What You Need To Know Before Towing Your Boat

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Updated 8:52 AM ET, Tue September 8, 2015

Article highlights

  • Fill your wheel hubs with grease every chance you get. When travelling long distances, stop, check, and add grease as necessary top keep the hubs full.
  • Always cris-cross the safety chains. This not only takes up any remaining slack but also provides an area where the trailer hitch may rest if it comes uncoupled.
  • Always utilize the locking mechanism in your trailer coupler.
If you own a smaller boat, you almost always find yourself towing it somewhere for something. The process of towing can be troublesome for some. It's not so much the act of driving down the road towing a boat, but all the mechanics of it. From properly securing the boat to the trailer, trailer lights, securing the trailer to the vehicle properly, etc., there can be a lot of things to double-check. This article will highlight and discuss the main steps to look for prior to hitting the open highway with your boat in tow behind you.

What You Need To Know Before Towing Your Boat

Why Do We Need To Check The Tires/Hubs?


Let's face it - 90% of the time your trailer is sitting in your yard (or storage lot) usually out of sight and out of mind. Because of this, we tend to forget about things like lubrication of the bearings and tire pressure. The tires and wheel hubs are easily the most failed part on a trailer and are often to blame when things go south on the highway. So you must know what to check before you start towing.

The tires and wheel hubs are easily the most failed part on a trailer.

- Tire Pressure

- Tire Tread

- Tire Condition (checking for missing tread, visible damage, and especially dry rot)

- Tight Lug Nuts

- Wheel Hub

There is a grease fitting in the center of most wheel hubs. You should fill this fitting with waterproof high-temp grease until the hub pushes against the outer lip of the hub. Keeping your wheel hubs greased is one of the biggest steps to remember to do. Any boater traveling any distance should stop to check the hubs often and pump grease in (as needed) during your travels.

Securing The Boat


Everyone has their method of securing their boat to the trailer. Some are great and some are not. Safety is the key. Not only do you want to keep the boat on the trailer going down the road and over bumps, you also want to make sure you secure the boat well enough that, in the event of a catastrophic accident, the boat stays with the trailer.

In securing your boat there are always 2 points of contact: at or near the transom and at the bow eye.

The bow eye is typically affixed to the winch. You want to make sure your winch is working properly and is locked into where the winch will not unwind while you are traveling down the road. If your winch will not do that, it needs to be repaired or replaced prior to towing your boat.

Most trailers also have a secondary fastener, involving an auxiliary chain with a hook attached to the winch post, this is a fail safe if the line lock or your winch fails. If your trailer is not equipped with that, it is strongly urged for you to visit your favorite marine retailer and add one to your trailer.

The bow eye will do most of the holding when it comes to trailering the boat but, as you hit bumps going down the road, the back of the boat will tend to bounce on the trailer, which is not safe or good for your boat. Once you have the bow eye secured, you will then need to secure the transom.

There are two typical methods for securing the back end of the boat. One is a belly strap, which goes from the trailer over the back end of the boat and to the other side of the trailer. This strap method has been used for years, and certainly does the job well. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of that, as it puts stress on the hull where it wasn't designed to have stress however, due to some trailer or boat configurations, this may be your only method. My preference is a ratchet strap on each side of the transom connecting to the transom eye down to the trailer. This will allow for you to adjust pressure on each side, as well as apply the hold down force on the boat where it was designed to take the force.

Basic Points You Need To Know When Securing Your Trailer to a Vehicle

- Make sure the hitch ball size on your vehicle matches the size ball needed for your trailer

- Make sure the light hook up on the trailer matches the light hook up on the vehicle

- Make sure the safety chains are long enough to reach the chain points on the vehicle.

Securing to Vehicle


The hitch ball size matching up is not negotiable. Just because the 2" ball trailer coupler fits on 1 7/8" ball on your vehicle doesn't mean you can use it. This is a huge safety point and each trailer has a ball size for a reason, you must stick to the right size every time you tow.

Checking The Lighting


Lighting is important for obvious reasons. Making sure every light is functional is very important. Trailers usually have a 4-pin, 5-pin or 7-pin hookup. No matter the hookup on your vehicle, they make adapters to hook any configuration together. Any local auto parts store should be able to get the right adapter for your setup. A lot of modern SUVs and trucks come with both the 4-pin and 7-pin connectors, so most of the time you won't need an adapter. Don't forget to check not only the operation of the running lights, but also brake light function and turn signals.

With the advent of modern LED light prices dropping, trailer lighting issues are starting to be less of an issue. With LED, there are no bulbs to replace. Plus most of them are sealed from the elements so they do not see the same water issues as incandescent bulbs. If you're due for a light upgrade, I strongly suggest going the LED route.

Why Do You Need Safety Chains?


Safety chains are also huge. Make sure the gauge of the chain is well in line with the load of the trailer. Most setups will include two chains, one on the right and one on the left. The vehicle's trailer hitch will have corresponding chain hookups, which are drilled or machined holes for the hooks in the chain. When connecting the chains to the vehicle, you want to put them in a cris-cross pattern, meaning the chain on the right of the trailer goes to the left hookup, and the chain on the left of the trailer goes to the right hookup on the vehicle. This is done for two reasons. First, it will allow you to take up any slack in the chain to avoid dragging them on the ground. Also, if the trailer comes unhooked from the vehicle, the tongue of the trailer will rest in the "X" of the crossed chains to safely allow you to get off the road, instead of the trailer digging into the road surface causing a sudden stop or accident.

Lastly, secure the coupler. Most trailer couplers will have a hole in the locking mechanism which allows you to install a safety pin, or trailer lock. Please make sure you utilize one of the above to make sure the trailer stays on the trailer ball. One bad bump and your coupler might pop open and off goes the trailer (with your boat)!

Conclusion


The chances of having a successful tow will be much greater if you keep all the above points in mind. If you feel any of the mechanical aspects are beyond your scope of knowledge, please never hesitate to visit your local trailer repair or auto repair shop and have them do a complete once over on your trailer. When towing your boat, safety and security is the key!
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