6 Slick Boat Trailer Maintenance Tips to Know Before You Tow
Exploring new destinations with a boat in tow is all part of the boating lifestyle. Having the right trailer is an important factor in that lifestyle.
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) that 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 with a 30-foot runabout strapped to the trailer Pulling out of the parking lot, he underestimated a narrow roadway between a building and a concrete barrier. Everything seemed fine until I heard a loud bang, which was 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. 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.
Since a boat trailer maintenance checklist can be quite extensive, here are a few starting points to ensure safe travels on the road.
1. Check Up on Everything
Towing countless highway miles or (if you're like many anglers I know) trekking through rugged back country 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.
Check these issues 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, ratchet straps and trailer straps in good condition and securely fastened?
- Are the bunks in good condition or 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.
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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 Shore land'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 have a sticker plate indicating the proper tire size 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.
Regardless of the trailer's tires, it's always important to do the following:
- Avoid letting 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.
- Check the tire stems periodically.
- 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
Your trailer's 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 be virtually waterproof), the bearings will generate excessive heat, which can ruin the bearings, wheels and even axles.
Replace your wheel bearings when:
- Grease forms around the wheel hub's exterior. This means grease that once lubricated the bearings has seeped out and needs 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 over 30 feet long require additional lights and reflectors.
Many trailers have the electrical for lights running through the trailer tubes, yet for wires that aren't, they should always be securely tied down.
While checking your trailer lights, also double-check for:
- Burnt-out bulbs that need replacement
- Cracked or damaged wires or connectors
- Cracked or loose lenses
- A functioning fuse (electricity runs from your tow vehicle to the trailer and when the fuse fails, so do your trailer lights)
- Sufficient electrical grease (check price on Amazon) 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.
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 refresh your trailering skills.
Always double-check and make sure:
- Tie-down straps are securely fastened in place
- Trailer brakes are in good condition
- All the electrical is properly connected
- Your tow vehicle has proper tire pressure (keep on hand a tire pressure gauge (check price on Amazon) and keep it on board).
- Boat gear's evenly distributed to obtain a balanced load
- Necessary tools and a spare trailer tire are hooked onto your tire carrier (check price on Amazon) for added convenience