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Trailer Maintenance

Don’t let a bum trailer keep you and your boat off the water, we have seen plenty of boat trailer tongues bent like rubber under a hot sun. We have witnessed broken axles resting on launch ramps, and the inevitable flat tires that dampen the celebratory mood at the start of each boating season.

“It’s all about maintenance”.

Each year we maintain or repair many boat trailers. Trailers are things most people usually don’t think about until it is time to use them. A lot of times the trailer sits around, out of sight and forgotten about.

You can help prevent trailer hassles by following these tips.

First of all, if the trailer wheels won’t rotate, don’t force them. If you move the trailer and the wheels grind, it means the bearings are probably bad. Have you ever seen somebody stuck on the side of the highway with a boat trailer? The bearings rust up a bit during less active times and it’s possible to loosen them. Jack up the trailer and manually attempt to spin the wheel. If it won’t budge, pop off the hub with a screwdriver and inspect it. A substance resembling black pepper is often present—a tell-tale that the bearings and cones need grease or replacement. If the grease appears milky, it probably has been compromised by water, so repacking the bearings is essential.

Trailers require waterproof marine bearing grease, which usually comes packaged in a tube. Apply it by hand. You can pack it carefully into the bearings.

When that’s done, take a close look beneath the trailer. Get down on your hands and knees to visually inspect the axle or axles. If the wheels are tilted, it could be a sign of a bent spindle, cracked axle or broken spring.

Inspect the drawbar for rust and wear. Trailers are made to carry specific loads. If the boat has been filled with water or lots of gear for six months, there’s a chance the trailer is weakened. Don’t forget to pull the seacock plug before storing the boat.

Trailer drawbars are known to collapse at the most inopportune moments. Check the tongue jack for wear as well.

Examine the leaf springs. When rusted, these metal bands begin splitting apart and it’s difficult to judge when they might give way. You should leave this inspection or repair to a professional unless you really know what you are doing.

Test the lights. If the connections are corroded, clean or replace them. When backing into the water, leave the connectors undone, which will allow them to dry faster.

Check the winch and especially the rope. Ultraviolet rays tend to break down rope fibres. Trailer winch ropes are seldom given time to dry properly because they are almost always wound onto the winch.

You could get hurt if the rope breaks and the trailer let’s go when you’re standing on the ramp and  imagine what might happen if it let go on the highway.

Injuries can also occur when boat owners lean forward while cranking the trailer winch. Should the lock slip, the weight of the boat could force the winch handle to rapidly spin backward, this scenario can lead to black eyes and busted teeth. The general advice: Don’t put your head too close to the winch handle.

Before moving the boat from the trailer inspect the rollers, worn rollers that are down to the metal can act like pizza cutters on the bottom of your boat. We have seen this and it’s not pretty.

When all these parts are given the OK, don’t drive off until you’ve inflated the tires to their proper pressure. Flat tires are probably the single biggest issue with trailers. When people put a trailer in their back yard, they tarp it and forget it, over time they can deflate.

Don’t forget to examine the tire tread. Bald tyres won’t do you much good on a slippery launch ramp. Check the tread regularly.

If possible, before storing the trailer for a long time, jack up the frame, remove the wheels and let the hubs rest on cement blocks. Lubricate the wheel nuts and bolts with a silicone spray like WD-40 or coat them with Vaseline.

Risking oversimplification, here is a few more suggestions:

  • Wash the trailer every time it has been immersed in saltwater.
  • Make sure the ball hitch is backed up by chains, the hooks crisscrossed to prevent bounce.
  • Use tie-down straps, especially inexpensive ratchet-style webbing to secure the boat.
  • Tarp the boat to shade trailer tires and reduce rotting from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

You should always bring along a trailer emergency kit with spare wheel, wheel nut wrench, grease, extra line, wheel chock and road emergency sign encase of breakdown. As one well known boating mechanic put it, the only certainties are death, taxes and trailer corrosion. By following these maintenance tips, you’ll have better odds of delaying the latter, which means more time on the water, and that’s what it’s all about.

Call the team at North Coast Boating for professional advice.

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