When the weather cools down, boats come out of the water and the winter mood starts to set in. Homeowners know it is time to start prepping the home and boat owners know it is time to winterize their boat. While winterizing your boat is one of your top priorities, it is also just as important to winterize your boat trailer.
Wait, what? If you were surprised to hear this, so are many boat owners. Often, the trailer is an afterthought and not right on the mind of someone who is prepping their boat for winter storage. Boat trailers are often neglected, and problems go unnoticed until something happens and requires attention.
You probably feel like you already have enough on your plate to do before the first snowfall or cold front, but taking just a few minutes to winterize your boat trailer will ensure it remains in good condition and will prolong its life at the same time. Unfortunately, most issues that arise with boat trailers are due to neglect of routine maintenance – something that can be completely prevented.
Prepping Your Trailer for the Winter
As we mentioned above, prepping your trailer for the winter can help save you from costly repairs and unnecessary down time from boating season when the spring and summer roll around.
Fortunately, you can add winterizing your trailer right in with winterizing your boat and it will not take you too much longer to do so.
Before you take any of the steps listed below, you will want to spend a little bit of time washing your trailer thoroughly before you winterize it, especially if you use it in salt water. (Salt water = rust.) Using a pressure washer on your trailer is a good idea and can help remove any deposits or salt left on the trailer frame itself, but if you do not, just make sure you spend enough time cleaning it and removing any residue on it.
Once the trailer is washed, you will need to make sure it is dry. If the sun is out, great, use it to your advantage and allow the trailer to dry before you inspect it. If the sun is not out, you will need to dry the trailer off yourself making sure to get in every crack and crevice. Leftover water can lead to rust.
1. Take Care of the Lights
You will want to make sure that you inspect and take care of the lights on your trailer first. You should repair any that are not currently working and then verify that they are operational. Any broken lights or lens should be fixed during this time as well. You do not want snow to get into the light through a crack or break and then melt and cause issues later on down the road.
You want to ensure that there is no water left inside of the lights before you store it. It is possible for water to get into the lights as you take the trailer in and out of the water. Dry them off and if necessary, open up the lighting housing area and dry it out.
You should clean out the connector and then spray it with a lubricating compound to help keep it in working order. You can also spray the inside of the lights with a moisture repellent to keep them as dry as possible throughout the winter. You want to store the plug face down so that no water builds up in it while the trailer is in the off season.
2. Take Care of the Ball Receiver
You want to grab a clean paper towel, put some axle grease on it, and rub it on the inside of the ball receiver. Doing this will help to protect it from developing rust. You also want to make sure that your trailer jack is in good condition and is both secure and lubricated properly before you walk away for the season.
3. Take Care of the Tires
You will want to jack up the trailer and make sure the tires are elevated from the ground. Leaving the trailer on the ground means that the tires can develop flat spots, which will require you to replace them when it is time to de-winterize your boat. In addition, storing a trailer on the ground (not jacked up) means that the tires are exposed to wet conditions as snow melts or as it rains and puddles up. Moisture can ruin the tires and leave you in need of replacements when you go to use your boat.
Once you have the trailer up on the jack, make sure that it is secure first and foremost. Safety is your number one concern.
You will want to spin each tire and take a good listen and look at them. Your tires should each spin freely and should be quiet when they spin. If you notice any squeaking or crunchy noises or, if you notice that the wheel is wobbly or spins with resistance, you will need to replace the wheel bearings. It is best to address the issue now rather than wait until you are ready to use the trailer – it is also possible that you may forget that they need to be replaced. Driving and hauling a boat with bad wheel bearings is a recipe for disaster and is dangerous.
Once you have verified the status of your wheel bearings, you will need to then look at your bearing caps. You should remove them and make sure that they are filled properly with grease and covered with a vinyl cap. If they are not, you will need to fill them with grease yourself to keep them lubricated. If you do not, they can damage the wheel bearing and lead to excessive heat generation.
If your tires do look good, take a second to check the date on them. You can find this information on the sidewall of the tire. If your tires are older than 3 years, you may want to consider replacement. While they can last about 5 years, most tire experts recommend considering replacement after 3. It is important to remember that tires are not necessarily replaced on a set schedule. This means that yours may need to be replaced yearly based on your usage and how you maintain them. (Check your spare tire too and make sure it is in good condition as well.)
You will want to clean each tire off and then wipe it down with a tire gloss to prevent them from drying out. You should then cover each one of the tires.
If you have the space, once your trailer is jacked up, you can attend to the tires, and then remove them and store them for the winter. You do not have to leave the tires attached to the trailer all winter. If you do choose to remove them, make sure you store them in a safe place on their side so that they do not develop flat spots.
4. Take Care of the Hardware
You probably already check most, if not all, of the hardware before you take the boat out on the trailer already, but you definitely want to make sure that you are inspecting each piece of hardware before you park it for the winter.
You will want to check the winch, winch cable, bunks or rollers, and also the wiring. You want to look for any damage or broken parts. For example, frayed wiring means that you will have trouble getting electrical components on the trailer to work. As another example, broken rollers will make it difficult for you to load and unload your boat on the trailer and could lead to damage of the boat’s hull.
By taking care of these issues now, you will save yourself time, and you won’t have to try to remember what needs to be done. Fix these problems now and you can head right out to the water when the time comes.
You will want to spray each one of these components with a lubricant to ensure rust and moisture stay far away. Rust can completely ruin parts of your trailer, so do your due diligence and pick up a spray lubricant to apply.
5. Take Care of Rust Now
If you notice any rust on your trailer, now is the time to address it. Rust can be very aggressive and if it is, leaving it sit through the winter can mean that you return to a larger and bigger rust problem.
Surface rust is usually not too much of a concern, but you still want to address it. You should remove it and then treat the area to ensure no further spread of the rust. If the rust has already penetrated the metal, you will likely need to replace the pieces. For example, if your axle has rust damage, it needs to be replaced.
6. Cover the Trailer
Two words of advice: do not park the trailer under a tree and cover the trailer.
While you may think that parking your trailer under a tree is a good idea, damage can occur to it. When it snows or storms, the tree branches are tested and if they are not sound in strength, they can bend and break, thus falling on top of the trailer. While the trailer’s metal frame is unlikely to suffer damage, you do need to worry about the light covers and any other plastic components and connectors on the trailer.
Once you have a safe place to park the trailer, consider tilting it upward just a bit to allow any water to run off should snow melt, ice form, or rain collect on the rails. You can achieve this by lifting the front of the trailer and placing it down on a cinder block.
Finally, cover up your boat trailer. A good quality cover allows you to protect your investment and keep it free from any damage that may occur throughout the winter. You definitely want a cover that fits the trailer properly and you will need to tie it down with straps to make sure it does not come detached or blow away.
7. Check the Trailer Regularly
Throughout the winter months, you want to make sure you do a quick walkaround and simply look at the trailer to identify any damage or issues that may arise throughout the winter. You do not have to completely de-winterize your trailer to do this and a simple visual glance can help you achieve enough to get through the winter.
For example, take a moment to walk around and make sure the cover is still attached and remove any water or snow that may be pooled up on it.
Quick Winterization Tips for Your Boat
Just as winterizing your boat trailer is important, winterizing your boat is vital as well. You will want to make sure that you winterize your boat whether you plan to store it on or off the trailer itself.
(Before you winterize your boat, do make sure that you inspect it for any damage and have any damaged areas repaired before you store it.)
1. Prep the engine and make sure that you have drained all water. You may need to manually dry up some of the water left over too.
2. Use a corrosion protectant spray and spray it over the engine. Make sure to use one that is safe for your boat’s engine. If fogging is required, you will need to do this as well. Your owner’s manual can provide you with specific instructions on whether fogging is needed or not.
3. Add a fuel stabilizer to your boat’s fuel system and then run the engine giving it enough time for the stabilizer to move through it.
4. Replace the fuel filters and the fuel/water separators on your boat.
5. Drain all of the plumbing systems on your boat to include the toilet, sinks, tanks, etc.
6. Add an antifreeze product to the plumbing system.
7. Remove the drain plugs.
8. Clean your boat. You should wash, dry, and wax the boat. During this process, make sure to clean all inside components of the boat too such as the seats, tables, etc. You should remove any and all valuables.
9. Cover the boat.
If you plan to store your boat on your trailer, you want to make sure that you do have the trailer stored at a bit of an inclined angle to allow any water that pools up in the boat to drain out.
Failure to properly remove water from your boat can have devastating effects on the engine and the body of the boat (think mold on the interior seats).
Winterizing Your Boat Trailer Will Extend Its Life
Winterizing your boat trailer is just as important as winterizing your boat. You would not skip taking care of your boat, so don’t skip taking care of the trailer either.
Taking the proper steps to winterize your boat trailer now will ensure that your trailer is ready to use right away coming out of the winter season. Failure to maintain the trailer means that you may find your trailer damaged or unable to operate safely.
Be proactive and protect your investment today. If you need help winterizing or storing your boat trailer, talk to a local boat storage facility. They can provide you with assistance for storage purposes.