Some lucky skippers never have to think about winterizing their trailer, but for the rest of us, it’s that time (or past that time). If you want your next boating season to be painless, now is the time to invest some effort. I know, I know — you don’t want to do it. But if you don’t do the fixes now, you’ll have to do them when you’re champing at the bit for that first outing next season. Do it now!
Start by washing the trailer thoroughly, especially if it’s been used in salt water. If you have a pressure washer, all the better. Once the trailer is clean, go over the frame carefully and look for rust spots. Pay special attention to welds or joints. Give any rusty spots a quick scrub with a wire brush or sandpaper, and then spray them with some Rust-Oleum. Leaving rust alone for the winter isn’t the brightest idea.
I like to make the electrical system and components a priority, because checking the wiring harness is something you can do while hunting for rust spots on the frame. Obviously, a worn or broken wire needs to be replaced. Check carefully for chafing under the clips that hold the wires to the frame, or where they pass through grommets.
Now is the time to pop the lens covers off the taillights and sidelights. Is water present? If so, do two things. First, dry it out before it freezes and breaks the plastic light. Second, fix the reason it leaked. Most likely you’ll find a broken seal around the light or even a dent from when it was replaced incorrectly. Either issue allows water into the lights. Not good. While the lens is off, pull the bulbs and give them a squirt of anti-corrosive spray.
A word about anti-corrosion potions. I like Corrosion Block for winterizing my trailer (and other stuff), and I find that it does a good job of protecting electrical doodads from corrosion. It’s your call, though, as CRC, West Marine, Boeshield and others have good products.
At the trailer’s aft end, pay special attention to the wiring connectors, because they just love to rust and corrode. I squirt mine with CB, while other folks slather them with Vaseline or a similar petroleum jelly for protection. I’m a belt-and-suspenders guy, so I also put the connectors into a plastic bag and tape it closed, for protection from dirt.
One last wiring tip: Find the ground on your wiring and back out the screw or bolt that holds it, then squirt it with some anti-corrosion product. It’s amazing how many electrical problems can be (finally!) traced to corrosion under the ground wire.
The Front End
While you’re up at the front end, take some time to winterize your winch. Start by pulling the strap or wire all the way out — and I mean all the way. Look for fraying or weak spots, and give the snap a once-over. If it has rust spots, hit it with a wire brush and dose it with anti-corrosion spray.
If your winch is the hand-crank variety (poor you!), spray it with your anti-corrosion potion and cover it with a plastic trash bag. If it’s electric, give the wiring a check, coil up the remote cord and tuck it all under a bag for protection.
The hitch is arguably the most important part of your trailer, especially during that 70 mph run on the freeway, so keep it happy. Check for rust and then give the entire assembly a dose of CB. I like to cover it with a bag — again, to keep gunk away.
When it comes to tires, there are two schools of thought. One says leave ’em on, and the other says take ’em off and store them for the winter. Leaving them in place is the easy way, but there are benefits to storing them off the trailer. First, it makes the trailer damn hard to steal. It protects them from sun and the elements, and they don’t get flat spots from long storage. If you do put them inside, lay them flat, if you can. And for the hopelessly compulsive boater, the tires can be removed from the rims.
If you don’t remove the tires, you should jack the trailer up and put a jack stand or a concrete block under the trailer, so the springs remain loaded and the tires are off the ground. If you don’t remove the tires, you should remove the lug nuts and squirt the hole with CB. If the springs have grease fittings, now is the time for a squirt of lubricant at the front and the rear shackles.
If you’ve maintained the trailer’s bearings, they should be ready for winter, but pumping in some grease ensures there’s no water to cause problems. Top off the brake fluid reservoir to prevent condensation from forming inside, and now is a good time to check the brake lines for leakage. Even if the trailer is washed and clean, it’s a good idea to have a brake drum flushing kit to prep them for the winter.
One last word of advice: Winterize your boat properly and do any needed maintenance now, because, trust me, when spring comes you won’t want to waste any time getting back on the water.