TLC for your boat trailer

If you own a boat, you probably own a trailer.  Perhaps you launch and load your boat each time you use it.  Or maybe you keep your boat in the water during the summer months and only use your trailer to store the boat out of the water in the winter.  Believe it or not, trailers that get used more often tend to last longer because the owners perform regular maintenance and catch issues before they become major headaches.

Whether your trailer gets used once a week or once a year, it’s important to keep it in good shape because there’s nothing worse that having a fun boating day or a fishing trip cut short due to trailer problems.

Here’s a few Nuts & Bolts Trailering Pro Tips to help keep your trailer in tip top condition and insure you get to the boat ramp on time.

#1 – Check your tires…regularly.  Run the rated air pressure in the tires.  You can see the recommended pressure stamped on the sidewall.  Look for signs of uneven wear in the treads…this could indicate an axle alignment issue or wheel balance issue.  If a tire is starting to crack or show signs of old age, replace it.   Also, check the lug nuts on the wheels for correct torque, and add little grease to each wheel bearing.

#2 – Check your winch, winch lock, and winch strap.  Give the gears a little lithium grease.  Check the winch lock and rachet are fully functional.   And thoroughly examine every inch of your winch strap.  If it’s starting to fray a little, replace it.  You should also have a safety chain attached to the trailer, which then attaches to the bow eye.  And speaking of safety chains, you should have safety chains that connect from the trailer to your tow vehicle.  Criss-cross them under the trailer tongue.

#3 – Check your trailer lights.  This is probably the most common issue with trailers.  Wire connections and bulb sockets get corroded.   The harness connector pins can corrode or bend.   And we’ve all seen lots of trailers with broken-off tail lights, and busted amber side lights.  Before you leave the driveway, check running lights, brake lights and turn-signals. 

#4 – Check the brakes and brake fluid.   This is pretty easy.  If you have surge brakes on your trailer (most do), just pull it a few hundred feet with your tow vehicle and press the brakes.  The trailer should not ‘push’ your vehicle.  Check the fluid reservoir on the trailer tongue.

#5 – Trailer Jack & Wheel. This is the one thing that seldom gets checked before leaving, and can be the most aggravating of all.  Check the trailer jack and wheel.   If it sticks when raising or lowering, or the wheel is rusted in place, or the crank is bent…take my advice and replace it.

These five things should provide the maintenance basics to get you to, and from, the boat ramp.  There are a few others things worth mentioning.  If your trailer has been sitting in the driveway for a while, whether it has the boat on it or not…take it for spin around the block every couple months.  It helps prevent ‘flat’ spots on your tires, and keeps the bearings lubricated.   I always put a safety pin in the coupler lock once it’s on the trailer ball.  It’s an extra measure of safety.  You do not want to see your trailer and boat passing you on the highway because the coupler wasn’t totally locked down. 

Of course, don’t forget to properly maintain your tow vehicle.  Check the oil, coolant, brakes, lights, and condition of your tow hitch.  A small bit of lithium grease on the hitch ball will help the trailer tongue slide on an off easier. Always carry at least two wheel chocks in the tow vehicle. If you happen to have a flat tire, or have to disconnect the trailer for some reason, you’ll definitely want to have the chocks for the tires. Having a heavy duty jack, like a bottle jack…and a couple of 4X4 blocks, along with a battery powered impact driver and socket set will be a huge asset if you have to do any repairs while away from home.

When the boat is off the trailer, inspect the bunks and the bunk coverings. Some bunks are covered with carpet, some with a vinyl encapsulation. Look for torn places, staples or nails that are sticking up. Replace worn carpet, and/or questionable bunk boards. While the boat’s off, this is also a good time to inspect the brake lines, wiring, axles, and the bolts and weld joints on the trailer. And also the nuts/bolts and u-bolts that hold your winch on the the brace. They can loosen from just riding down the road.

Finally, be sure to rinse your entire trailer with lots of clean, fresh water every time.   If it has a brake washdown system with a hose connector…do that.  Take care of your trailer and it will take care of your boat on the highway.

Tight lines and calm seas,

Capt. Cefus and Buck, the Wonder Dog.

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