10 Checkpoints For Your Truck, Trailer And Boat

From BoatUS Trailering Magazine

Safety and maintenance checkpoints to use to ensure a great outing every time.

Photo of a bass boat being trailered

For trailer boaters in the north, these are happy times. The shrinkwrap or the familiar blue tarp is finally coming off after months of snow and rain and below freezing temperatures. There is anticipation and excitement about getting back on the water.

For the trailer boaters in the south who have enjoyed a winter of activity, today may just be another day in paradise. But both perspectives from both locations require some questions to be asked. In the north it's the result of getting ready for a season. In the south it's because safety requires a routine inspection of operating systems. Perform these checkpoints and the chances of a breakdown will decrease.


(1)Tires: Inflate to the proper PSI and inspect for spider web cracks on the sidewall. If present, then it's time to replace them. Look at the tread and measure it's depth. If less than 2/32nd's of an inch, the tread is considered worn. Also inspect the spare. And if you don't have a spare, get one. If your trailer tires sat outside with your trailer, consider removing them and putting the trailer on blocks next year. Remember that most trailer tires need replacing not because of use, but because the trailer tends to sit for long periods.

(2) Frame: You are going to have to get on your back and crawl under the trailer to look for corrosion and rust. Keep in mind that once an area begins to corrode, it is only going to get worse until sanding removes it. And when it comes to removing rust, there is no time like the present.

(3) Lights: Plug the trailer into the tow vehicle's electrical system and turn the vehicle on. Put the lights on and inspect if any bulbs or lenses need replacing. This is a moment where you are going to need a second person to tell you if the trailer brake lights come on when the brakes on the tow vehicle are applied and if backup lights come on when the tow vehicle in placed in reverse. This is also a good time to make sure you have the appropriate bulbs in your tool kit for replacement should it become necessary on the road.

(4) Bunks/Rollers: Inspect the bunks for wear on the carpeting or on the rubber padding that is beneath the carpet. Some trailer boaters spray a silicon coating on the bunks to make the surface easier to slide the boat on and off. Roller should be turned individually to determine if any have locked. Inspect the rollers for wear and remember when it comes to rollers that are worn, there is no time like the present to replace them. Poly rollers last a lot longer than their rubber counterparts.

(5) Safety Chains: Inspect for wear and check the S hooks for possible bending. It is a good idea to replace the S hooks with screw-pin shackles that have a wire running through the pin's eye. It provides a connection that is considerably more reliable and solid than S hooks.

(6) Bearings: Inspect the grease in the hubs. There is no time like the present to replace the grease, especially if the trailer has spent a winter outside in dampness. Inspect the grease seal and if you (or the shop) decides it needs to be replaced, make sure a double lip seal is installed. Inspect the bottom of the boat or the inside of the trailer tires for grease. If it's present, the bearings are in need of attention now.

(7) Brakes: As is the case with bearings, if you aren't sure about what to do, take the trailer to the shop and let an expert do the work. The result will be peace of mind (and good bearings and brakes). Check the fluid level in the master cylinder but be sure to clear away debris around the cap before opening it so as not to contaminate the fluid. If it is low, you may have to bleed the system to get air out of the lines. Pull the wheel and inspect the disc/drum to see if new pads/shoes are required.

(8) Tool Kit: Go through your tool kit and make sure the proper wrenches and screwdrivers are packed. Make sure you have a trailer jack that fits your trailer as well as blocks that can be used to support your tow vehicle's rear wheels.

(9) Winch: Inspect the cable looking for broken wires or worn areas. Clean and lubricate the winch. Make sure you have a strong tie down for the bow as well as the stern of the boat and that both are properly secured to the trailer.

(10) Hitch: Apply grease to the ball and inspect the hitch locking mechanism.


(1) Cleaning. The first cleaning of the season is the most important cleaning. Use a cleaner that is designed for what you want to do. If your boat is new, a one-step cleaning product will work fine. Just remember not to let it dry on the surface of the hull.

(2) Battery. Proper maintenance dictates taking the batteries out of the boat during the off season. Wire brush the terminals and fill cells with distilled water. Studs, nuts and washers should be copper — not aluminum or steel. After charging the batteries, check the lights, radio, GPS and other electronic gear that is onboard to make sure all are in good working order. Also inspect the fuse box and make certain extra fuses are on board.

(3) Fire extinguisher. Make sure it is charged and securely stowed in a visible place onboard. Inspect distress signal flares for expiration date.

(4) Bottom paint. If you trailer your boat and never leave it in a slip for long periods of time, you may not require bottom paint unless the boat is operated in salt water. If the paint is beginning to chip away, the time has come to go to work.

(5) Thru-hulls and drain plugs need to be inspected. During storage they should have been left open so now is the time to make sure they can be closed prior to launch.

(6) Engine. This is the time to take the outboard to a reputable shop for service. Inspect fuel hoses and lines. If gas additive was not added to the fuel tank, drain and replace with fresh gas. The zinc fitting on I/O's and outboards should be checked and, if worn, replaced. With a dry rag, inspect fuel connections for snugness. If they aren't secure, your nose will tell you if the rag doesn't. Cooling system hoses should be checked for stiffness and rot. They should be double clamped.

(7) Prop. Inspect the blades for dings and pitting and any other surface disturbance that can cause excessive vibration. Inspect cotter pins. Grip the prop and try to turn the shaft. If it is loose, you are in the market for new cutlass bearings.

(8) Bilge. Inspect the bilge blower hose for leaks.

(9) Steering. Check the power steering and power trim oil levels.

(10) Cables. Control cable outer jacket should have no cracks or swelling. If it does, the cable is corroded and needs replacement

Tow Vehicle

"If you tow heavy loads, then upgrade the service intervals for your truck. It will be worth the extra expense." - Peter O'Toole
Peter O'Toole is a BoatUS Member who sells trucks at General GMC in West Palm Beach, Florida.

NOTE: These are points that will be followed by professionals when performing service on your vehicle. It isn't my intention to suggest anyone can do this in their backyard.

(1) Check the wiring harness on the tow vehicle.

(2) Check all the lights.

(3) Inspect hitch brackets and bolts for corrosion. Use Grade 8 bolts only. You won't find them at the local hardware store. If you launch in salt water, plan on replacing the hitch every three years. If you launch in freshwater some hitches will last the lifetime of the truck. But be sure to inspect them every year.

(4) Check the receiver and slider. Separate, clean and lubricate with good quality grease (axle grease works fine). Remember, salt water can make these two pieces inseparable if this isn't done once a year.

(5) Pull the rear wheels and check brakes and seals.

(6) Activate the parking brake and lubricate. Crawl underneath and spray the brake line with water repellant lubricant and engage the brake a few times.

(7) Service the rear end and transmission. If you aren't due to have this done for a couple thousand miles but intend to begin towing again, go to the shop now.

(8) Inspect engine as needed.

(9) Four wheel drive only: check the CV joints and transfer case.

(10) Four wheel drive only: check the four wheel drive shift mechanism. This is what activates and switches between two and four wheel drive. This is a common problem of people who don't have regular service performed on their tow vehicle. You don't want to attempt pulling a loaded trailer up the ramp and not be able to engage four wheel drive when you need it.