WE ALL KNOW THAT FIBERGLASS boats are maintenance free, right? Wink, wink. But it’s easy to forget that your boat trailer certainly isn’t maintenance free. Every time your trailer goes into the water, you’ve assigned yourself some chores, if you want to keep everything running smoothly. And, not surprisingly, the tasks start right at the boat ramp as you pull out of the water.
AT THE RAMP
1 Wash the trailer thoroughly. Nearly every boat ramp has a wash-down area with fresh water, and you should head straight there. When I say wash the trailer thoroughly, I mean thoroughly! Keep a bucket and some detergent to bathe the trailer. If you can, use a long-handled scrub brush to reach all the corners and crevices to get rid of all the salt that will cause rust on steel trailers and corrosion on aluminum ones. Even better, use Salt-Away or West Marine Salt-Off, either in a spray bottle or mixed in the bucket, to completely neutralize the trailer of salt.
2 But, you say, I launch in fresh water. Same rule: Wash it down thoroughly, because brackish fresh water can be even more acidic than saltwater on your trailer.
3 If you have drum brakes, rinse them thoroughly to flush the drums of damaging salt and sand. You can make life simpler by installing a rinse system for your brakes (easy to install and about $50 at West Marine).
4 Check your lights. Many boat owners unplug their trailer lights before they back into the water to retrieve their boat, so the heat from brake lights won’t suck water into the housings, so now is the time to reconnect them. Someone in the tow vehicle should test all the lights — brakes, turn signals and headlights — while you walk around to check the trailer lights. If you have a light out, remember it may be caused by a burned out taillight on the tow vehicle. Be sure to carry spare lights and fuses for your trailer lights. As you walk around, watch for dangling wires that need to be secured before you hit the road.
5 If you unhitched the trailer at the ramp, double-check that the hitch is securely locked and, if you have one, make sure the front wheel is fully cranked up and locked.
6 Don’t overlook your wheels and rims. Tires should be properly inflated, of course, but do something that may seem odd: check all the lug nuts. At some ramps, lug nuts have a way of vanishing, since they are generally interchangeable, so don’t leave without yours.
1 Wash your trailer. If you didn’t have access to fresh water at the ramp, now is the time to give your trailer that thorough wash-down. But, unlike horses that are “rode hard and put away wet,” don’t put your trailer away wet. It had a chance to air dry on the way from the ramp if you washed it there, but now you need to leave it out so it dries completely. Puddles can form on fender steps or any flat spot, so dry means dry.
2 Lubricate. Grab a spray can of a water-displacing lubricant such as WD-40 (did you know that the WD stands for water displacement?) or Boeshield T-9 and go to work. Give the hitch mechanism a good squirt and work your way back. Many steel and aluminum trailers have U-bolts and nuts made of zinc-plated steel and, trust me, those need a good shot. If you have dings in the paint, use the spray to protect the bare metal until you can touch it up. Give your lug nuts a squirt so you can change the tires easier and, if you have rollers under the boat (and can reach them), a shot will make your next launch smoother. Squirt the spring shackles, too, so they will move freely.
3 Give the wheel bearings love (depending on how compulsive you are). Sealed bearings, such as those from Bearing Buddy, have specific maintenance, so read the manual. Conventional bearings need to be repacked yearly, but it’s a really messy job that you might want to leave to your dealer.
4 Eliminate flat spots. Unless you’re planning to use your boat again in a day or two, it’s a smart move to get the tires off the ground. Jack the trailer up and place either automotive jackstands (if you’re on solid ground) or large blocks of wood under the axle or axles and as close to the wheels as possible. Doing so takes the weight of the boat off the tires. Though many folks say that modern tires will rid themselves of a flat spot with a few miles of driving, it’s hard on the tire. Don’t place the blocks in the middle of the axle, because you can bend the axle. That boat weighs a lot.