Program Teaches Women How to Tow

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By Linda Water Nelson

In Texas, where almost 1 in 5 pickup trucks are sold, trailer towing is a driving skill that should be taught as part of every driver education course. Unfortunately, it's not. As a result, women generally learn from impatient fathers, husbands and brothers as an on-the-job training exercise at the boat ramp or some other crowded spot.

Hundreds of women, however, are taking advantage of a far less intimidating experience to learn how to hook up, unhitch and drive with an impressive tow load. The Becoming an Outdoors Woman program from Texas Parks and Wildlife offers trailering as part of its semiannual retreat for 125 women ages 18 to 80. A national program, BOW always sells out in Texas and includes more than a dozen different sessions from archery and firearms use to outdoor cooking, orienteering, horseback riding and survival skills. Participants choose four sessions. Trailering, which is offered twice during the weekend, is extremely popular. You also can get Texas hunting certification, make a basket or learn to clean a fish.

Instructor Nicole Plowman, who has been a fish and wildlife technician for TWPD for almost four years, knows how intimidating it can be to learn to tow. She had never towed anything before joining the state agency. Based in coastal Galveston, towing is a necessity for Plowman since the entire Galveston Bay fishing area is covered from a single headquarters.

Plowman's first towing attempts were at crowded boat ramps with co-workers shouting out instructions while she tried to line up her vehicle and the trailer. TWPD vehicles are typically aging regular-cab long-bed Ford F-250 pickups and are not equipped with all the new technologies that make towing easier. Trailers for the training class are relatively short kayak transports, hay trailers or whatever is available. Many are taller than most boat trailers. It takes a sustained look over the shoulder and the judicious use of mirrors to learn to trailer this way. And as every tow junky knows, only practice makes perfect.

"I had to learn fast so I wouldn't be verbally abused," Plowman said. "Knowing how participants feel goes a long way in establishing empathy. I went to a deserted boat ramp and practiced, and encourage others to do the same. In the 14 classes that I've taught, I've never had anyone throw up their arms and give up."

Start With the Basics

Plowman's 3 1/2-hour class begins with a discussion of general safety — understanding the need for wide turns, remembering to buckle seat belts, hand placement on the steering wheel and understanding the function of mirrors as a way of seeing the entire side of the truck.

Next comes a description of the trailer's parts and their functions. Couplers and hitches are first, then the electrical system and electrical safety, and later chains and locks. Only conventional towing is taught, no gooseneck or fifth-wheel trailers at this stage. She also talks about aftermarket trailer cameras as indispensable when trailering alone, saying that a small camera that costs about $100 can improve skills dramatically.

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"I spend a lot of time on communications. So often trailering is a partner activity with one participant in the driver's seat and the other acting as a spotter. When there is not good communication it can make this a dreaded experience for everyone involved. The spotter has the harder job when it comes to communication ... saying where they are standing, and using the terms clockwise and counterclockwise rather than left and right," she added.

Hands-On Training

After dealing with the basics, Plowman gets behind the wheel with class participants in the second row and demonstrates how it is done. Questions are encouraged as a way to avoid misunderstandings, and when the logistics shift to participants in the driver's seat, the truck is just as full as when the instructor drives. Participants learn from each other.

For questions such as what to do when you jackknife (wedging the truck and trailer at an acute angle), she explains that too — if you simply drop the trailer and pull the truck forward, you'll be in a much better position to line up the pickup and try again.

"We'll drive as long as any of the participants want. If women say they need more time we will meet up to practice in the evening or when there is free time. The objective is as much time behind the wheel as possible," Plowman said. "This is actually all about physics and we aim for towing skills to become intuitive and to build muscle memory. That's what differentiates people who make trailering look easy."

By the end of the day's session, the intangibles for the participants include patience with themselves and understanding that they should never beat up on themselves for a false start. She reminds all participants that in trailering there is no such thing as a fail and that, when in doubt, just take a deep breath and calmly line everything up for the next pass.

BOW Programs

Texas BOW programs are not limited to Texas residents. Upcoming programs will be offered Dec. 2-4 (Brenham); March 31-April 2, 2017 (Hunt); and Nov. 3-5, 2017 (Brownwood). For more information or to be added to the mailing list call (713) 829-1377 or email bow@tpwd.texas.gov. Many attendees are repeaters, so plan to sign up quickly.

The cost for past programs has been $250 for two nights of lodging, meals and outdoor activities. Additional sessions such as horseback riding cost extra (prices are reasonable).

A word to the wise: If you consider the Holiday Inn to be roughing it, BOW programs may not be for you. Lodging is more akin to summer camp with participants sharing cabins or bunking in dorms with shared bathrooms. Ear plugs are recommended since some of bunkmates may be snorers.

To see whether there is a BOW program in your state, click here.

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Towing Tips from BOW

  • Always tow within the weight rating and limit for your vehicle, trailer, hitch, tires, spring bars, sway bar and other mechanical elements. Know your ratings before you tow.
  • Assemble and maintain a "trailering toolbox" with things such as a rubber mallet for rusty trailer handles, bright tape or trailer backup balls for trailering solo and lightweight chock blocks so you don't have to search for rocks in the wilderness at night.
  • Poor weight distribution can result in fishtailing, decreased braking and steering capability.
  • Always crisscross safety chains and have the chain closing pointed toward the trailer.
  • Safety chains, electrical wires, etc., should be loose enough to allow for full right and left turns but should not drag on the ground
  • The trailer jack wheel/foot faces away from tow vehicle when towing.
  • Tow mirrors increase field of view significantly and reduce dangerous blind spots.
  • Wide turns prevent damage to your tires and trailer axles. Bent axles rub against tires and cause blowouts.
  • Equal amounts of trailer in each side mirror means the truck is centered in front of the trailer. This is true for a parking spot or boat ramp as well.
  • If hitching a trailer solo, you can mark the hitch on the vehicle and coupler on the trailer with brightly colored tape for better visibility in a backup camera screen.
  • When working with a partner, communication is the key. Speak out loud and discuss hand signals before you begin.
  • If the trailer isn't doing what you want it to do, stop.
  • If you need to get out of a jackknife situation and don't know how, drop the trailer and start over again.
  • Making the same small correction repeatedly is more effective than trying to make one large correction.
  • Small corrections require a short steering wheel turn and large corrections require a more exaggerated turn held for a longer amount of time.
  • The direction that you turn the steering wheel — left or right — depends on where your hands are located. To minimize confusion, use the terms clockwise and counterclockwise instead of left or right when spotting.
  • In Reverse, clockwise rotation will move the trailer to the left and counterclockwise rotation will move the trailer to the right

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Comments

I've boated for years, I learned a long time ago that my wife really should be capable of handling the trailer. While she's not perfect, she does a better job at the launch than a good percentage of the men I see there. Quite honestly, a lot of those guys would really benefit from a similar school.

I'm an avid bass tournament angler and I tow my 28' tongue to skeg set up 3x/wk during the warm season. I see a lot of boaters and casual towers who shouldn't be towing, period. I wish they would mandate a towing endorsement requirement.

One tip that was not mentioned.

When guiding someone backing up a large trailer like an RV, use your cell phones in speaker mode to communicate better.

I've towed heavy loads hundreds of thousands of miles in my life and I could use a re-fresher on safe towing.

If you drive long enough you'll fall for the little short cuts here and there that are unsafe and sure to fail eventually.

This is actually very funny, when I take the boat out, my wife backs it in for me while I take it off the trailer, then she parks the truck/trailer....it amazes me how many people comment on how she does it...in reality the Men need to know how to tow first,

I could use this program myself. I have not towed since the 70s.

My wife is a petite 4'10" woman. She can barely reach the pedal on my truck and has to adjust the seat all the way forward for her to even feel comfortable driving it. I have tried to teach her how to back a trailer properly and being in the passenger seat with her I feel like I almost have a heart attack every time. Height can play a huge role in this matter. Any advice?

Height can play a huge role in this matter. Any advice?

Posted by: Red | Oct 10, 2016 1:17:42 PM

If it is just the 2 of you then down size, the truck and trailer.

Happy Thanksgiving day to all Canadians.

One thing that really helps is first not buy a truck from mexico. All gm 1500 crewcabs are from mexico and every single Ram hd comes from mexico. The quality of those are sub par to an american built truck. Next is to have advance towing features such as a ford tow boss system that has trailer sway control. Also it is smart to have pro trailer back up assist, 360 cameras and trailer cameras like ford. It also wise to have vehicle that has advance features to make it easy to check your trailer lights... much like ford and nissan have. Also having trailer tire pressure monitoring integrated into the trucks system like ford is very wise and smart to have. All these class leading features are must haves for truely safe towing for anyone.

Another important item to have in a halfton for safe towing is at least a 10 speed transmission and at least 470 ftlbs of torque... any less pass on a half ton for towing. If you move up to a heavy duty you need to buy class leading tow capacities and a minimum of 925 ftlbs of torque for safe towing for men and women. Any thing less is a danger to yourself and other people in transit on our highways

papa jim V8 = = =

"I could use this program myself. I have not towed since the 70s."

Good comment. I second that. It was literally the 1970's for me too, and I'm not sure I really fully knew what I was doing.

Why can't this program be offered by any larger truck dealership, --- at a fee or free for competitive advantage --- for everyone who buys a pickup and plans to tow? I'd gladly pay couple hundred bucks for such a two or three day course. And the dealership could use it as a sales tool as well, for people who are intending to buy a truck, but may nor have made a decision about brand or type.

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Gee and to think people used to tow the same load with 200hp and 400tq. Lol

@gmsgreat

25 out of 282000 have an issue with no crashes injuries or deaths!!! I would gladly take those odds then this crap i drive from gm with a vin starting with a 3.

https://www.google.com/amp/www.autoblog.com/amp/2016/10/04/ford-f150-brake-failure-nhtsa-investigation/?client=safari

It's good to see them addressing the crossing of the chains. It's a very simple thing that will save you lots of hassle, and risk, should your trailer detach from your tow vehicle.

"DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. is idling its Mustang factory in Michigan for a week after the iconic sports car suffered a 32 percent sales decline in the U.S. last month"

http://www.autonews.com/article/20161011/OEM01/161019981/ford-idles-mustang-factory-for-a-week-after-sales-plunge-32

Ford's turd quarter profits must be really in the toilet after cutting most of their sales aka fleet sale give aways BAHAHAHA!

not just women need this.

I had no idea this program existed. Just looked into it and found out my state offers it as well. Definitely will sign up for the course next year. Thank you for posting this!

a good initiative from your side it must be useful.

Very interesting program. This is the real meaning of "Don't underestimate the power of women". Good job and kudos for them :)



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