Happy Trailers To You

By Tom Neale, 5/27/2010


Tom Neale's logs have a new name and home on BoatUS Magazine. We know Tom has a loyal and devoted readership, so we wanted to share his tips and insights with an even bigger audience! For the latest articles, click here for Onboard With Tom Neale.

Updated 9/1/2013


What can do more damage to your boat in a couple seconds time than a hurricane? What can do more damage to your day than a 20 pound eel on your line when you thought it was a fish?

What can make you the laughing stock of the day with roadside towers?

What can get you introduced to a room full of plaintiff’s lawyers all smiling at you while they’re sharpening their knives while you’re waiting for your lawyer who hasn’t returned from the trip to the bathroom he made 45 minutes ago?

What can teach you to lie better than all those lawyers put together? “Oh, I’m sorry officer. I checked all the lights just before I left and they were working then.”

It’s not your boat. It’s that trailer underneath it. We aren’t all blessed with boats with trailers. Some of us have boats that just float all the time except when they’re pulled up in a yard or sinking. I’m blessed with both types. The trailer boat is my 1985 20-foot Mako, “Tranquillizer.”

Tom's New Trailer
Trailers can do all sorts of neat things in addition to moving, launching and retrieving your boat. My old trailer rotted its tires and it took a shop full of guys to get the new tires on the wheels because it was so old they’d stopped making the tires on it (or so I was told) and when they finally found some, the tires were compressed so tightly on the pallet that they wouldn’t seal on the rims.

My trailer dropped more rollers than a flower girl at a June wedding. One spring I was returning from a launching, along the same road I’d used going. (Yeah, I know that’s not unusual, but with my trailer it was because often the people who lived on the side of the road would run out and put logs down because they were afraid that one of my wheels would spin off and crash through a window in their house.) I saw a roller in the ditch. “Ah Ha” I laughed. “This is my lucky day. That roller’s going to save me on my weekly roller budget.” I stopped and picked it up. When I got back to the marina I noticed that I’d picked up the same roller that had fallen off my trailer on the way to the ramp.

My trailer gave a whole new meaning to the term “leaf springs.” Whenever I bounced down the road the springs dropped so many chips of rust that my trail looked like the leafy floor of a forest in autumn.

My trailer totally wiped out the traffic offense called “following too close.” Whenever a truck or car came up behind my trailer and boat bouncing down the highway the driver would take one look and slam on brakes. Normally he would not only refrain from following too close, he’d flip a U and head back in the opposite direction as fast as he could go.

I never had to worry about getting a ticket when I was pulling my trailer. If a police officer thought I was committing an offence (And I wasn’t, officer, I really wasn’t) he’d stay so far behind when he turned on his lights and siren that I couldn’t begin to see the lights (he would have a tendency to stay on the other side of whatever curve there was in the road behind me), much less hear the siren. Road blocks were out of the question. No Officer of the Law in his right mind would get in front of that trailer when it was moving with a boat on it. Matter of fact, the only person I ever knew who was stupid enough to be in front of that trailer when it was moving with a boat on it was me.

My trailer had an issue with products like Corrosion Block. You’d have to squirt the stuff on all the time but you’d have to do it very carefully, so the stream of spray wouldn’t knock off all the rust. The rust was the only thing holding the trailer together.

My trailer presented all sorts of problems at the ramp. When everybody else saw me coming they would get into fights to launch before me because they figured once I got the trailer down the ramp I’d never get it back up the ramp.

Tom’s Tips About Trailer Insurance

1. There’s a hidden issue with trailers that many aren’t aware of and that can cause big problems. But it’s easy to handle if you know about it.

2. You will probably have an opportunity to cover your trailer in the same policy as that which covers your boat. But this isn’t automatic. Normally you must tell the insurer that you want this coverage and it should be listed on the declarations page.

Click Here for More Tips

But at the end of the day things were better. I wouldn’t have to almost get into a fight myself by saying things like, “Hey Bud, Howya doing. Don’t ya think maybe you could clean all those beer cans out of your boat and pick all those salami wrappers out of your sump AFTER you’ve pulled your boat off the ramp so the rest of us could have a go?” They’d see me backing in their direction and they’d pull their boat off the ramp so fast that you could hear those beer cans chiming like Christmas bells. But I never knew whether that was because they were worried about my trailer or about my backing.

My trailer was running on luck, and I knew it. The bad thing about that is that like the guy in the song, bad luck is about the only kind of luck I have. I did have some good luck with my trailer once. The last time I used it to launch my boat I did my usual pre-trip check and was looking around under the boat. I noticed that one of the rollers had slid down its holder and a jagged piece of old washer was about to dig into the hull. If I’d run the rig down the road I probably would have gauged a hole all the way through the boat and had a very interesting launch. I got out my trusty bottle jack and jacked the boat up off the trailer on that side and slid the roller back into place. The good luck comes in because that’s when I decided I was going to get another trailer.

I did, a few days ago. I’ll admit I was exaggerating a bit in some of the preceding, but I’m not exaggerating about getting a new trailer. Now I have a 25 year old boat that rides the road on a brand new rig. It has skids instead of rollers. Some feel that skids give a boat better support. They do cost a little less and you don’t have to worry about replacing the rollers every few years (which I didn’t worry about anyway). I like those skids. The boat will slide on or off a lot better than it ever did on my rollers. But then, they were my rollers.

I got the trailer from Whelan’s Marine in Farnham VA, off the Rappahannock River. It’s the same place I got my last two outboards. Obviously, I think they’re good people who do good work. They did a really good job of setting it up for my specific boat. They adjusted the skids so that two of the lifting strakes on the bottom line up with an edge of each skid so that the skids steer the boat true onto the trailer. All I have to do aligning up to the trailer is something a little better than a near miss (which is still a challenge for me) and the rig takes care of itself.

I generally only use a trailer twice a year--to launch in the spring and retrieve in the winter after rock fishing season. In between I keep the boat in the water ready to go. But right now I’m listening to the offshore tropical weather and learning about the possibility of a tropical or sub tropical system approaching the Cape Hatteras area. And I’m thinking: it sure is nice to have a reliable trailer so that I can haul out the Tranquillizer when we have a bad blow coming. As long as a tree doesn’t fall on the boat during the blow.

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