Boat Trailer Maintenance

When the topic of boating is raised, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?  Most boat owners think of fun in the sun while on the water, fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving and taking snapshots of visually striking open spaces.  Rarely does boat maintenance enter the mind.  Though the topic of boat maintenance doesn’t have inherent appeal, it is a necessity for all boat owners.  In particular, boat trailer maintenance is often neglected.

boat trailer maintenance

Pay Attention to Your Boat’s Trailer

Boat trailers are usually out of sight when behind a truck or when supporting a boat so they tend to be out of mind.  However, the maintenance of your boat trailer is essential to enjoying your time on the water and a smooth tow.  After all, the last thing you want is for a trailer issue to prevent you from making it out onto the water for a fun day of boating, swimming, fishing and snorkeling.

Here’s a quick look at how to prevent such a nightmare scenario with our handy boat trailer maintenance checklist.

Boat Trailer Maintenance: Where to Start

The first thing to do is check the trailer’s tire pressure.  Take a look at the capacity sticker or manual to find the maximum trailer tire pressure rating.  Continue to check your trailer tire pressure throughout boating season as tires will inevitably lose air pressure with regular use.  Moreover, it is also in your interest to check your tire air pressure at the start of each boating season after the trailer has sat idle for months.

Keep a spare tire in the truck or trailer just in case one of the trailer tires punctures on your way to or from the water.  Be mindful of the air pressure in the spare tire.  Always keep a jack in your truck or the trailer for easy access in the event of a flat tire.  Check the trailer tire tread at least once every six months.  If you find the tires have uneven wear, it is a sign that the axle is out of alignment or bent and requires immediate attention.

Trailer Brakes

Pay close attention to your trailer’s brakes.  The brakes will wear down with use, regardless of whether they are the drum style or disc style.  If you lack the experience to analyze brakes or simply don’t feel comfortable doing it, lean on an expert for guidance.

Keep the brakes clean, hire an expert to inspect the trailer brake pads/shoes once per season and check the reservoir that holds the brake fluid.  The brake fluid is located within the master cylinder positioned in the brake tongue.  The brake fluid should be checked at least two times each boating season.  You can check the brake fluid on your own or lean on an expert to check it for you.

Be sure to ask the brake pad inspector to take a look at the brake lines for indications of rust.  A professional’s analysis might reveal the dreaded trifecta of insufficient brake fluid level along with worn brake pads and harmful rust yet you won’t know it unless you ask for an expert’s assistance.

Wheel Bearing Maintenance

Compromised wheel bearings indicate there is an issue with the trailer.  Exposure to water has the potential to create bearing rust.  Ideally, you’ll use wheel bearing protectors for additional security, rust prevention and peace of mind.    Such protectors are designed with pistons that are spring-loaded to keep grease within the wheel hub amidst light pressure, stopping moisture from moving into the bearing and hub.  Protectors are also helpful in that they have grease fittings in their center that infuse grease for lubrication and pressure maintenance.

Be Mindful of the Trailer Lights

Once you’ve hooked up the trailer in anticipation of a boat ride, check the lights to ensure they are fully functional.  Some older trailers use incandescent bulbs as lights.  Such bulbs will eventually burn out and require replacement.  Moreover, the sockets of the lights have the potential to corrode.  You can do your part to prevent such corrosion by adding a small amount of dielectric grease each time you add new bulbs.  A dab of grease will go a long way in mitigating bulb corrosion.

Be sure to cover up the trailer light’s connection on the vehicle used for towing when not in use to minimize the chances of corrosion.  Poor grounding is one of the top causes of failed lights.  The white wire is the ground that is connected to the frame of the trailer with a bolt or screw.  The ground requires a sufficient connection with the frame for functionality.  Take off the bolt or screw to clean rust from the point of contact using sandpaper, ensuring there is a point of contact between the ground and metal.

Additional Boat Trailer Maintenance Tips

Though you’ve likely had your fill of water after summertime boating expeditions, additional water exposure is necessary to keep your boat trailer spic n span.  Use a hose to wash away the salt that moves from the boat onto the trailer.  Be sure to use a hose with a strong nozzle that can blast all the salt and other gunk off the trailer.

Though sliding beneath the trailer is uncomfortable, doing so is necessary to spray the salt and dirt off the hub backs, bunk brackets, axle and U-bolts.  If possible, bring the trailer to a ramp at fresh water, briefly slide it into the water and you’ll quickly eliminate salt.  A fresh water dunk also provides a golden opportunity to flush the motor.

The trailer coupler requires lubrication.  Lubricate the coupler at least once every six months. Be mindful of the hitch chains.  Criss-cross those chains below the hitch, ensuring the chain on the trailer links up with the hitch’s on both sides.  This technique ensures the coupler does not contact the road in the event that it is dislodged from the hitch while on the road.

Moreover, we would be remiss not to point out that certain jurisdictions now require that antiquated trailers that were designed with “S” style hooks be converted to more secure connections.  Make the transition to new shackles and you’ll hit the road in full confidence.

Finally, be sure to secure any loose items by placing them in the cargo section, compartments or using tie-downs.  Otherwise, you run the risk of loose sundries falling off the trailer or boat when driving.

Don’t forget to print this boat trailer maintenance checklist!  Hang it in your garage or post it to a visible space on your boat and you’ll enjoy worry-free boating.