Boat Trailer Safety and Maintenance

It is important to check your boat trailer regularly to ensure the safe transportation of your boat.

  • Check brake system for proper operation
  • Check coupler mechanism for proper operation
  • Check safety chains and connection points for damage
  • Check winch and winch strap for proper operation and weather damage
  • Check emergency retention chain/cablefor proper operation and damage
  • Check all lug nuts, U-bolts, brake calipers, tiedown eyes, fasteners, etc. for tightness
  • Check lights, connector, and wiring harness for proper operation
  • Check all tires and spare for proper inflation pressure, low/uneven tread, sidewall cracks,
  • Check wheel bearings for proper grease level, binding, excessive noise               
  • Check suspension for damage
  • Check rim condition for cracks or damage           
  • Check boat support bunks and roller alignment               

TIPS FOR SAFE TRAILER

  • Safety chains or cables need to be crisscrossed between the trailer and the tow vehicle, not simply attached. When this is done, if the trailer disconnects while you’re driving, the tongue falls into the crossed chains instead of dropping to the pavement and causing an accident.
  • Make sure the coupler is secured with a pin and locked onto the hitch ball. Take a second to determine that the receiver is locked into the tow vehicle.
  • Check the brake-fluid level in the actuator, if present. At the same time, take a look below the actuator for any signs that brake fluid has spilled or leaked. Whenyou do a walkaround of the trailer, look for any brake fluid that has leaked from the brake lines. Attach the emergency actuator cable to the vehicle.
  • Make sure that the trailer is level with the tow vehicle.  The trailer should not dip forward or aft.  All wheels/axles should have equal weight distribution.
  • Check the inflation on trailer tires when they’re cold. Don’t forget the spare tire. The recommended psi is on the sidewall of each tire as well as on the trailer’s Vehicle Identification Number plate.
  • Raise the outboard or the I/O and lock it up. If you have a transom saver or bracket lock, attach/engage it.
  • Inspect the trailer lights by having a helper turn on the tow vehicle’s lights and trigger the turn signals and brake lights while you stand behind the trailer and eyeball that everything works.
  • Check that tie-downs and transom straps are secure. Hook the winch strap to the bow eye; also hook a safety chain from the trailer frame to the bow eye.
  • If a seal is starting to fail, bearings may throw grease/oil under the fender or along the trailer frame. Inspect wheel-bearing for dryness. Add grease if it’s needed.
  • Search the boat for items that might blow away during the drive to the ramp. Life jackets, clothing, flotation cushions are the usual suspects that often end up along the roadside. Put them in the tow vehicle or secure them before leaving.

CHECK YOUR TOW VEHICLE

  • Be sure your tow vehicle can handle the combined weight of the boat, trailer, vehicle, and gear — referred to as the vehicle’s gross combined weight rating, or GCWR.
  • Check the tire pressure and condition.
  • Make sure your tow vehicle maintenance is up to date.  Check oil, transmission and coolant condition and level.  Check your brakes system for proper operation and wear level.
  • The trailer hitch must be within the limits of the tow. Make sure the hitch is the proper class rating.
  • Ensure that the tongue weight on the hitch is 5 to 10 percent of the total load. Too little weight will make the trailer prone to fishtailing, one of the main reasons for serious towing accidents. (Fishtailing can also be caused by underinflated tires or because the trailer and boat are too heavy for the vehicle.) Conversely, too much weight on the hitch will make it difficult to steer the vehicle.
  • Secure the coupler with a pin or lock so it doesn’t come off of the hitch ball.  A 2-inch ball won’t stay on a 1 7/8-inch coupler for long. Don’t forget to cross and fasten the safety chains to the vehicle’s tow hitch.
  • Insurance – make sure your insurance covers towing.  Exceeding the vehicle weight rating may result in a denied insurance claim.

DRIVING TIPS

Make wider turns at curves and corners. Safe towing requires that the driver take constant care to give a wider berth than usual around corners.

Allow for longer stopping distances. Stopping distances will increase from what your tow vehicle can normally achieve on its own, because of the added weight of the trailer. This means you’ll need to be more attentive to vehicles stopping suddenly ahead of you when towing and begin braking sooner than if you weren’t towing.

Drive in the right lane on highways. This is the law on most state and federal highways. Driving in the right lane also allows you to use the extra stopping room of the right shoulder in case you need to brake suddenly.  Driving in the right lane will also make it easier to get over to the shoulder in the case of a tire blowout.

Adjust trailer brakes according to load. Many trailers have electric brakes, and the power level can be adjusted by the driver if the truck is fitted with an optional in-vehicle trailer brake controller system. “It’s important to adjust how heavily the trailer’s brakes are applied,” says CR’s Ibbotson. “For example, you’ll want the trailer’s brakes set to use a lot of force when towing a heavy boat. But when the boat isn’t on the trailer, the trailer’s brakes need to be readjusted for that lighter weight, so the trailer’s tires aren’t locking up and skidding.”

Don’t ride your truck’s brakes on long downhills. Shift the truck’s transmission to a lower gear to help slow the vehicle and take some strain off of the brakes. Many of today’s pickup trucks have a tow/haul mode that, when the driver engages the system, will automatically downshift the transmission when it senses the truck is on a long downhill. Applying the brakes at intervals to keep the speed in check (as opposed to constant application on the brake pedal) will help keep the brakes from overheating.

Use a spotter when backing up. Have someone outside at the rear of the trailer while backing up whenever possible; mirrors—even wide tow mirrors—typically can’t provide all the visibility you may need, particularly in situations where there are other vehicles, objects, or people in close proximity.

Practice driving with a trailer. “Before hitting the road, it’s a good idea to practice accelerating, backing up, braking, making wide turns, and using your sideview mirrors,” says AAA’s Bennett. This is especially important if you are brand-new to the art of towing a trailer behind your vehicle.

Disconnect wiring before launching a boat. Disconnect the trailer’s wiring from the tow vehicle before backing the trailer into the water at a boat launch. This will avoid any electrical problems that might arise from submerging the trailer’s lights in the water.

Check your route ahead of time. “Some roads don’t allow trailers on them, and certain roads also have weight, height, and width limits,” says Mel Yu, CR’s automotive analyst. Planning your route ahead of time will save you from the hassle of having to backtrack to find roads that allow your rig.