Have you ever spotted a broken-down boater on the side of the road and thought, “there but for the grace of God go I”? A planned day of recreation has turned into a nightmare because of a flat tire, a blown bearing or some other catastrophe. Often the issue is compounded because you end up venting your frustrations on family members who also had been looking ahead to a fun day on the water.
While you can’t prevent every issue between the driveway and the boat ramp, you can certainly head off big problems with routine maintenance.
“Sometimes it seems that people only care about their boat and not their trailer. Boaters love to take care of their boats but often neglect their trailers,” said Maggie Nielsen, one of the owners of Charleston Trailer (charlestontrailer.com, 843-801-2507) in North Charleston.
Tommy Stone, owner of The Trailer Shop in Mount Pleasant (stonetrailershop.com, 843-971-7606), said many customers wait until they are preparing for a long trip, such as heading to the Florida Keys, before coming in for service.
“People that don’t travel and don’t take vacations with their boats, they’re the ones that usually wait until something breaks and I have to address it,” Stone said.
The place to begin inspecting your trailer for issues is with your wheels and hubs. Stone said if a customer brings in a trailer for general maintenance, he jacks up each side of the boat so the wheel can spin freely.
“If you hear roaring or have resistance, then that hub needs to be changed. I probably do more hub jobs than anything. That’s a relatively inexpensive thing,” Stone said.
Nielsen said boaters should check their hubs when they arrive at the ramp, and if the hubs are extremely hot it’s a sure sign that you need to add grease to the hubs or, worse, that the seals have gone bad, allowing water to penetrate the hubs.
“Hubs should be removed once a year, cleaned, seals replaced and bearings repacked with grease,” Nielsen said.
Many of the newer trailers have torsion bar suspensions which generally last 8 to 10 years. Older-style trailers were often equipped with leaf springs which only last 4 years or so.
Trailer tires also need to be inspected. Stone said the biggest issue with trailer tires isn’t having the tread wear out but dry-rotting on the sidewalls.
“What’s critical with tires is air pressure,” Stone said.
Nielsen said during the offseason owners should tow their boat around the block a few times to prevent flat-spotting the tires.
If your trailer is equipped with a brake system, make sure there’s enough fluid to ensure that it works properly.
You also should inspect the bunks and the hardware that is used to attach them to the trailer frame. Many newer trailers have aluminum frames, but galvanized hardware may be used to attach the bunks. The two dissimilar metals rubbing together can create corrosion that will wear through the frame. Those types of repairs can get expensive.
Another common issue for boat owners is faulty trailer lights. Sometimes it’s easier to replace the entire system instead of trying to trace a short. But make sure your lights are working properly.
On the other end of the trailer, inspect your winch, safety chains and coupler. Spray a lubricant and work the latch system a few times to make sure the coupler is working properly.
Finally, when you get home from a day on the water, give the trailer a good cleaning as well as your boat. Nielsen recommends using products like Salt-Off or Salt Away. But soap and water also works well to get most of the salt off your trailer.
So with boating season soon to be in full force, show your trailer some love. Make sure you’re not the person that’s stranded on the side of the road on the perfect boating weekend.