By Mike Milne

My first pickup truck had vinyl seats, manual transmission (three-on-the-tree) and an eight-foot cargo box. The highest-tech equipment on board was the AM radio. Smart? Well, I thought the hose-down rubber floors were a pretty smart choice.

Today’s trucks are the product of a very different planet. Many have all the creature comforts of luxury automobiles and most seem to place more emphasis on towing than cargo capacity. Some of them — especially the full-featured Ford F-350 Super Duty Lariat that I tested last summer — are packed with what’s known as smart technology today.

Powered by a 6.7-L V-8 turbo-diesel engine producing 440-hp and 925 lb.-ft of torque, my test truck was capable of towing a pretty big boat. Ford Super Duty’s are optioned to carry up to 32,500 pounds. To that capacity, Ford adds technological capability. The features won’t automatically make you a better driver, but they will give you the information you need.

Trailer data on the eight-inch LCD dashboard screen can keep you informed on light or connection problems, even while under way. But because big loads also bring limited visibility, some of the best high-tech features provide a better view of your boat and trailer.

With a target sticker mounted on a conventional trailer, Ford’s trailer reverse guidance system lets the truck’s tailgate camera monitor the angle of your trailer. With that input, the straight-line backup guidance system can tell you (using a steering wheel icon and an arrow) which way to turn the steering wheel to keep the trailer on a straight path. With additional input from cameras mounted on the side-view mirrors, there’s also a jack-knife warning system to tell you when the backup angle is too tight.

The F-350 is a big truck, but cameras to the front, sides and rear let you see where obstacles are located. The front camera also helps when you’re pulling out of laneways with poor visibility. Truck owners can also install a camera at the very end of a long trailer and wire it into the truck’s display.

I really appreciate how Ford has adapted other safety technologies to trailering needs. The Blind Spot Information System sensors on each tail lamp, for example, can be set up to warn trailer-boaters when another vehicle is in their blind-spot, but alongside their trailer not just the truck.

Other available safety features include: a forward collision warning that pre-charges the brake system to engage more stopping force once the brakes are applied; automatically dimming headlights; adaptive cruise control, with forward sensors that will slow the vehicle to adapt for the current traffic conditions and maintain the pre-set distance between vehicles; and lane departure warning that vibrates the steering wheel when the driver is drifting off the road or into the opposite lane.

If you don’t need quite the towing capacity of the F-350, the 2018 Ford F-150 truck with a 3.6-litre EcoBoost engine has towing capacity of 13,200 pounds plus most of the towing technology of the Super Duty. The F-150 can also be equipped with Pro Trailer Backup Assist, that makes backing up as simple as turning a knob.

Ventilated seats, power-deployed running boards and a steel-clad safe in the console are the kind of technology that  usually impresses passengers, but trailer-boaters in the driver’s seat — towing a big load — will be more impressed by Ford’s long list of safety- and convenience-oriented smart technology.

This article is featured in the 2017 Fall issue of Boats&Places.