Boater Alerts And Warnings

From BoatUS Marine Insurance

Trailer Failure

At first glance, there doesn't seem to be many complications to a boat trailer. At least compared to the boat, there isn't. But its apparent simplicity is deceiving: If one part breaks, the whole thing can stop, leaving a predicament.

Badly rusted boat trailer axlePhoto: BoatUS Marine Insurance

This boat is sitting on a nice galvanized trailer frame, and a quick glance wouldn't reveal much. But a simple hands-and-knees inspection would've shown that the axle was badly rusted; it later cracked when the boat was towed to the lake. A cracked axle means a planned day of fun on the water isn't going to happen, and there's going to be a long tow home.

Give your trailer a once-over every time you hook it up, especially if it gets dunked in saltwater. Pay close attention to axles, tires, wheels, and lights. Hose it off with freshwater after the seawater dunking. Be thorough, including getting the freshwater within the frame as well as on the outside and also around the springs, brakes, brake tubing, on the wheel hubs, and on both sides of the wheel rims.

Stainless Steel Does Corrode

Look around on most any boat, and you'll likely see stainless steel somewhere, for good reason. For the most part, stainless steel deserves its "stainless" non-rusting name. But it has a dark side. If it's used in a wet, oxygen-starved place, it will begin corroding like any other non-stainless steel.

Oxygen starvation corrosionPhoto: James Coté

Typical places where there's not enough oxygen circulating are in damp wood and decks, inside cutless bearings that haven't been used in a long time, and around hidden places that frequently get splashed with seawater. This sturdy bolt was reduced to less than half its size because of oxygen starvation.

In places that may not have enough oxygen for stainless steel, bronze is often a good substitute.

Travel Lift Fail

If you have boat that's too big for a trailer, you've probably had it hauled out with a travel lift. These ubiquitous straddle cranes make short work of hauling boats for maintenance or storage. As tough as they look, though, they're not without dangers, as this picture of failed straps shows.

Failed trailer strapPhoto: BoatUS Marine Insurance

Stay well clear of lifts when they're carrying a load, even if it's your precious cargo. The straps require regular inspections and replacement. But if a marina puts if off, the straps can fail, which would be a disaster for your boat, and anyone nearby.

When this strap broke, a 30,000-pound 42-foot boat fell onto a concrete slab. The boat sustained major damage, but no one was injured. A few years ago, though, a marine surveyor was seriously injured when a strap failed while he was surveying a boat suspended in a travel lift.

Boat-Lift Lesson

Question: What's the built-in safety factor for a boat's lift's rated capacity? Answer: Don't count on a safety factor. A 1,000-pound lift should be used to lift no more than 1,000 pounds.

Boat lift failurePhoto: BoatUS Marine Insurance

One mistake owners make is to save money by selecting a lift that's barely adequate for their boat. Boats tend to become heavier as they age and as more equipment is added. If the scuppers become clogged with leaves during a rainstorm, a lot more weight can be added quickly.

Make sure your lift can handle the weight of your boat, full fuel and water tanks, and any future extras. Also, make sure that its attachment points are strong enough. If your boat is already on a lift, double-check the capacity, and keep it within its limits. 

— Published: June/July 2017

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