For most boating families, when the kids get out of school it’s time to hit the road for the first boating adventure of the season. But while many boat owners concentrate on getting their boat ready, sometimes the trailer gets overlooked. Like NFL offensive linemen, trailers often only get noticed when something bad happens. To avoid having to abandon your boat on the side of the road while you scramble in an unfamiliar place to get help, don’t leave home without thoroughly checking out your trailer.
Your best first line of defense against being stranded by the side of the road is to take out trailering insurance. The most comprehensive plans come from BoatUS (Unlimited Trailer Assist) and Sea Tow (Trailer Care), both of which are a $14 add-on to their annual membership fees.
On-the-road security is extremely important, so make sure you have a way to secure your trailer from theft.
Brother, Can You Spare a Part?
Boaters hitting the road without common spare parts is the major reason you see abandoned boat trailers sitting on the side of the road.
Here are some items you should never leave home without:
- A spare tire. For single-axle trailers, one spare tire is probably sufficient, but bring two if you have a dual- or triple-axle trailer. Check your spares as carefully as you do your in-use tires before leaving.
- A proper trailer jack. The jack that came with your tow vehicle likely won’t work on your trailer, so get a bottle jack that’s rated to exceed the weight of your boat. Test it out before you leave, to make sure it’s compatible.
- A four-spoke lug wrench. It gives you better leverage than a jack handle. Make sure one of the wrenches fits the lugs on your wheels. If your trailer has a lug lock, make sure you have the key.
- A can of Fix-a-Flat. It temporarily fixes slow leaks.
- A 6-foot length of chain. You can use it to secure the axle to the frame to limp along.
- A general tool kit.
- Duct tape. ‘Nuff said.
- Fuses, light bulbs, lengths of wiring with a crimper and a variety of crimp connectors. They will handle most electrical problems. Also, take a flashlight for low-light repairs.
- Extra bearings and a grease gun.
- A tire gauge (to ensure proper inflation).
- A Ryobi handheld, non-contact infrared thermometer. It costs about $30 at a big-box home improvement store and allows you to quickly monitor the temperature of your tires and bearings.
Before you leave, be sure to inspect the following:
- Tow vehicle. Obviously, your trailer is going nowhere if your tow vehicle breaks down, so have it serviced, paying special attention to all fluids. Inspect your tires, shocks, brakes and hitch.
- Trailer/tow vehicle connection. Starting at the coupler, lubricate moving parts and inspect them for damage or missing parts. Inspect the chains and check the electrical connector and all wiring. Hook it up to the tow vehicle and test all lighting functions.
- Tow vehicle wheels and tires. Conduct a thorough inspection of the tread depth and sidewalls, looking for dry rot cracks. Get your lug wrench and loosen and tighten the lug nuts to make sure they can be removed. If one is frozen, use a penetrating oil and give it a few taps with a hammer to loosen.
- If you push on the outer plate of the Bearing Buddy and it moves, there’s grease inside; if it doesn’t move, add grease, but not so much that it oozes out. Grab the top of the tire and rock it back and forth. If there is excessive movement, your bearings could need replacing.
- If you have surge brakes, check the master cylinder to make sure it has the proper amount of fluid and isn’t contaminated. Surge brakes need periodic adjustment, so check the specs for your particular model. When you are done, stop quickly on gravel to see if the brake marks are similar.
- License plate, insurance and registrations. Make sure your boat, trailer and vehicle registrations are valid and you have proof of insurance.
Finally, take a test drive. Have someone drive behind your rig to observe its ride. Look for wobbling wheels or if the trailer seems to be towing at an angle relative to the tow vehicle.
On the day of the trip, check the following:
- Make sure your boat is on the trailer straight and the tie-downs are snug.
- Ensure that the boat is winched all the way to its stop and your safety chain is properly hooked.
- If you have an outboard, support the lower unit with a transom bar.
- Make sure you have all required registration documents and proof of insurance with you.
- Check your lights and adjust the mirrors.
- Go inside the boat to make sure items such as cushions and cooler lids are secure. Never tow a boat with the canvas up, unless you are testing its ability to withstand a hurricane.
- Set your cellphone’s timer for 30 minutes. When it goes off, stop to check tire and hub temperatures with your infrared reader, looking for anomalies. Repeat at every stop.