Trailer Vocabulary

Trying to figure out your vehicle’s towing capacity and maximum weight rating can leave new trailer owners scratching their heads. Some terms may seem similar yet vary drastically in what they mean and the situations in which they should be applied. Below is a list of the common terms and acronyms for trailers and towing:

  • GTW = Gross Tongue Weight. This is the maximum weight the tongue can safely hold.
  • GCW(R) = Gross Combined Weigh (Rating). Total weight of vehicle and trailer combined you can safely haul.
  • GVW(R) = Gross Vehicle Weight (Rating). Maximum operating weight of vehicle. Unlike curb weight, this includes weight of passengers and cargo.
  • GAWR = Gross Axle Weight Rating. This is the maximum weight that can safely be distributed on the axle.
  • TW = Tongue Weight. Tongue weight is the total weight that is on the ball, or hitch of the vehicle. You can change the tongue weight by moving weight fore or aft on the trailer. Tongue weight should be a minimum of 5% of boat and trailer weight.
  • Curb Weight = Actual weight of vehicle with a full tank of fuel
  • Payload = Max weight of passengers and cargo the vehicle can carry. You can calculate payload by subtracting the weight of the truck from the GVW(R).
  • Fishtailing = Swaying trailer. Fishtailing occurs when the trailer does not have enough tongue weight. Before towing you should have a minimum of 5% of the combined boat and trailer as tongue weight.


Now, you should be able to figure out what your vehicle is capable of safely towing, and how much weight you can have in your car or truck while towing a boat. Still scratching your head? Give us a call to help you figure out what these terms mean and how they apply to towing a Phoenix Trailer.


Phoenix Trailers is not responsible for any damage to persons, or property—be careful. Please see our terms of service.

Words From

Happy Customers

I am now on my third Phoenix trailer and could not be more happy with the product. I have never had one problem with any of my trailers. I'm overly impressed with the product from Phoenix trailers and would certainly recommend to any boat owner out there.
— Nate Smith, World water-ski record holder and two-time slalom champion
Top Of The Line

Service & Warranty

We warrant boat trailer frames tip to tail for two years from the date of purchase against defective material and workmanship. Many components have an extended warranty. Our welded frame trailers have a five year warranty. We backup each trailer that we produce with the finest customer service department in the trailer industry.