Towing A PWC With A Car: What You Need To Know

Whether for leisure or maintenance, towing your personal watercraft is an essential part of owning one. However, towing a jet ski with a car is a unique situation. There are a few vital points to consider so that you can tow your jet ski safely and worry-free.

Most cars, even compact 4-cylinder ones, can tow a jet ski and trailer. Most cars can tow at least 1,500 pounds, so they can handle a single jet ski with trailer. Some cars can tow double jet ski trailer and skis depending on their weight.

Try to accurately measure total weight of your jet ski(s), trailer, fuel and accessories. Adding 15% to your jet ski and trailer estimated weights can work when you don’t have exact numbers, and we’ll explain more about why below. Terrain matters as well. Sea-Doo even demonstrates towing a double trailer in their How To Tow video.

Most cars are able to tow single and sometimes dual jet ski trailers

Can I Tow a Jet Ski with a Four-Cylinder?

Those with a common family car (four-cylinder) have to be more cautious when deciding to tow a PWC or anything else of significant weight.

Most likely, however, your car will be able to tow your PWC (source). There are different factors to consider before being certain of it, including each of the following:

  • PWC dry weight
  • PWC weight with fuel and accessories
  • The trailer’s weight and carrying capacity
  • Your car’s towing capacity
  • The tow hitch’s style and capacity
  • The angle of launch ramp
  • The general terrain in your area

Each of these factors will help you know how much weight you’ll be towing. Remember, always calculate extra pulling weight in case there’s fuel in your jet ski, added gear, additional accessories you plan to travel with or very steep terrain.

Start by calculating how much you’ll be pulling (source). To do that, you’ll need to know your jet ski’s weight and your trailer’s weight. Almost any car can tow lightweight jet skis, as you can see here.

Calculating Additional Weight When Towing Your PWC

By calculating extra weight for your PWC and trailer, you’re creating a safety buffer.

Using only the total towing weight capacity of your vehicle can be dangerous because any unpredicted weight increase could damage your car or even cause you to lose control of your vehicle and trailer.

Fortunately, preventing weight shifts that could be potentially dangerous is easy. 

To be most precise, you can always calculate the weight of your PWC with that of the fuel in your jet ski tank, as well as the weight of any equipment and as your personal gear.

This will give you an exact number, but that is not always feasible, even if it is optimal.

If you do not have precise numbers, the general rule is to add 15% of your jet ski’s dry weight. For example, if your PWC’s dry weight is 800 lbs, you’ll need to add 15% additional weight, which gives us 920 lbs in total. 

Now, when you look for a trailer, you know it will need to be able to carry at least 920 lbs.

Generally, that size trailer would weigh around 300 lbs, so the total towing capacity that you will need to look for is 1220 lbs, the sum of 920 lbs and  300 lbs.

The following points will help you be more accurate and safe when deciding whether to tow your PWC with your car.

This 4-cylinder VW Sedan can tow a jet ski trailer

How Heavy is a Jet Ski and a Trailer?

As you can imagine, PWCs and trailers vary in weight, depending on their model, build, and any extra weight or accessories you might add. 

For example, if your jet ski is being towed with fuel in its tank, the weight is going to be more than if the tank were empty. One gallon of gas weighs 8 pounds. If you travel with gear, that will add even more weight. And the number of passengers in the vehicle matters, too.  

To make a quick calculation, you can add the 15% of your PWC weight to your estimated total. When looking for trailers for your jet ski, always look for one that is capable of carrying that extra weight, not just the PWC’s dry weight.

How Much Does a Jet Ski Weigh?

On average, a jet ski’s dry weight is around 800 lbs but could be significantly more or less. Some Sea-Doo models weigh about 400 lbs. On the other hand, a Kawasaki Ultra can go a little over 1000 lbs.

This considerable variation illustrates the need for knowing the exact dry weight of your jet ski. Below, you’ll find a list of some popular PWCs and their corresponding dry weights.

BrandModelDry Weight (lbs)
YamahaSUPERJET306
Sea-DooSPARK TRIXX 3up with iBR + Sound System438
Sea-DooSPARK 3up 90HP w/ iBR and Conv. Package442
Sea-DooSPARK 3up 90HP w/ iBR and Conv. Package + Sound System442
YamahaEXR540
KawasakiSX-R552
YamahaEX578
YamahaVX-C692
YamahaVX708
Sea-DooGTI 130718
Sea-DooWake 155718
YamahaVXR739
Sea-DooGTX 230805
Sea-DooRXT 230805
Sea-DooGTR 230807
KawasakiSTX-15F844
Sea-DooRXP-X 300847
KawasakiULTRA 310X SE1051.8
KawasakiULTRA 310LX1073.8

Work with exact values as much as possible. Estimates can help us budget or do some primary research to get a rough idea of trailers and other gear we might need, but you’ll need more precise numbers when determining your exact towing capacity. 

As previously stated, a general recommendation is to always calculate that extra 15%, and add it to the dry weight.

However, avoid making a final purchase decision or towing based solely on rough estimates, even with the added 15%. 

Know exactly how much you’ll be towing with a full tank, extra gear, or accessories — even if it means weighing your gear. This way, you’ll make an optimal purchase and avoid putting your safety at risk.

Think of it this way: on average, a US gallon of gas weighs around 8 lbs. The latest Sea-Doo’s GTX tank capacity is 15 US gallons so, if you tow your Sea-Doo with a full tank, you’ll be towing around 120 extra pounds.

Remember, it’s also important to consider the trailer’s weight before determining your full towing capacity

Aluminum trailers are lighter than steel and easier to tow

How Much Does a Jet Ski Trailer Weigh?

In essence, a jet ski trailer’s weight varies depending on whether it’s aluminum or steel, how many PWC’s it can carry, and other factors. Steel trailers are more affordable but weigh more. Aluminum trailers are more expensive but weigh less.

Below are some average weights of jet ski trailers according to how many PWCs they can carry:

  • Single jet ski:  200 lbs.
  • Double jet ski: 350 lbs.
  • Double elite: 500 lbs.
  • Four jet skis: 1200 lbs.

Continuing with the example of a PWC that weighs 800 lbs, the corresponding trailer would weigh around 200 lbs.

So far, we know we might be towing the following:

  • 800 lbsof dry weight
  • 120 lbs of estimated extra weight
  • 200 lbs for the trailer

This gives us a total of 1120 lbs to tow. Remember to consider other factors like the number of jet skis you’ll pull, the wind strength and season, the terrain in your area and even your driving skills (source).

Choosing the Right Towing Hitch

Purchasing the right type of hitch for your vehicle needs some consideration, but it’s a rather simple task. You’ll need to consider your car’s towing capacity and what you actually want to tow.

You’ll also want to pay attention to the hitch’s class and how it connects to your car. In essence, the hitch class helps us know the towing capacity, and the mount is the way it will latch to your car.

The hitch’s towing capacity has to meet or exceed the heaviest item you will be towing. Buying a hitch that can tow more weight than your car won’t upgrade the car’s towing capacity. It won’t hurt, but it’s an unnecessary expense unless you plan on going bigger later.

Regarding the mount, there are ball mounts and drawbars. The main difference is the way they latch to your car. Weight distribution systems are not necessary for loaded jet ski trailers, and in general don’t apply until you get into the 10,000 lb tow weight range. I’ve used them on 12,000 tag hitch racing trailers, but even my 9,000 lb SeaRay doesn’t need one for stability.

BALL MOUNTSDRAWBARSWEIGHT DISTRIBUTION SYSTEMS
PRICINGLow-MediumMedium-HighHigh
MANEUVERABILITYLowMediumHigh

Choosing the right mount depends on your vehicle size and height along with trailer size and weight. (source).

Virtually all PWC trailers require a 2” ball size

Classes of Tow Hitches

Hitches are generally divided into five distinct categories or classes. They go from Class 1 to Class 4, and there’s a separate category for 5th wheel hitches.

CLASSTOWING CAPACITY (LBS)
1UP TO 2,000
2UP TO 3,500
3UP TO 8,000
4UP TO 10,000

Your hitch must be able to tow the total weight previously calculated. Remember that hitches won’t upgrade your car’s towing capacity. Always get a hitch that matches your car’s towing capacity to avoid damage to your car, or lose your load on the road.

Even if you buy a hitch that can tow up to 8000 lbs (Class 3), and your car can only tow 3500 lbs, then those 3500 lbs are the limit of your towing capacity. Therefore, you’ll need to get a hitch class of 1 or 2.

Now that you know the class of hitch you must get, it’s time to consider which type of mount will work best for you. Below are some pointers that will help you to determine the right one.

Mounts for Your Tow Hitch

From maneuvering to braking response, mounts for the hitch play an important role. It’s important to look at your car’s bumper and see what type of receiver — where you mount the hitch — it has. Generally, four cylinders are ready for drawbars or ball mounts.

Below is a general overview of the most common mount types and how they work.

Frame mounted receiver hitches

These mounts are the most common factory installed option. They are universal size, practical, straightforward, and economical. If you purchased a car or SUV that already has a hitch receiver, you will simply need to measure the bar height needed before buying a hitch.

Single or double jet ski trailers won’t need anything more than a simple bar hitch with ball a 2” ball size. Where the variation comes in play is height of your hitch compared to height of the trailer socket when trailer is level. Straight perfect matches are rare.

3 different hitch heights or drop down sizes. To step up, the ball is reversed.

Drop down or step up, which to do?

You will usually have to buy a bar that drops down lower than the rear hitch receiver or steps up higher. This will depend on your car. The tongue weight of a double PWC trailer without extra accessories is light. I can lift and pull ours with one hand. I’m 58 and out of shape.

I bring this up for a reason. When attaching a heavy trailer to a vehicle, the tongue weight will lower the rear suspension. How much depends again on the vehicle, the type of tow packages it may have and the tongue weight of the trailer. So to pick the right hitch height, you have to go a little higher to factor in sag.

We’ve all seen those overloaded trailers driving down the interstate with their car and trailer making a “V” shape towards the pavement. You don’t want to drive around with trailer sag. It is dangerous and will lead to damage when crossing unlevel pavement.

But jet skis aren’t going to result in much rear suspension sag when attached because of tongue weight. So to choose the right hitch height, set your loaded trailer to a level position using its jack. Then back your car up to the where the hitch receiver lines up. Measure the difference in height between the car’s receiver and the trailer tongue. It will likely be level to 2 inches lower than your car.

Now head to the hardware store or U-Haul and buy a 2” ball mounted on a bar with the correct hitch height. For example, a typical SUV may need a 1.5 inch or 2 inch drop to match up. A sedan might be perfectly level or close enough to not need a step down. It would be extremely rare to need to step up, that is, buy a hitch bar that raises the ball up.

But if you do need this, measuring is the same. A compact car that might sag may need a slight step up. Generally when you buy a hitch, you buy the bar and the ball, and the shop, will attach them with airtools for high torque. Since the ball screws into the bar, you can take it off, flip it over and use it in the other direction if you buy another boat or higher trailer.

A multi size adjustable hitch comes in handy when you have different things to tow with different heights, tongue weight and ball size
Adjustable height 2” and 2 5/16” ball options. Note the locking receiver pin.

One thing you can consider is an adjustable hitch like mine above. I tow 3 different sizes and weights of trailers with an HD Ram with a very high bumper, so I need 3 different hitch positions and 2 ball sizes. You’ll see in the photo the number of options I can use with my hitch. I bought this on Amazon since there’s no assembly except pins.

The receiver is still standard size, so this will work with most trucks and SUV’s. I have to use an insert into the truck receiver to hold the hitch in place.

This is not a cheap hitch, but you can use it for anything. It is also very heavy. Here is a much cheaper version with a lower weight rating but the same adjustment options. You won’t need more than this for a jet ski.

Drawbars and weight distribution systems

Load leveling bars, weight control bars, side sway bars and all those other hitch features can be ignored for single or double jet ski trailers. They are wholly unnecessary.

Adapting Your Car’s Receiver

Most of the time, cars come ready, from the factory, with a receiver for one specific type of mount: drawbar. Generally, this is enough for most car owners, but some might need to use a different type of hitch. Direct bumper mounted hitches are rare these days due to crash standards, plastic bumper covers for style, and their low tow ratings.

If your vehicle did not come with any hitch of any type, you’ll likely need to have an aftermarket installer mount one to the frame under your rear bumper. Note aftermarket hitches are often lower than factory mounted, so you have less distance to prevent dragging.

If your car came with a smaller or larger hitch receiver than the hitch bar you buy, you simply get an adapter that takes a smaller one and extends it with a larger opening, or an insert to make a larger receiver smaller.

In essence, hitch adapters are accessories that you install in your vehicle to make it able to safely receive a different type of hitch mount. 

Aftermarket hitches can be installed on most vehicles but usually end up lower than factory mount
Aftermarket hitch with lower ground clearance and a step up

Don’t Forget the Electronics

Any vehicle that comes with a factory installed hitch package will already have a wiring harness in place. It may have been placed in the glove box or trunk, or it may be tied under the rear of the car out of sight. You will need this harness for trailer lights.

In order to be legal in most states, any towed trailer must have taillights, brake lights and turn signals in full working order. If your vehicle does not have a wiring harness in place, I recommend having it professionally installed. They will tap into your car’s light wiring systems to provide power and functionality.

The system will turn on and off with the car. Wiring it incorrectly may short it out or drain your battery while the car isn’t running. It will usually have an extra fuse in the fuse box, or it will be paired with the brake light fuse. If your system suddenly stops working, check the vehicle lights. If they are also out, it’s probably a blown fuse.

Note I didn’t mention trailer brakes. Larger boat trailers come with brakes on their own hubs which are triggered when the trailer senses the car slowing down. It is a mechanical method called a surge brake, not an electric one.

Larger trailers of other types often have electric brakes, which require different wiring harnesses and a control unit under your dashboard. Those brakes will activate with a push of your brake peddle or a pull on their separate lever.

The reason electric brakes have a separate control unit is for use when the trailer loses control and begins weaving. Rather than hitting the brake peddle, which can make things worse, you can apply trailer brakes to slow down the trailer, bringing back in line with the tow vehicle. This does happen. I’ve experienced it in bad weather with a 48’ gooseneck racing trailer and a 28’ standard hitch trailer. I’ve also had it happen when passing an 18-wheeler (lorry) and getting a blast of air from the side.

None of this applies to jet ski trailers. They are light enough that car brakes can control the trailer. Just remember stopping distances are increased when towing. And remember cornering takes a wider swing to keep the trailer from striking curbings or any object near the roadside.

So make sure you have the proper wiring harness and adapter for your car and trailer in order to have properly functioning lights.

Putting It All Together

In a nutshell, your car’s towing capacity is the real limit to how much you can tow. Remember, that capacity can’t be upgraded or increased, so you’ll need to calculate everything around that base.

Imagine that you have a Nissan Versa 2019. The following table illustrates an example for a vehicle that can tow a jet ski where the estimated weight to tow is 885 lbs, and the car’s towing capacity is 1000 lbs.

TOWING CAPACITYBRAND/MODEL/TYPEWEIGHT IN LBS
CARNissan Versa 20191000
HITCH Class 12000
 TOTAL1000
TOWING WEIGHTBRAND/MODEL/TYPEWEIGHT IN LBS
PWC’s DRY WEIGHTYamaha EXR600
15% WEIGHT BUFFER N/A90
PWC’s TOTAL WEIGHTN/A690
TRAILERTRITON SINGLE JET SKI195
TOTAL885

According to the values in the table, you’ll have to get a class 1 hitch. The Nissan Versa comes ready for a drawbar mount. You can get a drawbar trailer hitch and/or a weight distribution system. For this towing weight, a drawbar should be enough.

Final Thoughts

Towing your jet ski with your four-cylinder is certainly possible. With some simple weight calculations and planning, you’ll know exactly what you need. 

Remember to always calculate at least 15% extra weight to tow. And whenever possible, get the exact weight. Never tow weight beyond your car’s capacity.

Keep in mind that sometimes dealerships of towing equipment, even those online, could have pre-made packages of equipment based on your car’s model. Generally, these packages include the optimal hitch, mount, wiring and trailer for your car.

Finally, consider your driving skills, terrain, weather, traffic, and other factors that could impact your towing experience. 


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Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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