Hit the Road Safely: A Comprehensive Guide to Trailer Maintenance and Preparation for Boating Adventures

As the weather starts to warm up, the excitement of being able to take the boat out on the water starts to ramp up as well. Any boat owner will tell you that your boat must be in great condition to take out on the water to ensure safety and to avoid any mishaps. While the boat is surely not going to be overlooked in preparation for a day out on the water, what about the trailer? Often, the trailer is overlooked because it is an afterthought, but it is the main means of transportation to get your boat to and from the dock to launch.

While most trailers go unnoticed until something bad happens, you can stay ahead of the game with proper trailer maintenance to ensure that your boat does not get left behind on the side of the road and that you and your crew can have a great time.

Below, we will review some helpful trailer maintenance tips to help keep your boat trailer in tip-top condition and ready for any party. As always, if you are unsure about something to do with your trailer or you simply feel like something may be wrong, don’t take your chances and always have a professional take a look.

Okay, let’s get right into our maintenance tips.

Inspect Your Boat Trailer

Before you do anything, you should inspect your boat trailer at the start of the boating season. Annual inspections and routine maintenance will help you avoid serious losses and help retain the value of your investment. To help ensure you do not miss anything, you should create an annual checklist of things that you need to look at and then check them off as they pass the test.

As you inspect your boat trailer, you want to walk around and look for any obvious signs of issues. You would be able to notice these things right away and then jot them down so that you can repair them.

A visual inspection is not always enough to identify problems, so you must be willing to get down on the ground and look, feel, and move things to ensure they are working properly.

Remember preventative boat maintenance starts right there where you are – at home.

1. Check your Tires

Your trailer tires are one of the most important pieces to the puzzle of getting your boat to the water. Without the tires, the trailer cannot move, and neither can your boat.

An annual inspection of your tires is great, but you also want to make sure that you are checking your tires EACH time you go out. You should look to see that the tires are inflated properly. If they are not, you will need to make sure that they are. Remember, your trailer tires’ PSI will differ based on the temperature outside and with and without the weight of the boat.

Just as you want the tires on your vehicle to be inflated correctly, do the same with your boat trailer.

In addition to tire pressure, you also want to spend some time actually looking at and feeling the tires themselves. Tires that have bulges, bubbles, cracks, or other surface damage should be replaced immediately. They are not safe to use.

As you look at the tires, you also want to take note of their overall condition. How is the tread? How do they feel overall? Do they look like they have seen better days? It is always best to replace your tires if you are worried that they may not be in good condition.

2. Check Your Lights

Properly working lights are essential as they let other people around you know when you are maneuvering your trailer or stopping in your trailer.

You want to ensure that your lights are operating properly and according to any local codes that you may have in your city or town.

The first step you want to take is to check for power to the lights and make sure they are turning on and off. If not, you will need to replace the bulb, wiring, or whatever is causing them to not function properly.

Once you know that you have power running to the lights, take some time to look over the lights. You want to assess for:

  • Signs of an electrical issue (blinking, flickering, etc.)
  • Burnt-out bulbs
  • Loose lens
  • Cracked lens
  • Grease for any connectors or fittings

3. Brakes

Ah-ha. I bet we found one area that you probably did not even think to check. The brakes on your trailer are crucial as they allow you to stop. You never want to haul anything on your trailer, let alone a boat, if the brakes are not in good working order.

If your trailer has surge brakes, which most do, you want to check them by hooking them up to the vehicle you use to tow. Back the vehicle up and this will trigger the brakes to engage. If the brakes are in good condition, you will feel resistance and it will be difficult to reverse the trailer.

A tale-tell sign that you have worn-out trailer brakes is if they make noise when you depress the brake pedal. You will often hear a loud squeaking noise.

If your trailer happens to have drum brakes, you want to make sure that there are no signs of wear. If there are, get them replaced.

4. Suspension and Axles

The suspension and axles on a trailer are prone to rust and can easily become damaged when not properly taken care of. After all, your trailer will go in and out of the water many times, which is a good recipe for rust.

While superficial rust is not a problem, rust that is ingrained into any part of the suspension or axle is. If you notice that rust is eating away at your axle or suspension, you want to have it replaced.

You also want to keep an eye out for any cracking or serious signs of damage such as holes or missing pieces.

5. Wheel Bearings

Your wheel bearings could be the reason you break down on the side of the road, even when all other components are in good condition. The wheel bearings are located inside the wheel assembly and allow the tire and wheel to spin as the axle moves. It is important to check for signs of wear to the bearings and have them replaced.

When checking your wheel bearings, pay attention to the following as these are signs that they need to be replaced:

  • Stiffness or squeaking when turning
  • Wobbling of the wheel
  • Overheated bearings

6. Registration

Finally, make sure that your registration is up to date annually. Imagine heading out to the water only to be stopped and land yourself a ticket. Ouch! Avoid that by keeping up with when you need to renew your boat trailer registration.

What to Check Before EVERY Outing on Your Boat

While the above are some maintenance tips that you definitely want to make sure you include annually, you also want to make sure that you are going through and checking some things every time you take your boat out on the water.

Here is what you should check each and every time:

  • Coupler system
  • Winch and straps
  • Safety chains
  • Lights
  • Tiedowns and any tiedown-related items
  • Tires

Take it for a Test Drive

This is something that should be done before EVERY outing and also annually. You should take the trailer out for a test drive on its own and with the boat on it. This way, you know that it feels good and you can identify if there are any problems with it.

Again, not all problems are visual alone, so it is important not to skip this step.

Helpful Tools to Keep in Your Tow Vehicle

Even with the best proper maintenance and inspections, it is possible for something to go wrong at any moment. For example, you may run over something sharp in the road that blows out your tire. You just never know, so it is best to be prepared for those events.

There are some tools that you want to keep on hand in your tow vehicle or in the bed/box of your tow vehicle whenever you do go boating. You can create a little toolkit or box and just plop it into the tow vehicle when you head out.

Here are some things you want to keep with you:

  • Half-inch impact
  • Tow strap
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Jack (make sure it is one approved for use with your boat trailer)
  • Voltmeter
  • Spare tire
  • Breaker bar
  • 6-foot chain
  • Extra tie downs

Basic Toolkit

In addition to the things listed above, you should create a small toolkit to keep handy. Inside this tool kit, you should have:

  • Hammer
  • Pliers
  • Wrenches (especially a lug wrench)
  • Multi-screwdriver
  • Allen wrenches
  • Ratchets and sockets (that fit the boat trailer)
  • Extra wheel bearings and grease

These basic tools will help you in almost any scenario that may pop up.

Extra Parts

Within your basic toolkit, you may want to keep some additional parts that you may need such as duct tape, zip ties, bolts, nuts, and even fuses. These will assist you in most issues that arise as well. When it comes to the fuses, nuts, and bolts, make sure the extras you keep on you are ones that are compatible with your boat trailer.

Have a Spare Tire

We cannot stress the importance of this – HAVE A SPARE TIRE. You never know when a tire may blow out and as we mentioned above, it can happen, even when you take good care of your tires. You should have a spare tire on your boat trailer at all times and never leave home without it.

Having multiple spare tires is not always feasible and it is unlikely that you would have more than one tire go bad on you at a time, but it is always possible. If you have the extra room, keep 2 or however many you are comfortable with, but ALWAYS have AT LEAST 1.

Just as you would check and inspect the tires actively on your boat trailer, you want to inspect the spare as well. You should keep it properly inflated and always look for any signs of serious wear.

Roadside Assistance

One of the nice-to-have services you may want to consider for your boat trailer is towing and roadside assistance. You can obtain a plan from most insurance companies or boat companies that offer the service. These services are perfect to have as a backup plan in case you do find yourself broken down on the side of the road.

These plans typically include towing, tire repair or replacement, fuel delivery, and much more. You will find having one of these plans gives you the peace of mind you need and they are very affordable too.

When in Doubt – Have a Professional Check it Out

If you are ever in doubt about something going on with your boat trailer, have a professional take a look at it. You can never be too safe, but you can be too carefree.

Remember, your boat, trailer, and tow vehicle along with you and your family are all very important and you do not want to have any accidents or serious injuries caused by an improperly maintained boat trailer.

Keep Your Boat Trailer in Good Condition and Enjoy Many Seasons on the Water

Taking the steps necessary to maintain your boat may seem mundane, but they are worth it. You will avoid mishaps, issues, accidents, and days off the water by simply keeping your boat trailer in good condition.

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