How to tow a trailer on the beach (and not get stuck)

Australia is home to around 34,000 kilometres of coastline, and a huge amount of it is stunning beaches that have 4WD access. If you can take a 4WD onto it, you can tow a trailer onto it too, and thousands of people do this every day.

Whether it’s a caravan, a jet ski trailer, camper trailer, boat, or hybrid caravan there’s plenty of reasons to tow a trailer on the beach. The thing is though, if you don’t have the right gear, understanding and techniques then your day is going to end very badly, and in todays post we are looking at how you can tow a trailer down the beach.

Towing a trailer on the beach
Keen to tow a trailer on the beach?

How hard is the beach?

The most important thing to look at is the hardness of the beach. These vary so much that its almost impossible to explain. Take Cable Beach, which you can literally ride a bike on because its almost like concrete in most places, and compare it to some of the beaches in the south west of WA, where even 10 PSI will have you struggling to drive along, and you’ll find there’s a big difference.

The hardness of the beach needs to match your tyre pressures, setup and what your plan is.

Cable Beach Sunset
Cable beach, which is almost all like concrete

Is your setup really suitable, or not?

This is where things get interesting. If you have a heavy trailer, you need something suitable to tow it with on a soft beach. Your normal dual cab Utes will struggle hard when it comes to a soft beach and towing something heavy like a big caravan, and are far more suited to something with a bit more weight and power, like a Y62 patrol, or a 200 series Land Cruiser.

Tackle something that is within the limitations of your vehicle, or you can end up in a very bad situation.

Barred creek access
The bigger and heavier you are, the harder it is

Adjusting your tyre pressures

Dropping air out of your tyres is a step you cannot miss, unless the beach is rock hard (which most are not). You need to air down on both the vehicle and the trailer to increase the footprint of the rubber on the sand, and allow it to float rather than dig in. Here’s the best tyre pressures for beach driving.

I’ve seen people get stuck towing a light weight jet ski trailer on a soft beach because they didn’t bother to let any air out of the trailer tyres, and rather than the trailer sitting on top of the sand in flotation, it was just dragged through with the trailer tyres literally hardly turning.

Flotation is key, and the right tyre pressures will ensure this. You need to let your tyres down somewhere between 10 – 30 PSI, depending on the weight of your setups. For a heavy van, somewhere around the 20 – 25 PSI is probably a suitable tyre pressure. For a heavy vehicle, between 15 and 20 PSI is a good pressure, but the lower you go the easier it will be on your vehicle.

Beach driving with a boat
You need to deflate all tyres for beach driving

The flip side of this is that the more chance you have of popping a tyre off the bead, and doing heat damage to the tyre if it gets too hot while driving along. 

Always remember too, that if you get really stuck you can go lower. There’s no reason why you can’t go down to the single digits providing you are careful with how you turn and accelerate. Just remember to air back up a bit when you are out of trouble.

Picking the right gearing

In your 4WD, you need to choose the right gear to tow in, or you can end up with huge issues. Low range is generally the go to option, with your hubs locked in (if they don’t automatically) and 2nd, 3rd or 4th low. Watch the temperatures, take it easy and don’t work your vehicle so hard that it reminds you with a cloud of steam from the bonnet!

Understanding the heat generated

Sand driving is probably the hardest you’ll ever work your vehicle, let alone doing it with a dead weight being towed behind. Your cooling system will cop a huge work out, and your automatic transmission will too.

You should ensure that your cooling system is in good working order, including the viscous fan prior to heading away, and have a way of monitoring your automatic transmission temperatures. Towing anything heavy on a beach will result in huge transmission temperatures and eventually limp mode and a shortened lifespan.

Seriously consider getting an aftermarket transmission cooler too, so the temperatures are better managed.

Auto cooler
Beach driving even without towing works your 4WD very hard

Considering the tides

Never drive onto a beach without looking at the tides. You should know whether its going up or down, and roughly what times.

If you drive onto a narrow beach and the tide still has another metre to come up, you can be stuck on a beach with water lapping at your setup in no time, and that is one of the worst situations you can be in.

Getting your car wet is a bad idea
This is the last place you want to be

Having a plan in mind

You wouldn’t believe the number of people who just pull onto a beach towing a heavy trailer, and sink the axles without the slightest plan of attack. 

What happens when it goes wrong?

If you do find yourself struggling badly, what is your end game? We always recommend you go with a second vehicle so in the event of a bad bogging you can get recovered and on your way without the assistance of random people. 

You will find soft parts of the beach, and you will get stuck eventually. It happens even without a trailer, and when you tow something that has a bit of weight to it you are just dragging dead weight.

Beach launching a big boat
When it all goes wrong, what’s your game plan?

Can you tow a trailer on the beach?

Yes, you can. However, its hard work and a lot of setups are simply pushing the friendship. Getting stuck on a beach with a trailer in tow and the tide coming up is something you really want to avoid, and its about making educated decisions prior to the towing. If you can drive up and down the beach with your 4WD easily, then you should have no issues towing a suitable trailer too.

If its soft and your vehicle already struggles, you are going to end up in a pickle real fast with a trailer on the back.

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