Keeping Your Boat Trailer Ship-Shape

If you own a boat, you likely also own a trailer. It takes a lot of cleaning, winterizing and elbow grease to keep your vessel looking like it’s on its maiden voyage. It’s going to take work to keep your trailer in good working shape.

Let’s face it: a boat is useless without its trailer. It’s critical to enjoying your boat. That said, there are five major points to check and maintain on your boat trailer both before and during the boating season to make sure you can get it into the water safely and easily.

Give your tires some TLC

You don’t want to find out there’s something wrong with your trailer’s tires while you’re driving on them. Check for signs of wear or damage before you head out to avoid some major setbacks – and headaches – down the road.

First, take a look and see if any of the tires are showing signs of uneven wear. If they are, it might be time for a balance, or it’s indicative of a bigger problem. Check for proper inflation too, as it’s not uncommon for them to lose PSI while stationary during the off-season.

If you don’t already know what your trailer’s tires should be inflated to, locate the manufacturer’s suggested PSI on the sidewall of the tire. If they’re not close, give them some extra air.

Take a look at the lug nuts and see if any of them are loose. If they are, tighten them up. United Marine Underwriters gives a detailed explanation of how to check your boat trailer tires and wheels.

If the trailer will be sitting for a while, consider investing in some tire covers to keep them out of the harmful rays of the sun. Cracks on the sidewalls is another sign they may need service.

Lastly, check your spare trailer tire. You wouldn’t set out on a long trip without a spare for the vehicle you’re towing with, right? So make sure you have one for the trailer, too.

Check your tail and brake lights

Though easy to check, tail and brake lights can keep you from a potential accident or ticket. Have someone press the brakes on your tow vehicle to ensure your trailer’s brake lights come on. If they don’t, you might need to do some troubleshooting to see if a bulb is burned out, if the connections are fully made, or if a fuse has blown.

Lastly, check the wiring on your trailer that plugs into your tow vehicle. Make sure the connection looks secure and that the system is working properly.

Beware of rust

Going in and out of the water can be tough on your boat trailer’s frame. At some point, you may notice rust popping up. Once it starts, rust has a tendency to spread, so you’ll want to stop it before it gets worse.

One expert on coatings gives several suggestions to help prevent rust altogether. Water-resistant lanolin and fish oil are two inexpensive and effective options to keep rust away. For more heavy duty coverage, a protective coating like Tectyl might be a better option.

The way you prevent rust will depend on the way you use your trailer. A saltwater boat will require different (and sometimes more) maintenance than a freshwater boat. If you have a saltwater boat, it will need to be rinsed off after each use. Save time after each trip to remove harmful salt.

Caring for your bearings

Bearings will need to be maintained fairly often, and this might be the most important part of your maintenance routine. Generally, grease will need replacing once a year, or more often if you’re traveling long distances. Boat U.S. created a great primer on bearing maintenance that explains the inner workings and why they’re critical to a trailer’s performance.

There are a few options when it comes to maintaining your bearings. If you decide to re-grease them, you’ll need to take out the bearings and clean them: clean out the inside of the hub, add your new, clean grease and then reassemble. Adding more grease to the old grease won’t do in most cases. Cleaning the unit completely will save you from two incompatible greases creating a leaking, oily mess all over the wheels and brakes. Prevent that problem by completely removing the old grease first.

Another option is to get a completely new, pre-greased bearing assembly. This option will save time and make for a  simple replacement with no cleaning or grease-packing required. Either way is effective – it’s up to your budget, time and skills.

Give your brakes a glimpse

Look at the trailer’s brakes at least once a season to see if they need servicing. By checking the internal parts of your brakes, you can prevent a bad situation on the road.

Water is hard on your brakes, causing them to corrode. While you might hear the awful noise of a bad brake pad on your car or feel a difference when you hit the brakes, it might not be as easy to tell when you’re towing a trailer since it’s behind you.

Disc and drum brakes are the most common types on trailers, and they will wear with use just like any other vehicle. Checking rotors and pads on disc brakes, and the shoes, springs, and fasteners on drum brakes is the first line of defense against brake problems on the road.

With a proper maintenance routine, it’s easy to prevent problems while traveling with a boat and trailer. Preventing rust will help the frame stay in good shape for a long time, and prevent weakening. You’ll want to check your bearings and brakes to ensure that the trailer will handle and stop reliably.  Tires that are in good condition and properly inflated are critical to a smooth trip.

Taking the time to service these systems and parts of your trailer will help make your boat trips much smoother. Keeping it in good shape will ensure you get lots of enjoyment out of your boat.