Trailering to the water and back is part of a day on the water for most fishing boat owners. The quality Shoreland’r trailer under most new Alumacraft models is well-designed and does not require much care, but a simple breakdown can still ruin your day. Here are some tips any trailer-boater can use.
Don’t let tire trouble leave you stranded at the side of the road or put you in a dangerous situation.
- Check Tire Pressure: A failed tire due to low air pressure is probably the number-one cause of trailer trouble. Heat builds up in a tire with low pressure and can cause the tire to delaminate and suddenly fail, which can be a scary situation at 70 mph. Tires will naturally lose a small amount of air pressure each month, so it’s especially important to remember to check the tires, including the spare, after the trailer has been sitting unused over the winter. Then check again occasionally during the season. Inflate to the maximum rating on the tire or as listed on the capacity sticker on the trailer, which may be 60 psi or more.
- Carry a Spare: Not all boat trailers come with a spare tire. If yours did not, your Alumacraft dealer can help you order a mounted tire and a carrier. Travel with tools and a jack you can use to change a flat.
- Tire Wear: Periodically check your trailer tires for wear and for age. Tires that are more than six years old should be replaced, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The last four digits of the DOT code on the tire sidewall indicate the month and year the tire was made; “2120” would indicate the tire was made in the 21st week of 2020. The tires under your trailer should all be ST (Special Trailer) type tires, not regular vehicle tires.
- Wheel Bearings: Failed wheel bearings are another common cause of trailer trouble. The bearings may get rusty if they are contaminated by water. Again, this is often an issue in the spring if the bearings were wet when the boat was parked for the off-season, and replacing a wheel bearing at the side of the road is no fun. Most boat trailers are equipped with wheel bearing protectors with a spring-loaded piston to hold grease in the wheel hub under light pressure. This prevents water from entering the hub and bearing assembly when the boat is launched. Check your trailer’s owner manual for details on maintaining the bearing protectors.
All but the lightest boat/trailer combinations will be equipped with brakes (in some states all trailers must have brakes) which will require some maintenance over time to ensure safe performance.
- Brake Pads or Shoes: Trailer brakes may be disc-type (with brake pads) or drum-type (with shoes), both of which wear with use, just like the brake pads on your tow vehicle. Have the pads or shoes inspected every few seasons.
- Brake Fluid: The brake fluid reservoir in the master cylinder on the trailer tongue should be checked during the season, following instructions in the trailer owner’s manual. Fluid level will go down as the pads wear. If the level is suddenly very low you could have a leak in the brake system, which should be repaired immediately.
- Trailer Coupler: The surge brake actuator on a boat trailer is part of the coupler assembly (the part that fits over your trailer hitch ball) and it may require occasional lubrication to work smoothly. See your owner’s manual for details.
You should check all of your trailer lights every time you hook up the trailer; never assume that because they were working the last time you towed they will be working this time. When you are towing a boat the signal lights on your tow vehicle will likely not be visile to vehicles behind you. Working lights are critical for everyone’s safety.
- Get Grounded: A bad ground is the most-common cause for trailer light failure. That’s the white wire, and it may be secured to the trailer frame with a small screw or bolt. The ground needs a good, clean contact with the frame to work. Remove the screw or bolt and use sandpaper to clean any rust off the contact point so the ground is touching bare metal.
- Bulbs: Most new trailers have LED lights that should never age, but the incandescent bulbs in older trailer lights will burn out and need to be replaced. The light sockets are also prone to corrosion. Apply a dab of dielectric grease to the socket when replacing the bulbs to prevent corrosion.
With a little trailer maintenance Alumacraft fishing boat owners can head to the launch ramp with confidence and return home safely.