When Something Goes Wrong

You are driving down the highway with the boat in tow and thinking about the next few hours (or days or weeks) and what you'll be doing. It's the stuff of dreams. Then you hear that sound. The dreams stop. Flat tires and seized bearings can do that.

Photo of a BoatUS Member being helped by TRAILER ASSIST

Of the many benefits enjoyed by BoatUS Members, TRAILER ASSIST® is a service without equal. This 24-hour-a day-7-days-a-week benefit provides on the road assistance to members who find themselves pulled off along the side of the road when something goes wrong. And as we know all too well, Murphy's Law applies to boat trailers-if something can go wrong, it will.


More than 100 calls a month were made by Members who were face to face with Murphy during a recent year. Almost half (43%) of the calls for assistance were for flat tires. "Since we began the Trailer Assist and Tow service for BoatUS Members, says BoatUS Vice President of Towing services Jerry Cardarelli, "flat tires have always been the #1 reason for a request to be assisted on the road. You can take good care of your tires but you can't always take good care of the road surfaces those tires will be traveling over."

Story #1
A BoatUS Member called the Dispatch Center in November of last year saying he had a flat tire on his trailer near Manchester, New Hampshire. A nearby BoatUS service provider (Sullivan Tire Company) brought a new tire to the stranded Member and, within an hour of the call being made, he was back on the road. The Member mentioned to the Dispatch center that he wouldn't have had to make the call if he had carried a spare tire on the trailer.

Conclusion #1
If you have the ability to change an automobile tire, obviously you can change a boat trailer tire. Unfortunately, many boat trailer manufacturers don't include a spare tire and carrier as standard on all models (it usually attaches to the winch post or lies flat on the trailer frame in front of the wheels) so recreational boaters have to make the effort to buy a mounting bracket as well as the appropriate spare tire.

When changing a tire, tandem axle trailers can be driven up on a curb (if it's safe and there's no traffic) so that the flat tire is off the pavement. Be sure to chock the tires so the trailer and tow vehicle doesn't roll during the procedure.


The second most-common call to the BoatUS Dispatch center is for bearing problems (20% of all calls made in 2003 were the result of bad bearings). The procedure takes 30-45 minutes per axle when a professional is doing the job. Many boat trailer dealers offer an annual maintenance package which includes an inspection of wheel bearings. "I am always asked, how often should the bearings on the trailer be changed" says Cardarelli, "and the answer I always give them is 'well, how often do you use the trailer?' Now if the trailer is only used one time every year, the bearings are going to require replacement just as much as a trailer that is used every day. Bearings go bad because of lack of use as much as they go bad because of a lot of use. Some people check them every 1,000 miles. Others check them every 5,000 miles. I think the answer is change the bearing grease or at least inspect the bearings at the same time you change the oil in your tow vehicle."

Story #2
In October of 2003, a BoatUS. Member was stopped along a highway in Venice, Florida. He called the dispatch center to say his boat trailer had a bearing problem. On-Site Truck Repair was called by the dispatch center and the bearings were replaced on the trailer. Annual preventative maintenance could have prohibited this problem from occurring when it did.

Conclusion #2
Remember the saying "the squeaky wheel gets the grease."? Well, chances are good that squeaky wheel had bad bearings. BoatUS Service provider Dustin Hoover who owns Legendary Trailer repairs in Annapolis, Maryland says 'the trailer is always behind the toe vehicle, so people don't think about it. But when bearings go bad, you will know right away there's something behind you that is in need of service." Bad bearings will provide warning signs however. Usually, there will be grease on the inside of the tire or on the bottom of the boat, the hub will feel warmer than usual when checked at a rest stop or the hint will be more than obvious: the axle will smoke when on the road or the tire will make noise when it turns. If you haven't the ability or the knowledge or the interest to make a bearing inspection, take the time and take your trailer to a professional who does.

Tow Vehicle

The third most-common problem that is phoned into the Dispatch Center doesn't involve the trailer at all, but the vehicle that is towing the trailer. 15% of all calls are based on running out of fuel, being locked out of the vehicle, a flat tire or the need for a jump start. The important key to using this benefit however is that the tow vehicle must be pulling the trailer at the time of the mishap.

Story #3
A BoatUS Member had been driving all day en route from Arkansas to Michigan and stopped at an interstate fast food place for a quick dinner. When he came out after his meal, the member felt for his keys in his jacket and had that all-too familiar feeling with which we're all familiar. And then he looked in the window and saw the keys in the ignition. He called the BoatUS Dispatch Center and a locksmith was on the scene less than 30 minutes later. The Member arrived in Michigan later that evening with his boat in tow. And when he reached his destination, he took his keys with him.

Conclusion #3
Security experts always advise against finding a "secret" hiding place on your tow vehicle for a key. They use the logic that if you can find it, anyone with a motivation to steal your vehicle can find it. Always carry a spare in your purse or wallet.

The other most common claims for TRAILER ASSIST®:

  • Axles 8%
  • Suspension 5%
  • Wheels/rims 5%
  • Stuck on the ramp 4%

Your motor club may know how to handle your truck, but your boat may be left stranded if you don't have a specialist. The TRAILER ASSIST® Benefit is in use every day by BoatUS Members. Murphy may have a law but the rest of us have BoatUS. 

This article was published in the February 2004 issue of Trailering Magazine.


  • On-the-road assistance for your trailer and vehicle
  • Only $38 Annually! ($24 Membership + $14 TRAILER ASSIST)