Trailering Tips For The Long Haul

onthewater

Photo by On The Water

Get Your Boat And Trailer Road-Trip Ready

If you love fishing as much as I do, you know that there is always someplace just beyond your normal range that you really want to try out. Whether you want to get to an area 100 miles down the coast to get in on a hot bite, or try a new destination halfway across the country, you need to know how to trailer your boat long distances.

The thought of trailering, especially long range, sets many anglers on edge. The idea of breaking down far from home, late at night and out of your comfort zone can be enough to make those dreams of fishing exciting far-off places evaporate in an instant.

I’m going to give you some easy and inexpensive information that will help you trailer more efficiently and safely. This is not to say you will never break down again, but if you plan ahead and have a few extra items with you, the odds of having a smooth, safe trip are definitely in your favor.

Pre-Trip Prep

The first part of safe trailering is the pre-trip preparation. Some preventative maintenance goes a long way in stopping bad things from happening.

onthewaterMake sure your trailer is equipped with Bearing Buddies or some form of greaseable bearing caps. Bearing failure can be a real nightmare on the road, and it can often be prevented with a $2 tube of grease and a grease gun. Having greaseable bearing caps makes keeping your bearing rolling on clean grease much easier than continual repacking. A few pumps of grease to top off the hubs before the trip is mandatory.

Before you head out on a long trip, and even several times during the season, remove all lug nuts and coat the wheel studs with Never-Seez. A liberal soaking of penetrating oil like Blaster PB50 on the lugs and nuts will make getting them off much faster and easier. It’s better to do this in the driveway than be stuck roadside with lug nuts you can’t get off. Having access to air tools will make this a quick bit of routine maintenance that you’ll be glad you did if you ever need to change a tire on the road.

While you’re working around the tires, check the air pressure in all your tires, including the spare. Also check the tires on the tow vehicle.

A quick walk around on the trailer is all that’s needed to check the lights. If your rig is long or you plan to trailer at night, be sure to pick up a few strips of DOT tape. DOT tape is the red and silver reflective tape that you see on trailer trucks. It can be purchased at most auto stores. It’s almost like having extra lights on your trailer, and if you should have a light go out on the road, it will give you some added safety until you can get somewhere to fix the problem light.

Make sure you have attached your safety chains. I like to secure my trailer with a brass padlock on the coupler when I’m trailering to new areas, just to be safe. Make sure you have a spare key tucked away somewhere safe.

Secure your boat to the trailer with transom and mid-point straps. These will keep the boat from bouncing around on the trailer, and they are required in many states.

One very common mistake people make is to fill the boat with gas before trailering a long distance. Gasoline weighs roughly 6 pounds per gallon, and adds an unnecessary strain to the tow vehicle and trailer.

One very common mistake people make is to fill the boat with gas before trailering a long distance. Gasoline weighs roughly 6 pounds per gallon, and adds an unnecessary strain to the tow vehicle and trailer. Photo by On The Water

A very common mistake people make is to fill the boat before they head out on the trip. They go to their favorite local gas station and top off the tanks. Gasoline weighs roughly 6 pounds per gallon. This adds a lot of strain to the tow vehicle and trailer and will definitely affect your gas mileage on the road. Also drain your fresh water tanks to remove additional weight from your rig.

Lastly make sure your rig is balanced. Moving your boat and/or gear around on the trailer will ensure that your rig trailers straight and doesn’t sway going down the road.

This pre-trip list might seem like a lot of work, but with a little help, it takes us less time to prep the boat and trailer than it does to organize the fishing gear we are planning to bring.

On The Road

When you are on the road, preventative maintenance doesn’t stop. Every time we stop for gas, food or restrooms, we dedicate one person to walk around the trailer to check the lights and touch each hub and tire with their hand and make sure the hubs are topped off with grease. The hubs and tires will be warm, but if a hub or tire is too hot to touch, that is a major problem. Better you deal with it at a rest stop than 10 miles down the road on the side of the expressway.

If you have a heavy boat and a trailer with two or more axles, you may find that most portable jacks won’t get the job done for you. A cheap and easy solution is to chock the working tires with 4x6s to hang the one that needs to be changed.

If you have a heavy boat and a trailer with two or more axles, you may find that most portable jacks won’t get the job done for you. A cheap and easy solution is to chock the working tires with 4x6s to hang the one that needs to be changed. Photo by On The Water

Even with all the prevention and preparation in the world, sometimes things just happen, and when they do, there are a few things that you can do to keep safe.

Pull far off the roadway. Get as far off the road onto the shoulder as you can. Breakdown lanes are okay, but are not ideal.

Set out flares or triangles and put on an orange vest if you’re going to be there more than a few minutes. While you are working on your rig, have someone watch traffic. There is no sense in everyone watching you work so have everyone that is not needed to fix the problem or watch traffic stay in the tow vehicle. The side of the highway is as dangerous as anyplace you can name, and inside the tow vehicle is the safest place to be.

Once you’ve put together your trailering tool kit and gone over the pre-trip checklist, you’ll see that it’s not that hard and doesn’t take much time. The hour or two that it does take in the safety and convenience of your driveway will be well worth it compared to the nightmare it could have been on the side of the highway at night.

With this simple tool kit and check list, we have trailered dozens of times from Massachusetts to as far as Florida. It has extended our fishing season greatly by letting us fish down south well into the winter. It has also given us some of the most memorable vacations and fishing adventures we have ever had, and saved us money by bringing our own boats rather than renting or chartering someone else’s.

I can’t say we have never had a problem while trailering, but I can say that with a well thought out tool kit and some planning, the issues we did have were minor and we were able to fix them quickly and get back on our way with a minimum amount of time lost.

Trailer Tool Kit

These items will fit nicely in a large Tupperware container, and if you have an issue on the road, everything will be in one place making it easy to find. HINT: pack the trailer tool kit last, that way you don’t have to empty all your gear out on the side of the road to get to your tools. When I open my tailgate, the tool kit is the first thing I see.

Pack a roadside safety kit in a large plastic storage container, and then pack the trailer tool kit last. That way, you won’t have to empty all your gear to get to your tools.

Pack a roadside safety kit in a large plastic storage container, and then pack the trailer tool kit last. That way, you won’t have to empty all your gear to get to your tools. Photo by On The Water

• Tarp
Dropping a nut or bolt on the shoulder of the road can be a quick way to lose it. A tarp or blanket gives you a clean work area without taking up much space.

• WD40 or Blaster PB50
Penetrating oils will help get rusty nuts and bolts off.

• Brake Cleaner
Brake cleaner is not just for brakes. It’s a great parts cleaner that doesn’t leave any residue. It works great for a final cleaning before reassembling wheel bearings and, of course, brakes.

• Fix-A-Flat
If you have tire trouble, always assume what can blow out one tire can blow out more than one. Changing the tire is the best option, but sometimes you blow a tire where changing it is not safe. A can or two of Fix-A-Flat can often get you to an area where you can safely swap to your spare tire(s).

• Jack (sized to the trailer)
Don’t rely on the one that your vehicle has from the factory. These are barely adequate in the best of circumstances. They are unstable and difficult to use.

• Plywood Board
If you plan to use a jack, make sure you have a good jack board. Cut a piece of ¾-inch plywood so it fits like a cover on the container. This will give you a firm, stable base if you breakdown in a soft or sandy area.

• Wooden 4×4 or 4×6
If you have a heavy boat with two or more axles, you may find that most portable jacks won’t get the job done for you. A cheap and easy solution is a couple of wooden 4×4’s or 4×6’s. If you set the wooden blocks in front of a working tire, you can inch your vehicle forward so the trailer tire rides up onto the wooden block. Since trailers have limited suspension travel, the other tire(s) on that side will be lifted and hang above the ground. To change the middle tire on a tri-axle trailer, chock the front and rear tire and hang the middle, to change the rear, chock the front and middle.

• Basic Tool Kit
A kit with adjustable wrenches, vise grips, wire cutters and crimpers can come in very handy while travelling with your boat.

• Electrical Kit
Electrical tape, crimps, zip ties and a spare roll of wire and fuses will help fix any electrical issues.

• Flares or Safety Triangles
These will give you added visibility if you have to work roadside in the dark. An orange or reflective vest (cheap hunting style or for running or biking) will make YOU more visible as well.

• Grease Gun and Extra Tubes of Grease

Tire Gauge

Assorted Bungee Cords and Ratchet Straps

Automotive Hand Wipes, Rags and Paper Towels

First Aid Kit

12-Volt Air Pump

Four-Way Lugwrench, Battery-Powered Impact Wrench or Breaker Bar

12-Volt Work Light or Flashlight

By Capt. Terry Nugent / On The Water

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