Take Care Of Your TrailerPublished: Fall 2013
And it will take care of your boat.
If you mount an additional Class 3 hitch on the front of your two-wheel-drive tow vehicle, you can maneuver your boat trailer in tight places more easily when there's poor traction. Sometimes the grade or surface of the ramp is a challenge, especially if it's wet or oil-soaked. With a front hitch, your rear-drive wheels will be on dry surfaces. I have posi-traction on our ‘96 dodge with our 9,000-pound rig and never get stuck or spin tires. Many folks ask about our twin hitches. I reply, “We have two boats.”
Ask your hitch installer to avoid winding the wire for your lights around your fuel line under your car to reach the battery. It's impossible to get this undone later when you need to inspect or fix anything.
Long trailers take a narrower radius through turns than tow vehicles. If you forget this, you'll run over curbs. Swing out wide through turns to ensure your trailer and boat get safely around the corner.
Protect The Winch
A cheap, small barbecue grill cover makes a good cover for the winch on most trailers. Use a bungee or Velcro strap to tie the bottom closed. This keeps rain from repeatedly causing oxidation or the sun from rotting the strap.
If a transom saver doesn't fit your rig (often a problem with power catamarans), keep the motor elevated by tilting it up, inserting a pine (or other soft wood) two-by-four between the motor mount and the motor, then tilting the motor back down until it rests on the wood. Secure to prevent it falling out.
Never use a bungee or stretchable line (such as polypropylene) for boat tie-downs. The boat will get loose and bounce off the trailer. Avoid overstretching bungees when tying down gear. Never stretch as far as it can go; that's the breaking point.
Trailers get twisted, bounced, and banged around, so naturally bolts may become loose. Once a year, I go around the trailer, when it's empty, and tighten every bolt nut on the framing and support brackets. I always find a dozen or so that require a few turns of the wrench.
Get an extra long one. It's a lot easier to back up, and gives plenty of room for the spare tire. Later, you can get a bigger boat and still keep the trailer. Trailer-tongue extensions are also sold as add-ons. Check to see that tongue load is OK.
I use a chain (with a keeper magnet for when not in use) to know how high the coupler should be for attaching to the ball.
When we're towing our boat, I like to stop after the first few miles, pull over on the side of the road where space permits, and do a safety recheck — to make sure everything is still fastened and connected properly or that we didn't forget any walk-around details on the initial go-around. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Block It Up
When your trailer sits idle for long periods, block the trailer off the ground. This will take the load off the tires and allow you to periodically spin the wheels to be certain grease is evenly distributed. This is especially important with oil-bath hubs.
If you have to leave a trailer on the side of the road during a sunny, hot summer day, place a board under the jackstand. When the temperature is in the upper 90s or above, asphalt turns soft. The jackstand may sink into the asphalt.
Before we head out onto the highway to adventure, we perform a walk-around of our trailered boat. We look to make sure straps are secure; antenna is placed down; windows and hatches are closed; drain plug is removed; and the hitch is secure. We also do a trailer-light test where one of us stands at the rear of the rig (within view of the driver) and verifies with hand signals that the trailer brake, running, and turn signals all function properly.
Make long hauls with an empty boat fuel tank, and fill up near the ramp. This significantly reduces your load; a boat with a 100-gallon fuel tank, for example, will have an additional 600 pounds of towing weight when filled.
Practice backing up your trailer in an empty parking lot to build confidence. Use lined spaces or traffic cones to simulate backing down a boat ramp.
Every smart trailer boater carries a roadside emergency kit. Make sure yours has all the necessities — spare bearings, tools, a grease gun, light bulbs, and light plugs.
Make sure your trailer is rated about 10-15 percent OVER the total boat weight, including engines. Don't be cheap; be safe. A broken axle is serious, possibly deadly. My boat is listed at 7,600 pounds. I took her to the truck highway weigh station — surprise! — she was 11,200 pounds including trailer and full fuel tanks, NOT including ice and gear. The trailer I bought had a capacity of 9,600 pounds, three axles, and I didn't skimp on tires. Estimate another 500 to 700 pounds for all your gear, ice chests, and so on. Splurge on tow capacity.
The less a boat moves on a trailer, the better. Less stress on the trailer equals safer travel. A taut safety strap mounted from a boat's bow straight down to the trailer keeps the bow in check, while side-to-side stern straps do the same for the transom.