I'm willing to bet the farm that if the average bass angler paid half the attention to his boat trailer that he pays to his boat and tow vehicle, there would be a great deal fewer annoyed anglers on the face of the earth! Though there is a degree of understanding here. The boat trailer, not exactly the most glamorous piece of angling equipment, is playing second fiddle to a nice new shiny SUV or pick up and a souped-up bass rig. Though, as I said, not glamorous, it is undoubtedly a crucial part of the modern bass rig and a piece of equipment whose working condition can and does directly affect the outcome of a trip.
A malfunctioning trailer can spell disaster for even the most veteran and most prepared angler. A subject usually ignored, in this article, I hope to give a crash course in safe trailer habits and offer a few tips to make a usually dreaded task a little bit easier.
Most trailer malfunctions and accidents can be directly traced back to a failure to dedicate some time to the most basic preventative maintenance. Wheel bearings, suspension parts, lights, and a host of other components require constant attention if you plan to make any trailering trip a smooth and hassle-free one. Also, special attention to your tow vehicle's hitch is a good idea, as that is the only link between you and your trailer. For the sake of ease of reading, I'll divide this up into smaller sections, each full of tips on how to make life as a trailering boater just a bit easier.
Wheels & Suspension
As your trailers only link to the road, your tires, wheels, and suspension should be in optimum working condition. Before each trip, a quick check of tire pressure, including the spare, can save a massive headache down the road. The same applies to wheel lug nuts. A quick trip around with a wrench before a trip can prevent instant disaster later on down the road.
A visual inspection of the leaf spring system, standard on nearly all trailers, will usually tell you if the undercarriage is up to the job of hauling your boat. Rust, pitting, or cracking is usually a sure-fire sign to immediately replace those parts. The best wheels and tires in the world will do no good if the suspension isn't up to hauling all that weight.
Heavier rigs will usually come with trailers that feature brakes. Trust me when I say they are more than a gadget that got thrown in on an options package. They are there for a reason, and a good one at that. Don't assume your tow vehicle's brakes will take up the load if the trailer brakes are not working correctly.
As with heavy boats, that may not be the case. Again, a simple visual inspection and a test in the driveway will tell you if they are working correctly. If by some chance you are forced on the road faulty trailer brakes, be sure to allow ample stopping distance, more so than usual, to accommodate, and have them fixed as soon as possible.
I think I speak for all those who have trailered boats before when I say that malfunctioning trailer lights are the leading cause of unwanted donations to the state citation fund. Brake lights, directional, and on some trailers, backup lights should all be thoroughly checked before leaving in the morning. On most late model boats, lights can easily be replaced as a module rather than an individual bulb. Which though expensive, is far more convenient. It's usually a good idea to be sure you have a supply of replacement lights on hand should a fixture go dead during a trip. Trust me when I say that most state authorities can't seem to get enough of giving out trailer citations.
Transom Savers, Winch Straps, and Transom Tie Downs
These three elements, aside from gravity, are what keep your boat and your trailer one happy functioning unit. Though the winch strap goes without saying, many anglers seem to ignore the transom tie-downs and forget the transom saver even more.
First of all, the winch strap will do the critical job of keeping the front end of the boat down and in the bow rest of the trailer and provide a means of quickly pulling the boat up onto the trailer. Two excellent reasons to make sure this is in good working order at all times. Now and again, fully extend the winch strap and check for fraying or any sign of damage.
The transom saver is aptly named because it will lead to precisely that. Especially with the growing size of outboards, a boat being trailered without one is asking for severe damage. The transom saver will prevent unwanted outboard play during travel and prevent the fiberglass transom from taking unnecessary shock, which can eventually lead to severe fiberglass structural damage. For larger outboards, the transom saver should be applied. Then the motor should be electronically trimmed down to provide a snug but not forceful fit. Also, before you do this, be sure the motor is centered on preventing any damage.
Finally, transom tie-downs, a safety must with today's larger, high-performance bass rigs, will keep the rear of the boat snug in its bunks and prevent unwanted slippage of the hull on the usually slick carpeted bunk rails.
I offer wheel bearings their section, as they are that important. Many trailer malfunctions to the modern bass angler can be directly traced back to the wheel bearings. These tiny devices keep trailer wheels turning smoothly and happily when greased and maintained correctly. From first-hand experience, I know what can happen if the bearings are not constantly maintained and cared for religiously.
Incidentally, correctly maintained bearings will not only make life on your trailer more straightforward but will make a life for your tow vehicle a bit easier as well. There will be far less friction and tension on the trailer wheels, making for an easier tow.
I know of a product named Bearing Buddy that can make this unexciting maintenance a quick and easy task. It has several features, such as whether or not grease needs to be added and automatic pressure control to prevent overfilling damaging the hub seal. It also comes with a neat feature, called the Trailer Buddy Bra, which keeps the bearings clean and stops grease from escaping the bearings and being thrown onto wheels, fenders, and other areas where grease isn't welcome. I have a friend who tows a 26-foot Aquasport on a single axle trailer and has yet to have problems with his bearings since installing this product.
Of course, the moral of this story is to take a few preventative maintenance steps to avoid the smell of burning bearing parts when you exit your vehicle to launch in the morning.
Bunks & Rollers
I'm pretty sure, as of now, nearly every bass boat trailer comes with the bunk system rather than the older form of roller trailer, such as those found on larger, saltwater craft. Though a simple concept, a simple visual inspection of the trailer bunk now and again will prevent expensive fiberglass scratching and gashing.
Make sure there are no breaks in the carpet or padding and make sure all corners are solidly carpeted and not exposed, as the corners seem to wear faster than the flattened, boat holding surface. An easy way to save cash is to replace only the carpeting, instead of the entire bunk, when the time comes. Bunk carpeting is sold in many marine and fishing catalogs, and re-wrapping bunks are relatively straightforward.
Should your trailer have rollers, the same applies, as a visual inspection of each roller will prevent expensive and unwanted fiberglass hull damage. Also, a unique point about rollers is that, much like the wheels, the rollers must be greased now and then to ensure smooth movement.
For lack of a more clever title, this section is precisely that, miscellaneous. Tips and tricks that I have picked up that will make life as a trailer boater just a little bit easier. I think I speak for the masses when I say while trailering isn't fun, it's a necessary evil and comes with the territory of the modern bass angler. Here, I will list trailer tips and tips that can make maneuvering and drive with a trailer just a little less aggravating.
- Steep slope retrieval in some cases, especially on smaller lakes, you will unavoidably encounter a small steep launch ramp that can make taking out a boat a nightmare. A great tip that I picked up from a friend of mine will significantly eliminate unnecessary hard work. When you need a bit of extra lift on the front of the boat to pull it up on the trailer, put the winch strap over the bow bumper rather than under it. This will pull the front of the boat up a little as it is winched up on the trailer. Of course, it should be immediately reversed as soon as the boat is securely on the trailer, placing the winch strap back under the bow stop and snuggling it down when preparing to travel.
- Making backing up simple. When I speak to trailering boaters, ninety percent of them mention their least favorite part of trailering comes at the very end, where they must back up a truck and trailer at the launch ramp or into their driveway. I, too, am not fond of this task, though, upon advice from a friend. I started using a new technique that takes some of the disorientation out of this task. It is simple because it just involves changing the position of your hands on your tow vehicle's steering wheel. Place your hands on the bottom of the wheel rather than on top. Now, the direction you turn the wheel will be the direction that your trailer will turn, which eliminates the sometimes nerve-racking task of remembering "reverse steering" as you inch down the ramp. I have tried it, and though it sounds unorthodox, it is certainly worth trying.
- Rock On! With the greater and greater use of high ground clearance sport utility vehicles and pick-up trucks, there comes a need to protect your trailered boat from flying road debris kicked up and not stopped by the vehicle's stock mud flaps. As the driver of a full-size Dodge conversion van, I don't have this problem, as the rear end of a van is usually low enough to prevent most debris from making it to the boat. But pickups and large SUV owners will undoubtedly have this problem to contend with. Trust me when I say the damage from flying road stones can make it look like you took your rig for a spin through the middle of a machine-gun battle. A great way to combat this is to invest in a rock guard accessory. The best is usually a long solid piece of rubber that mounts to or around the truck's hitch receiver and stops 100% of all flying road debris. I know of a product called "Rock Solid" that encompasses this design, and I have seen it used with a Suburban and can say that it does its job. Contrary to popular belief, it does not spoil the truck's look as giant wheel well-mounted mud flaps would. Another product that can prevent road damage is a bra that fits over a boat's front end and acts exactly like a car or truck front-end bra would, absorbing all road debris. Though very effective, I feel the former of these two products is a better bet for boat protection.
- Bungee cords...they aren't just for jumpin' anymore! A great way to secure loose chains and tie-down straps is with the venerable Bungee cord. This will prevent the irritating chain on the trailer from knocking as you trail your boat. Also, it will prevent the safety chains or winch backup chains from striking anything and causing unsightly damage to your boat. Though a relatively simple concept in and of itself, this little tip can save a lot of "mystery scratches" from appearing on your boat as a result of flying back up chains and safety cables.
Now granted, again, this certainly isn't the most exciting issue today, filling the minds of most bass fishermen, but in the long run, I guarantee you'll be glad you took the extra steps to ensure a safe road trip. Besides, having a functioning trailer means more time on the water, and I think we all know how scarce that can get!
Catch you' on the water...