Going On The Road

Check these 9 things before heading to the ramp.

Trailer Checklist drawing

1. Between The Trailer Tongue And The Tow Vehicle

  • Make sure the hitch ball is matched with the coupler size. Note: They are usually 1", 1 7/8", 2", or 2 5/16".
  • Secure the coupler to the hitch with a locking hitch pin and key.
  • Check the brake fluid level in the actuator.
  • Inspect the seal to ensure the fluid can’t spill while underway.
  • Cross the safety chains or safety cables. Shackles are preferred to the standard "S" hook.
  • Attach an emergency stop-cable, also called a breakaway cable.
  • Attach a trailer light cable to the tow vehicle.
  • Inspect the lights with someone else to ensure trailer lights, brake lights, and turn signals operate as needed.

2. Tires

  • Inspect the tread. A general rule is to place a penny in the tread with Lincoln's head pointed down. If you can see the top of Lincoln's head, the tread is worn.
  • Inspect the sidewalls for spider cracks — an indication of dry rot.
  • Is the tire designed for a boat trailer? If it is, you'll see the letters "ST" (special trailer) or "For trailer use only" on the sidewall. Don't use tires designed for cars; they have weaker sidewalls.
  • Check the air pressure (psi) of your tire before you leave, when the tire is cold. Remember, a trailer tire generally requires higher psi than a tow vehicle tire.

3. Bearings

From time to time, jack the trailer wheel up so that it can spin. If you hear any noise, that's the first indication of bearings gone — or going — bad. Kneeling in front of the jacked-up tire, grab hold with one hand on either side and shake it (not so hard that you knock the trailer off the jack). If the tire can move, that's an indication that the bearings need replacing. Another way to check is putting your hand on the hubs after being on the road for about 20 minutes. If hot to the touch, that's another symptom of a bearing losing grease (hence the heat). Finally, inspect the inside of the trailer fenders for grease. If it's present, the rear seal is leaking and throwing grease. If the bearing grease appears white, this is proof that water is getting into the bearing assembly. While looking at the hub, inspect that the lug nuts are properly tightened. Better yet, put a torque wrench on them to check for the proper foot-pound measurement.

4. Outboard And Outdrive

The engine should be raised when trailering. This is done so the propeller/skeg doesn't hit the pavement when going over bumps. If you have a transom saver for an outboard, now's the time to make sure it's in place.

5. Drain Plug

There are too many stories for the Off Ramp section of BoatUS Trailering about someone forgetting to put the drain plug in when launching at the boat ramp. Where is it? Better yet, where's the second one should you lose the first one? If you're driving through a rainstorm, it's always best to remove it so the water can drain out while underway. Otherwise, put the plug in so you know the drain plug is ready to go to work.

6. Bimini

Fold the Bimini so it isn't catching the wind when underway. A majority of Biminis and Bimini frames have to be replaced, not because of age, but because they were up while driving on an interstate.

7. Tie-Downs

Inspect the boat's bow eye attachment to the trailer winch and make sure you also have a safety chain. Make sure the transom straps are secure. Gunwale tie-downs are recommended for extra security. If you use them, inspect that the straps aren't rubbing where they cross the top of the hull.

8. Legal

If your boat is wider than 8'6", you'll need a wide load permit if traveling through many states. In the event you are in an accident in a state that requires a permit, your insurance company can refuse to pay the claim if you don't have the required paperwork. BoatUS members get a discount on wide-load permits though Mercury Permits at www.Mercurypermits.net/BoatUS.

9. BoatUS Card?

Carry your BoatUS membership card in the event you need to call TRAILER ASSIST or TowBoatUS, or want to get a discount on fuel at a BoatUS Cooperating Marina. 

This article was published in the Spring 2012 issue of Trailering Magazine.

Did You Know?

The major cause of calls to BoatUS TRAILER ASSIST is tire trouble. Improper inflation results in a blowout. Carry a spare.



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