Boaters may lament depending on land vehicles, but they need ’em to get Mom’s Mink from Lake A to Bay B. And while rolling over the asphalt, their boat — and day of boating — is in more danger than it is when it’s afloat. Want your next road trip to go smoothly? Of course you do! Here are five important tips that will help you keep the drive pleasant and problem free.
1. Visually inspect the trailer from stem to stern prior to each and every haul. Yeah, we know you’ve already been told to do this, but we also know it’s really easy to skip this step now and again. The problem is that missing just one little issue prior to a road trip can turn it into a full-blown disaster. Take a sagging brake line, for example. You won’t know there’s a problem waiting to happen if you don’t stoop down and look under the trailer before getting underway. But that sagging line could get snagged on a piece of debris in the roadway and cause a loose connection that could spill brake fluid all over the roadway. When you hit the brakes … yikes!
2. Nail down everything — and we mean everything. Sure, you already know if you don’t stow the life jackets somewhere secure they’re guaranteed to blow out of the boat, but it’s not just light, wind-blown gear that’s at risk. Heavier items left on the deck can bounce just the wrong way when you hit a bump. Try landing a fish with no net. Or even tougher, try fishing with no rod.
3. Take rest stops reasonably often while towing, certainly every few hours on long road trips, and give the trailer an inspection. Naturally, give it the same visual inspection you did prior to departing. But also look for a telltale sign of future bearing problems: heat. Touch all the wheel hubs. They should be only slightly warm to the touch. If one is hot to the touch, have it serviced as soon as possible. If it’s hot enough to make you yank your hand away to avoid a burn, it needs immediate attention, or you may end up on the side of the road in short order. While you’re stopped is also a good time to recheck all the lights and make sure they’re still working properly, check tie-down straps for proper tension, and check the chains and coupler to make sure everything looks shipshape.
4. You’ve made it to the ramp without any mishaps? Excellent. But prior to splashing, let the trailer sit for a few minutes even if you don’t have any gear to prep. Also be sure to unplug the lights. Both measures once again relate to heat. Back the trailer into the water while the bearings are warm and the sudden cooling of the air and lubricants in them will cause them to contract and create something of a vacuum. As a result, water can get sucked into the bearings. The trailer lights? If you leave them plugged in as you back down the ramp and then hit the brakes, those rapidly heating bulbs can fracture as they come into contact with the cool water.
5. Double all of the usual safety parameters, and take it slow and easy. Most trailering mishaps occur when there’s a sudden event: slamming on the brakes, stomping on the accelerator, hitting a big bump or seam in the road at high speed. Doubling the usual following distance should minimize the need to stop abruptly. Doubling the amount of time you take to get up to speed can eliminate sudden starts. Slowing significantly when you approach bumps or potholes can greatly reduce the chances of damage occurring as you pass over them. This sounds like common sense — it is — but abiding by these simple measures will help you avoid the vast majority of trailering accidents you might otherwise encounter.
Replace your trailering straps at the first signs of wear. Most of the time when a boat comes loose from its trailer, it’s the result of two or more factors coming together at the same time, and one of those two factors is an old or worn strap. Combine a subpar strap with a sudden acceleration, a sudden stop or a large bump in the road hit at breakneck speed, and a boat is unceremoniously spilled across the highway.