Having the right trailer is important.
Most important, however, is boat trailer maintenance.
Especially if you’re traveling and visiting new destinations all the time. It may take some time and effort, but it’s a necessary safeguard to ensure that your trailer is in top form—and to ensure that you and your boat get to your destination in one piece.
I’ve seen more than a few trailer maintenance issues over the years (and a handful of unfortunate accidents) which all could have been prevented with just a little care and basic trailering knowledge.
In one instance, a fellow boater was heading out on a trip, towing a 30-foot runabout. Pulling out of the parking lot, he underestimated a narrow roadway between a building and concrete barrier. Everything seemed fine until I heard a loud “bang,” followed by a disheartening “thud.”
What happened was the driver hit the edge of the concrete barrier with the right trailer fender, and the impact forced part of the boat off the trailer at a steep downward angle. You don’t want to know what the hitch looked like afterward.
Needless to say, his trip was over before it began.
While he was an experienced boater with many miles of boat trailering to his credit, the point is, a lot of care needs to be taken when towing a boat. It all starts with basic common maintenance and becoming very familiar with your rig.
As a boat trailer maintenance checklist can be quite extensive, here are a few starting points to ensure safe travels on the road.
6 Slick Boat Trailer Maintenance Tips to Know Before You Tow
1. Check Up on Everything
Towing countless of highway miles or—if you’re like many anglers I know—trekking through rugged, backcountry roads can take its toll.
Over time, components wear down. They might even wear down faster than you think. You’ll always want to give your boat trailer a good once-over before hitting the road, to avoid any surprises.
So, here are few things to look at before, after and even during a trip:
- Is the coupler in good condition and fitting snugly over the hitch ball?
- Is the tongue jack properly lubricated? Many trailers have grease fittings for the rack/pinion inside. If there’s a lock pin with a spring-loaded ball, make sure to properly grease that as well.
- Are the safety chains in good condition and securely fastened?
- Are the bunks in good condition and is the carpeting torn or frayed?
- What shape are the leaf springs in? Cracked, corroded or heavily rusted leaf springs can cause major issues. Inspect these closely throughout the season.
- Always inspect for stress cracks, rusted fasteners or loose nuts/bolts.
Common trailer inspections mean safer travels. It also means you’re forced to get issues resolved before they cause any major damage.
2. Keep Your Tires Inflated
Trailer tires are the unsung heroes of towing and shouldn’t be ignored. A tire blow-out, worn-out bearings and improper PSI all mean trouble.
As with any road vehicle, proper tire inflation is essential.
What happens when tire inflation is too low or too high? According to Shoreland’r Trailers, signs of low PSI (after long periods) includes wear on the inside and outside edges of the tire. The exact opposite happens when there’s too much PSI. The tire will have wear on the center of the tread. To correct both instances, simply follow the manufacturer’s recommended suggested PSI rating.
Most trailers should have a sticker plate indicating the proper size of tires for the trailer and most tires indicate the maximum PSI on the sidewall.
I like to check the tires before, during and after every trip. If the PSI is low, I take a few minutes to inflate the PSI up to the manufacturer’s rating.
3. Don’t Let Your Trailer Tires Get Tired
There are many types of trailer tires on the market, the more common being bias ply and radial. It’s important to know the difference.
Bias-ply sidewalls have a stiffer design (that can aid with trailer sway), are more economical and suited for short trips. Radial tires cost more but tend to reduce heat buildup, have more load capacity and create less road noise.
Yet, regardless of the trailer tire, it’s always important to do the following:
- Never let the tires sit on the bare ground when not in use. Lay a thick sheet of plywood underneath the tires or park the trailer on concrete.
- Use tire covers when your trailer is sitting for long periods in the sun.
- Periodically check the tire stems.
- Always check for tread depth. To do this, take a penny and place in the tread. If you can see the head of the figure on the coin, tire tread is worn and the tire needs to be replaced.
4. Inspect for Bad Wheel Bearings
According to Shoreland’r Trailers, the wheel bearings should be resealed/repacked once a year.
Trailer bearings simply allow the wheel to spin with minimum friction and a constant supply of grease—such as the ever-popular Lucas Oil Products Xtra Heavy-Duty Grease (check price on Amazon here)—is always required.
Without grease (which should also be virtually waterproof), the bearings will generate excessive heat. This can ruin the bearings, the wheels and even the axles.
You’ll know your bearings be to be replaced when:
- Grease is formed around the outside of the wheel hub. This means grease that was lubricating the bearings seeped out and the bearings need to be re-greased.
- You hear squeaks or grinding noises.
- The wheel doesn’t spin freely (or there’s some resistance).
The task of repacking/resealing bearings doesn’t require an engineering degree and can be accomplished by serious do-it-yourselfers.
But if you’re like me and trust only the professionals, visit your local dealer for advice.
5. Check the Lights
According to the United States Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are strict laws regarding trailer lights.
In other words—regardless of the State you travel in—you need them. The NHTSA also states that boat trailers are required to have stop lights, tail lights, turn signals and reflectors. Trailers that are 80 inches wide or more than 30 feet long require additional lights and reflectors.
Many trailers have the electrical for lights running through the trailer tubes, yet for wires that are not, they should always be securely tied down. While checking for this, also be sure to see if:
- You have any burnt-out bulbs. Replace as needed.
- The wires or connectors are cracked or damaged.
- There are cracked or loose lenses.
- You have a functioning fuse in your tow vehicle. Electricity runs from your tow vehicle to the trailer and when the fuse fails, so do your trailer lights.
- There is sufficient electrical grease (check price on amazon here) to protect any connectors.
6. Make Sure Everything Is Connected and Secure
Boating safety is pertinent on the water. It’s also vital to practice road safety when trailering as well and a lot of it is common sense.
Safety begins well before you hit the road. This is especially important to remember after a long winter when you need to re-freshen your trailering skills.
So, always double check and make sure:
- All tie-down straps (which you can buy on Amazon for cheap) are in place and securely fastened.
- The trailer brakes are in good condition.
- All the electrical is properly connected.
- Your tow vehicle has proper tire pressure (keep a tire pressure gauge on hand—snag one on Amazon here and keep it on board).
- Gear in the boat is evenly distributed to obtain a balanced load.
- You’re carrying vital spare parts, necessary tools and a spare trailer tire (hook this spare tire carrier right onto your trailer for added convenience).
Over time, boat trailer maintenance will become almost second nature and recognizing repairs—before they happen—will result in more enjoyable experiences on the road, as well as at your destination.