Trailer BasicsTrailer Basics Here's a crash course in safe trailer habits, as well as offer a few tips to make a usually dreaded task a little bit easier.
By Nick Ruiz
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 certainly an imperative 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, as well as 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 huge 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 have those parts replaced. The greatest 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 electronic 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. Do not 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 greater state citation fund. Brake lights, directional, and on some trailers back up lights, should all be thoroughly checked before leaving in the morning. As it stands not on most late model boats, lights can easily be replaced as a whole 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, is what keeps 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 even more forget the transom saver. First of all, the winch strap will do the important job of keeping the front end of the boat down and in the bow rest of the trailer, as well as provide a means of easily pulling the boat up onto the trailer. Two very good reasons to make sure this is in good working order at all times. Every 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 to exactly that. Especially with the growing size of outboards, a boat being trailered without one is asking for serious damage. The transom saver will prevent unwanted outboard play during travel and will prevent the fiberglass transom from taking unnecessary shock which can eventually lead to serious 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 absolutely centered to prevent 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 will prevent unwanted slippage of the hull on the usually slick carpeted bunk rails.
I offer wheel bearings their own section, as they are to say the least, that important. Many trailer malfunctions that occur to the modern bass angler can be directly traced back to the wheel bearings. These little devices keep trailer wheels turning smoothly and happily when greased and maintained properly. I know from first hand experience what can happen if the bearings are not constantly maintained and cared for religiously.
Incidentally, properly maintained bearings will not only make life on your trailer easier, but will make life for your tow vehicle a bit easier as well. There will be far less friction and tension on the trailer wheels, which makes for an easier tow.
I know of a product that goes by the name of Bearing Buddy that can make this unexciting maintenance a quick and easy task. It has a number of features, such as whether or not grease needs to be added, and an automatic pressure control that will prevent over filling, which can damage 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 just take a few preventative maintenance steps in order 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 every now and again will prevent expensive fiberglass scratching and gashing. Simply 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, rather the entire bunk, when the time comes. Bunk carpeting is sold in many marine and fishing catalogs and re-wrapping bunks is a relatively easy task. Should your trailer have rollers, the same applies, as a visual inspection of each roller will prevent the expensive and unwanted fiberglass hull damage. Also, a unique point about rollers, is that much like the wheels, the rollers must be greased every now and then to ensure smooth movement.
For lack of a more imaginative title, this section is exactly 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 not only list trailer tips but tips that can make maneuvering and driving with a trailer just a little less aggravating as well.
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 to say the least. A great tip that I picked up from a friend of mine will do a great deal to 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, started using a new technique that takes some of the disorientation out of this task. It is simple in the fact that 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.
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 pick ups and large SUV owners will certainly 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 Beirut machine gun battle.
A great way to combat this is to invest in a rock guard accessory. The best of which are 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 it's job. Contrary to popular belief, it really does not spoil the look of the truck as say larger wheelwell-mounted mud flaps would.
Another product that can prevent road damage is a bra that fits over the front end of a boat, 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 ain'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 trailer knocking sound as your trailer your boat. Also, it will prevent the safety chains or winch back up chains from striking anything and causing unsightly damage to your boat. Though a fairly 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 ya' on the water...
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