Safety First, Fishing Second

Safety First, Fishing Second

Before casting a lure on that prize-winning bass, you have to get your boat to the water-that means making sure your tow vehicle and trailer are in tip-top condition

Trailering Checklist

BOATU.S. ANGLER offers the following trailer checklist for those hauling bass boats and/or other vessels to water.


Check frame for loose bolts and heavy rust. Also check pads and rollers for loose bolts and rusted welds.


If your trailer has brakes, drive the car and trailer a short distance to make sure the brakes are operating properly.

Rollers and Pads

Check rollers; replace damaged rollers. Make sure all rollers and pads are providing support at critical points (keel, chine, and engine).

Hubs and Bearings

Repack bearings as necessary. Check hubs regularly on longer trips-bearings that are too hot must be repacked or replaced.


Inspect treads and sidewalls. Are sidewalls free of cracks?

Check tire pressure (Recommended pressure is stamped on the sidewall). While you're at it, check the wheel lug nuts.

Are a spare tire and trailer jack available?


Are lights bright? Don't forget to check the turn signals.

Check for chafed wires; make sure wires are suported every 18 inches and that the white ground wire is attached to the frame.

Add a dab of grease at contacts.


Check straps, wires, and lines that secure the boat to the trailer.

Inspect the hitch, coupler, and ball. Are they secure? (The ball clamp must be below the ball.) Make sure the ball is exactly the same size as the coupler. A 2-inch coupler will slip off a 1-7/8-inch ball.

Make sure the safety chain is criss-crossed and secured between the car and trailer. Leave enough slack to allow for proper turning, but not so much that the chain drags on the ground.

Gear inside the trailer should be stowed so that it doesn't shift or get blown out of the boat onto the highway. Dispose of any trash.

Make sure the car and trailer are level. A car that has too much or too little weight at the hitch will be difficult to control.

The above tips are from a BoatU.S. ANGLER brochure on trailering. For added information readers can request the brochure by visiting


Boat Safety

It was the club bass tournament that never was. Well, for me at least. I had paid the early registration fee, tuned up the outboard, checked out my 20-foot bassboat, and hit the road long before daylight to make the tournament's safe-light launch at the lake near my home.
   But I never made the launch ramp. A fried wheel bearing on my trailer brought the trip to a smoky stop and I was lucky to get the rig to the side of the narrow county road without damaging my boat.
   While surveying the damaged axle I realized that although I had carefully checked boat, outboard and fishing tackle, I hadn't given my SUV and trailer more than a cursory once-over. The lesson learned from this experience, however, was more valuable than any year-end club trophy or cash award: You can't go fishing if your tow vehicle and trailer aren't in tip-top shape.
   Sure, you may be able to skate by a few times. But sooner or later the odds will catch up and you'll be stranded alongside the highway with a disabled vehicle or trailer. Only luck will keep the incident free of damage to boat, tow vehicle or injury to the occupants.
   The only way to keep potential problems minimized is by simply planning ahead and performing regular preventive maintenance on the tow vehicle and trailer.
   Whenever performing maintenance and safety checks, start with the tow vehicle. For most of us the tow vehicle is also our daily transportation so it only makes sense to check it first and thoroughly. Here're the areas that need to be checked before hooking up the trailer and heading out in search of a prize-winning lunker:

See and Be Seen

Most fishing trips require a pre-dawn getaway and after-dark return trip. The key to a safe arrival at the launch ramp and home base is visibility. Start by cleaning the windows and mirrors. Use an ammonia-based cleaner such as Windex and newspaper to clean the glass (inside and out) to a crystal clear and streak-free finish.
   Then, examine the wiper blades; they should be clean and flexible. Replace any blades that are cracked, hard or chipped. Next up, check to make sure the headlights, taillights, directionals, brake lights and four-way flashers are all working properly. Finish up by giving the lights a good cleaning to assure maximum illumination.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Tire pressure check

Over- or under-inflated tires wear out more quickly than properly inflated ones and are much more prone to catastrophic failure. They can also make a big difference in fuel economy. For maximum tire life, inflation should be checked and adjusted monthly.
   The proper tire inflation levels for your tow vehicle are usually listed on the driver's doorframe or doorpost but they may also be listed on the fuel filler door or on the inside of the glove box. Buy a quality air pressure gauge and check inflation levels while the tires are still cold (driven less than a mile), adjusting accordingly.


   Examine the tires for abraded, bruised, or cracked sidewalls, excessive or unusual tread wear such as scalloping (indicate bad shocks), wear on one side only (alignment), center wear or outside edges wear (improper inflation) and look for chunking tread, nails and other problems. Replace any tires exhibiting excessive wear and don't forget to check the spare for both wear and inflation level.
   Lastly, get out the tire wrench and make sure all the lug nuts are snug.

Stop On a Dime


Having good brakes is essential for safety, especially when towing. Even though the trailer has its own breaking system, the tow vehicle supplies primary stopping power-and most of that with the front brakes. Check and top up the break fluid, then check brake operation. The pedal should be firm, not spongy and the brakes should smoothly engage - no grabbing.
   Also, take the vehicle for a short test drive and listen for squealing and/or grinding when you apply the pedal. These noises indicate excessive brake pad wear and mean that a brake job is needed. Pull the tires and do a physical inspection at least every couple months. Finally, check the operation of the parking or emergency brake. There's nothing more embarrassing than having your tow vehicle, boat and trailer drive away without you at the wheel.

Under the Hood

Checking hoses

Before heading out on any trip it is always advisable to check components under the hood. Make sure the engine oil is topped up, battery connections are tight and clean, and that vital fluids are at proper levels.
   Examine the serpentine or V-belts to make sure they are in good condition; check for cracks, splits, chunking or other signs of abnormal wear. More than one club member has been stranded alongside the road because of a broken belt.
   Towing anything always puts an extra strain on the cooling system and automatic transmission. It's vital that these two be in tip-top shape if you want to avoid a roadside stranding. Also, check the radiator and trans cooler fins for damage and use a soft brush and/or a hose to make sure the fins are free of dirt, debris, and bugs.
   Give the hoses a squeeze with thumb and forefinger; they should feel pliant and firm. Hoses that are spongy, soft, cracked or too hard should be replaced immediately.
   Check the coolant level and at least once a year replace the coolant with a premium summer coolant/antifreeze.
   Drive the vehicle for about 20 minutes to bring the automatic transmission fluid up to operating temperature and then check the dipstick for correct level and condition. Automatic transmission fluid should be checked with the engine running, the vehicle in "Park," and the parking brake set.
   Trans fluid should be a translucent red in color. High heat levels generated by towing in overdrive (never do that!) can scorch transmission fluid, making it appear brownish and smell burnt. If you find this is the case, an immediate fluid/filter change is called for.

A Hitch in the Works


Before every tow, take a few minutes and really examine the receiver hitch. Check for obvious damage from scraping or impact, make sure the receiver slide hole is clean and lubed and inspect the mounting points of the unit.
   Make sure the mounting nuts are properly torqued down and that there is no corrosion. While under the vehicle, inspect the vehicle's springs and shocks for obvious damage.
   Next, inspect the hitch ball and the receiver tongue. The ball must be really tight and the tongue free of burrs, rust or other problems that will hinder installation. If the hitch is a bumper mounted unit, inspect the bumper mounting points, overall bumper condition and hitch ball tightness. 


Finally, examine the wiring harness and plug that the trailer wiring plugs into. The connector plug should be free of corrosion and the wiring in good condition. Repair or replace any abraded wires.

Trailer Once-Over

Even though bass boat trailers look simple, there is still a lot to look at. Start by doing a walk around of the unit, inspecting all welded and bolted joints for integrity. Cracked or broken welds need fixing immediately and bolts need to be checked for tightness. Carefully inspect the tongue, hitch ball receiver and locking mechanism, safety chains/cables and the trailer jack. Make sure they all work properly and lube with a light industrial grease.
   Then, inspect the springs, axle(s) and the mounting bolts for each, tightening as needed. Check the overall tire condition and inflation pressure.
   After that, it's time to check the brakes. Jack the trailer up and pull the wheel drums (rotors/discs for those who have the nicer brake systems) for a thorough inspection and at the same time, check, clean and repack the wheel hub bearings.
   Trailer lights get a lot of dunking at the launch ramp and corrosion creeps into older-style light sockets and wiring. Check the entire wiring harness, from hitch connector plug to license plate lamp. Look for corroded plugs/sockets, abraded wiring, dangling wiring, hanging lights and anything else that looks out of the ordinary.
   If your trailer isn't equipped with sealed lights, I suggest pulling the light bulbs and spraying an anti-corrosive electrical lubricant into every socket. Then plug the harness into the tow vehicle and check to make sure taillights, license plate light, directionals, and stoplights are all working perfectly.
   Finally, it is a good idea to check the condition and working order of the bow winch and cable, rollers and bunks. These all have to be perfect so as to avoid damage to the vessel and make launch/retrieval effortless.
   Inspect the winch and cable or strap. Lube as necessary and replace obviously worn straps and cables.
   Rollers usually have grease fittings and fill with a marine-grade lubricant. On the bunks, check to make sure the carpet padding is firmly attached, that it is not overly worn down, and that there are no protruding staples, screws or nails sticking through that might damage the hull.
   If you take the time to perform the above maintenance routine before every club outing, you can rest assured there will seldom be a tournament missed due to a mechanical malfunction.

Reprinted with permission from


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