Many boat owners often overlook their boat trailer when performing maintenance on their boat. The boat trailer is designed to carry the boat from point A to point B and once the boat is launched, the trailer often gets parked and forgotten for days, weeks or months at a time. It is fairly easy to become complacent with keeping up on your boat trailer’s maintenance as many people use their trailer 2 times per season. Once for launching and once for hauling out at the end of the season. Here are a few tips and things to consider when thinking about keeping your boat trailer in a safe operating condition.

Grease your bearings

Keeping your wheel bearings packed with grease will ensure they are lubricated for the harsh marine environments they are put through. It is recommended that you pump grease into each wheel hub assembly a couple times a year (this depends on how often the trailer is used) to ensure there is ample lubrication for the metal on metal components found in a wheel assembly. Failing to have any trailer bearings lubricated can result in the bearings getting too hot and seizing or in more dramatic circumstances, having your boat trailer tire catch on fire. There have been reports of boat trailer wheels getting so hot that the hub seizes and shears off at the axle and having the tire pass the driver on the highway! With simple preventative maintenance, you can avoid such catastrophes. One way to check if your wheel bearings are worn and need to be changed is by carefully jacking up the boat trailer up on one side. With a hand on either side of the trailer tire, rock the tire in and out towards the boat. If there is no movement, only the tire wanting to spin, you can have confidence that you still have some kms left on the bearings. Repeat this process for each of the wheels on the trailer. If you rock the tire back and forth and there is some movement or play, it may be time to replace your trailer wheel bearings. While you have the grease gun out, it is a good idea to grease your tongue jack and trailer winch as well. Keeping your equipment greased up will ensure a longer service life, especially in a saltwater environment.

Check your trailer lights

So many times we have seen boat & trailer combos come to our shop with the trailer lights only working on 1 side or often, not at all. In many cases, it is just a loose connection, a faulty ground connection or bad contact at the trailer light plug. Nowadays, most newer boat trailers come with watertight LED lights installed. These LED lights not only last for a very long time but they also stay intact when travelling on bumpy back roads to your favourite fishing hole. Preventative maintenance can help you keep your lights in working order – and working when you are about to depart for a day of boating with your family.

Here are a few tips in keeping your trailer lights functioning:

  • Use Dielectric grease to coat the contact terminals on your trailer light connection to the tow vehicle. Over time, these terminals can get covered in contaminants or corrosion to the point where electrical current cannot flow through the plug. Use a wire brush or emery paper to remove any contaminants on the male side of the plug. Inspect the female side of the plug and ensure there are good, clean surfaces for contact. Once you have cleaned up the surfaces, apply dielectric grease or in a pinch, you can use vaseline as it is a great conductor.
  • Often you will see one of the wires coming from the trailer side of the wire harness to a screw or bolt on or under your trailer tongue. This is the ground wire. Over time the bolt or screw can become corroded or rusty – especially on a painted non-galvanized trailer. In turn, this can reduce the conductivity so no current can reach the lights. If you suspect there is a corrosion issue at the ground, simply unscrew the bolt or screw and wire brush or sand the rust and corrosion away so there is good contact between the surfaces. Once the surfaces have been prepped, apply dielectric grease or vaseline before you reinsert the ground screw. Make sure all connections at the wire harness look clean and corrosion free. After you have serviced the ground and the lights still do not work correctly, it may be time to break out the multi-tester and test all connections to confirm they are working correctly.

Trailer Brakes

Functioning trailer brakes are a very important part of your towing setup for the most obvious reasons. There are various moving parts that make up your surge braking system. One of the most recurring things we see are seized brake callipers and shoes. 9 times out of 10 the reason they seize is from saltwater corrosion.

You arrive at the launch and it is busy. All you want to do is launch, quickly park and get out on the water with your family – NOT SO FAST!

If you are able to make the time before you leave the dock, pull your trailer over to the boat wash area if your launch has one. With your own garden hose and nozzle that you brought to the launch, spray fresh water on the backside of each wheel making sure to really flush out all salt water from surfaces on your brakes. By flushing out the salt water, there is way less of a chance that corrosion will start to occur on your brake components. Get into this habit every time you launch in salt water. If you find yourself launching a lot in salt water, a trailer brake flush kit may be something worth investing in.

Safety Chain

Does your trailer have a safety chain by the winch strap? It is BC law to have a safety chain connected from the boat trailer to the D-ring on the bow of the boat. In the event that the boat winch strap fails, you still have the chain attached to the bow of the boat. Many boats are shipped up from factories in the U.S.A. and do not have a safety chain attached from the factory. For instance, the great state of Tennessee has many boat factories but their state law does not require residents to have a safety chain at the winch post. This is the main reason these boats and trailers get shipped up and do not come with a chain. Some dealerships in Canada often overlook this feature and it ends up falling onto the responsibility of the customer or new boat owner. Check your local provincial or state laws to make sure your trailer meets the appropriate regulations. HERE is a link to a BC Recreational Tow Vehicle Fact Sheet that may be useful to you.

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Article by: Joshua Tisch

Disc brake wheel assembly

Greasing the wheel bearings

Safety chain attached to D-ring

Submersible LED boat trailer brake light