The season's winding down, but there's time for one last trip. Make sure the trailer, tow vehicle and family are ready.
Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” resonates with trailerboaters who spend their summer lake-hopping. And though the season is fast winding down, his lyrics “just can’t wait to get on the road again” are a strong call for a season-ending trip. You’re prepared. Your family’s prepared. Is your trailer? Here’s a look at what you might overlook.
BEFORE THE TRIP
Give yourself a sizeable head start, because you want everything to be perfect for this last outing. Start by ensuring that the spare tires on the tow car and the trailer are fully inflated. What? You don’t have a spare on the trailer? It’s inexpensive insurance, but be sure you get a lock for it. And don’t forget to take the key with you. Speaking of tires, get a lug wrench that fits your trailer tires — all lug nuts are not alike.
You’ve been using the boat and trailer all season, so you’ve been checking the trailer regularly and washing it to get rid of salt water or brackish fresh water, right? If not, now is the time to check for rust, particularly at welds or on U-bolts. Check the tire sidewalls for cracks or spider webbing — if any are found, replace the tire — and have the bearings serviced.
You’re adding a load to your tow car, so make sure the cooling system is full — when was it last flushed? — the belt tensions are right, and the hoses don’t have any softness or bulges.
Test the lights and signals with the trailer hooked up, so you have time to cure any problems before the trip. Don’t simply hit the brakes, but test the turn signals and the emergency flashers too.
DEPARTURE DAY (OR THE DAY BEFORE)
Now is the time to test the lights again and check the tire pressure on both tow car and trailer. Something I always forget (and regret later) is to wash the tow vehicle’s windows inside and out. Inside is particularly important on the windshield, where plastic fumes from a hot car cause a haze that turns oncoming headlights into halos of light.
Carry spare parts and tools, because problems on the road can ruin a vacation. Start with a tire pressure gauge and a jack for the trailer, because a spare tire isn’t much good without it. Wheel chocks can secure the trailer both on the launch ramp and during overnight stops.
On the electrical side, don’t leave home without spare light bulbs (car and trailer) and extra fuses, because trailer lighting puts an extra load on the car’s electrical system.
A compact air compressor is useful for topping off a tire and for filling inflatable water toys. Equally valuable is a portable 12v power pack (less than $60) that can not only jump start the car but also charge phones and tablets through its USB port. Be sure the power pack matches the cranking amps of the car’s battery.
Even if you don’t know how to change trailer wheel bearings, carry a spare set so a mechanic can get the trailer back on the road quickly. And, if you have roadside problems, be sure you have flares and emergency triangles to alert oncoming traffic.
Carry work gloves (to protect your hands) and disposable plastic gloves (to keep clean), and take several rolls of paper towels for general cleanup.
Be sure to take a couple of flashlights, and make sure they aren’t just storage tubes for dead batteries. Carry extra batteries. A headlamp on a headband can free your hands and direct the light where it’s needed.
Large garbage bags are useful for trash, yes, but they also serve as ground cover if you must kneel in the mud, and they can protect your boat or car’s interior if you must carry a flat tire for repair. And, last but far from least, don’t forget at least one roll of duct tape. This is a no-argument necessity for any trip.
FAMILY & PERSONAL STUFF
I’m assuming you have children and/or teenagers on the trip, so don’t move an inch without a touchscreen tablet preloaded with games and e-books. Don’t forget that some movie/TV services allow you to download content, so you don’t have to rely on the internet on the road. Perhaps even more important than the tablet, at least for the adults’ sanity, are headphones for all the youngsters.
For younger children, take coloring books, Crayons and paper, which can keep kids amused for long stretches. A Frisbee can be the answer to working off restlessness. For long stretches in the car, pillows and blankets are essential.
When it comes to food, don’t wire everyone on caffeinated soda and chocolate bars. Shift your snack thinking toward protein or granola bars and fruit juices with minimal sugar. Snack-sized packets of peanuts, crackers and salty chips can solve those cravings too.
There is rarely an outing without a little bloodshed, so make sure the compact firstaid kit is stocked with antiseptic ointment and a supply of bandages in several sizes. Don’t forget to include aspirin or similar pain relievers, a digital thermometer, and tweezers for splinters, and keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in the car for all-around use.
And finally, because no boating adventure is complete without plenty of sunshine, take a high-SPF sunblock, zinc oxide and some aloe vera (preferably with lidocaine) to ease the pain and redness.
Now, get out there and make some memories to last until next season.