Written by Paul Lewis
Boat Trailer Safety and Care
Trailer maintenance and safety checks should be an ongoing activity, but the end of the season is always a good time point to pay special attention to your trailer.
Summertime! The boats are in full use, there are a plethora of fish to chase all over the Pacific Northwest, and that means many of us are trailering our boats all over the place to watch the rods bend and the nets fly! In the last couple of months, I have put thousands of miles on my trailer chasing fish (mostly salmon) and I know many of you reading this have done the same. With the dream of big fish, it is easy to put off trailer maintenance or not realize how important it is. There is no faster way to ruin a fishing trip than a damaged trailer on the side of the highway. Many anglers have been there, we have all seen it, and there is no worse feeling. Heck, we all feel bad for the person on the side of the road when we see them. This month’s article focuses on three helpful tips on maintaining your trailer for peak performance and safety, and doing what is possible to ensure you get to the fish!
Inspect the Hitch Area
Although this seems simple, checking the hitch itself as well as the ball couplers, wiring, and safety chains is crucial, because this can be a major issue area. Especially for anglers who are in saltwater often, these areas can rust, create wear, and eventually weaken to the point of snapping. When I was checking the wire safety chains on my trailer, I was able to easily snap one off due to rust from water underneath the “watertight” wrapping. Luckily, this was during a check and not on the road! Additionally, the coupling and ball can wear down, making the coupling grip loose, causing slack on the attachment, and, even if it holds, putting wear in other areas of the trailer by bouncing with a slack connection. Keeping the whole area well-greased and oiled helps mitigate rust and wear as well as make for easy use. Before every trip, a 2- minute check can help stave off all these issues. Oiling the couplers often with just a little WD-40 will make the coupler easy to use and will help to protect from wear and damage.
Whether you’re a single axle, double axle, or bigger, the tires are probably the most important part of your everyday trailer use. Nothing sees more wear and use than the tires. Running 4-6 ply tires can help with trailer blowout, and more plies add more protection when trailering and are rated for heavier loads, making them stronger. Making sure the tires are properly inflated to the manufacturer’s rating is also crucial, as low or high pressure can lead to punctures, blowouts due to heat expansion, and, most commonly, uneven wear. Low and high pressure can lead to wear on the inside and outside of the tire, shortening the life as well.
There are many things that can be done to save the life of the tires. Heat and sun are the enemy of tires. Parking the boat in a cool spot that’s not in direct sunlight, covering the tires when the trailer is sitting in the sun for a long time, and make sure the tires avoid direct heat as much as possible are great steps. In addition, make sure there is always good tread by checking with a penny to ensure the depth is safe for travel. When checking tires, make sure you look at the spare as well! The spare sees the most sun, as it is not covered by a fender at all. Putting a cover on the spare is excellent idea to keep the tire useable as long as possible.
The wheel bearings are often the most feared parts of a trailer, since they cause a ton of problems, and usually expensive ones! Bad bearings will cause the trailer to vibrate, cause the wheel to fail, and, at high speeds, can cause the wheel to fly off entirely. Bad bearings can also damage everything around them as well.
The usual way bearings fail is because of poor lubrication, since it causes heat and damage. Other reasons also include loose axles or too tight/ loose nuts. Excessive load on the trailer can hurt bearings as well. To check your bearings, ensure there is no grease/oil leaking. Bearings should be re-packed/ done yearly or semi-yearly depending on use to ensure peak performance. The entire goal of the grease is to reduce friction, cut heat, and make sure there is no explosion! After re-greasing, the grease will make a vacuum seal, preventing moisture/debris from entering the bearing. Packing bearings is not hard with the right tools and grease, but the local boat shop has professionals who can do it for you, ensuring it’s done correctly. Only attempt the bearing if you are confident in doing so, as improperly performing a bearing packing will lead to major issues. Oil-wash/ fluid bearings are great for boat trailers as well, as they keep lubrication surrounding the bearing, with more viscous fluid that penetrates the bearing better and keeps it cool.
There are many steps in a trailer-checklist, including lights, bolts, bunks, tie downs, etc., but these 3 tips will help keep you chasing fish. Going through a fast check before every trip will keep you and your boat as safe as possible while headed to the fishing grounds. If you need a checklist, there are plenty to choose from online which will perfectly fit your trailer. Your trailer needs will also vary depending on use and where you fish. If fishing saltwater, make sure to wash the trailer thoroughly with fresh water or water and a salt-cutter, and do constant checks on the axles and areas water can trap, even if you have a galvanized trailer. More use will require more routine maintenance, but it’s better to check at home than on the side of the interstate! With a safe trailer, you are ready to chase fish around the nation!