in Ontario for the day. We were driving the Armada and the Pathfinder, Nissan’s (and the industry’s) biggest towers in their segments, and the Titan the Titan XD. The goal? Hook up everything from power boats to personal watercraft to a pontoon boat, get them into the water and take them for a spin.
Driving while you’re towing something isn’t actually that difficult, especially if you’re familiar with large vehicles. You have to be cognizant that you’ve effectively tripled your needed stopping distance, take great care on right turns and downhills, especially, and remember all that additional weight and length will compromise your agility. You take it easy, in other words.
Hooking up that trailer, however? That’s where things get interesting. Having an expert point person guiding you is critical, but you’re still threading a needle. In our case, we were backing up an Armada, a tank of a vehicle, to over 2,000 kilograms (4,500 pounds) of boat resting on a 680-kg (1,500-pound) trailer. Some Nissan trucks (the Titans, for example) have a center line on the backup camera; gently steer and correct until two lines join and you’re there. You still need patience, skill and a gifted yeller. I would not want to do this in the rain, in the dark.
Properly attaching a boat trailer is critical. Missed steps can cause highway mayhem in the blink of an eye. Lining up the hitch is incremental, and requires patience. Once positioned, drop the hitch onto the ball and make sure the locking system is secure. Slide the hitch pin. The hooked chains should be crossed before connected to the vehicle, so if the hitch for any reason lets go it will be cradled. Connect the lighting harness and check all vehicle lights, and spend some time adjusting your vehicle’s mirrors. Before you launch your boat, remove any tie-downs at the rear. It’s an often overlooked step.
While Nissan currently has a sliver share of the massive truck market dominated by the domestics, it is that towing capacity they see as their window in with the Pathfinder and the Armada. All the luxury this demographic wants for hauling kids as well as the ability to get the watercraft where they need it. The Pathfinder has a 6,000-lb capacity, beating the Explorer, the Highlander and the Pilot by 1,000, and the Acadia by 2,000. The Armada hauls 8,500 pounds, edging out the Tahoe at 6,400, the Sequoia at 7,100 and the Expedition at 6,500.
The Titan and Titan XD, both available in 2017 with single cabs as well as crew cabs, don’t lead the field in towing capacity, but Nissan is confident their five-year bumper-to-bumper warranty will be an industry leader. The Titans have an available Trailer Light Check system that allows you to check the lights on your trailer from your keyfob, even if you’re on your own. It’s a nice safety feature, and Nissan’s Around View Monitor (AVM) available on most of their lineup remains the best in the business. It’s a bird’s eye view of your car, and truly delivers the best use of cameras I’ve seen. You can park an Armada in a thimble with it.
We were “working” on fabulous Lake Rosseau for a reason: it’s the spendy part of cottage country where the millionaires and their moochers come to live the high life. Nissan is looking to exploit a demographic whose daily driver is more Porsche than Pontiac, and while the truck lineup they’re offering has price points that start higher than much of the advertised ones of their competition, once you cut through the screaming headlines and rebates of the domestics and go head to head on features, they’re competitive.
Ford has trailer backup assist technology I’ve tried that is spooky but cool. You take your hands from the wheel and use a mouse-like knob as a sensor on the trailer does the work. Backing a trailer is counterintuitive; you are pawing the wheel to the left to shift it right in your mirrors and it’s a lot harder than it looks. Ford has the right idea as we race toward autonomy, and while it takes some getting use to (and more than a little trust), look to the rest of the industry to adopt similar features.
BOATsmart! was on hand to make sure we literally didn’t get our wires crossed, and to guide us through the step-by-step process of properly securing a trailer. The boat itself must be properly secured to the trailer, and skipping steps on either could prove dangerous. A local marine operator regaled me with tales of a large speed boat slipping its trailer on one of the country’s busiest highways, a reminder that towing anything is not for the reckless or careless.