Improved Towing Visibility
This project is about improving your rearward view when towing – in this case, towing my boat.
Background: I was asked to work the 2020 Sacramento Boat Show and was also asked to tow a boat up there from the Bay Area. I picked up the boat, which had a towing cover on it, and brought it to my house the afternoon before heading up to Sacramento. On that short drive home it was very hard to see what was behind me. I do not have towing mirrors, although they are available for my truck. The reason is my truck is always garaged and the towing mirrors are not power folding. Getting out of the truck just to fold the mirrors and unfold them was not going to work, especially in rainy weather. I needed another option. I was intrigued by the Chevy truck commercials with the “invisible” trailer so I did some research. I found out that the way the trailer becomes invisible is through a series of cameras and software, including a camera that is attached to the rear of the towed device. So, I thought “Hey I’ve got a GoPro. I’ll use that”. So I rigged it up to the boat and set out for Sacramento.. Two problems with that became apparent right way. First, the WiFi strength of the GoPro is week with respect to distance. The image kept freezing. Second (and most important), the image was backwards with no way to flip it. Left was right and right was left. That was not going to work. I started looking for a better option and came across RV backup cameras.
I purchased a camera on Amazon that got good reviews. I also bought a 12volt plug and an iPad holder for my truck. There is a free app that you download for either iOS or Android that displays the camera image.
RV back up cameras come in wired versions, with their own dedicated screens, and wireless versions, where you use your own screen (iPhone, iPad, Android device) and a Wifi hot spot created by the camera. I chose the WiFi version because I did not want another dedicated screen in my truck Plus the WiFi version makes it very portable.
RV back up cameras are designed to be wired to the reverse lights on a trailer or RV, so they only are on when you are in reverse. However, they can be wired to a 12 volt source and be always on. That was the way I wired the camera.
The camera can be mounted in a number of different ways. Here’s what I came up with.
I discovered some time ago that Malibu v-drive pylons and Malibu tower pylons are 2 ½” in diameter. Schedule 80 PVC pipe comes in 2 ½” diameter. So that was a perfect fit. I purchased an end cap for the pipe, sanded it flat, drilled a ¼” hole in the center, and screwed the camera mount to the cap. I glued the cap to the pipe, pre-cut to the right length, and added a Velcro strap to make sure the camera stayed mounted to the pylon. The power cord that came with this camera is 10 foot long and bare ended. I stripped, soldered, and insulated the cord to the 12 volt plug.
When I am ready to tow the boat I mount the camera over the tower pylon, lace the power cord around the tower bar down to the interior and plug it in to a 12 volt outlet. I turn the boat battery switch to “On” to make the 12 volt outlet hot. You can use a portable 12 volt power source if you don’t want to use your boat’s battery. Set up and removal time is less than 5 minutes.
The app allows you to flip the image so your image is the same as what you see in your rear view mirrors. With my iPad Mini mounted in my truck using a cupholder mount, I turn on the iPad, switch the WiFi source to that of the camera, and launch the app. The image comes up almost immediately. The image is in color and clear. And there is a 140 degree of view. A bonus with boat towing is that when launching the boat you can see very clearly where you are when backing on the ramp.
Here are some views of the iPad in my truck and what the camera is seeing.
And here are some pictures while towing my boat on I80.
I know this project was focused on boat towing but this sort of setup could be used with any type of trailer you want to see behind. You just need to devise a mount specific for your application and have a 12 volt power source. I’ve used a 12 volt motorcycle battery for testing and that worked just fine.