Boat and Trailer Prep Guide

Posted by  Saturday, March 01 2014 6:00 am
expert

A couple hours dedicated to insuring the preparedness of both boat and trailer is a wise investment in time, one likely to pay dividends in hassle-free sport throughout the season.

Boat Check

battery
Clean the battery terminals and coat with white lithium grease.

Electrical System  

A boat is highly dependent on its electrical system. Any pre-season preparation should make certain the batteries powering this system are in top notch shape, which includes clean terminals and connections.  

Working with marine batteries carries the risk of exposure to acid. Protect yourself by wearing safety glasses and rubber gloves. Also, if you use an onboard battery charger make sure it is unplugged before proceeding.  

Disconnect the negative (--) terminal first, then the positive side (+).  In marine applications, it's common to have multiple leads on each battery post. After they've been removed from the post, I like to keep track of them by stringing them together with a wire tie, using a black tie for connectors from the negative post, and a white one for ones removed from the positive side.   Use a small wire brush to clean the battery posts and the connectors. Contact cleaner spray, or a solution of water and baking soda, helps the process. Coat the posts with white lithium grease to prevent corrosion.  

Motor

It's not a bad idea to fire up the motor before making the first trip of the year. "Earmuffs" — muff-shaped flush adapters — allow you to supply water to the engine's cooling system through a garden hose. If you properly winterized the engine last season before storage, it might produce some excess smoke during the initial ignition period as it burns off the extra lubrication.  

The outboard's lower unit lubricant should be replaced annually, so do it now. It's a simple process well described in your owner's manual.   Move on to check the function of the boat's navigation lights. If there's a problem, it might be with the bulb. In the case of "stowable" lights corrosion on terminals can cause a failure. Or the lighting system's might have blown a fuse, or tripped the circuit breaker. Fuse holders and circuit breakers are usually located in or near the switch panel.  

Safety Equipment

wire-up
Areas where wiring enters or exits the trailer frame can cause insulation wear.

Inventory the boat's safety equipment, making sure that it's there and in working order. This includes personal flotation devices, cushions, fire extinguisher and sound device. You should also carry a functional flashlight, and an anchor and rope. If big waters like the Great Lakes are part of your beat, be sure you have the added safety equipment necessary on such U.S. Coast Guard regulated waters, including up-to-date flares.  

This is also a good time to check your boat registration, making sure your tags are current and that your registration card is in your wallet.  

Trailer Inspection  

Boat trailers provide a safe cradle for your prized fishing craft, as well as the means to transport it safely to and from your favorite fishin' hole. Show it some love and it will take care of you. Ignore it and the opposite is true, only more so.  

Lighting System  

Considered by many the problem child of a boat trailer is the lighting system. Start the year off right by coupling the trailer to the tow vehicle and then checking the performance of the lights before you make your first trip. Test running lights, brake lights and turn signals. Problems can be caused by faulty bulbs. Find out what bulb your trailer takes and buy extras — you'll use them eventually. Some models require a sealed bulb not readily available at the neighborhood auto parts store. In the case of a bad clearance light it's often necessary to replace the whole unit (lens and bulb).  

Light problems can also be caused by poor connections, most commonly in the bulb socket and also the plug that connects to the tow vehicle. When replacing bulbs be sure to clean the socket; do the same with the plug connections.

bearing-all
Worn bearings will quickly ruin the axle spindle, as seen by comparing this new spindle (left) with the one destroyed when the bearings failed (right).

Worn wire insulation also causes lighting problems and usually includes blown fuses in the tow vehicle. It's most common to find worn insulation where it makes contact with the trailer frame, most often when a protective grommet has been dislodged. Also, crimp-on butt connectors — often used to splice in the wiring harness and to connect the power wires with the leads feeding the taillights — have a habit of failing. Expect to spend some time with a multi-tester to find the source of such troubles.  

Wheels  

Other trailer headaches include worn wheel bearings and bad tires. Check for bad wheel bearings by jacking each tire up off the ground, and then checking for any excess side-to-side play. If it's present, you'll likely need to take the trailer to the shop to have a qualified technician replace the bearings.  

Give the hub bearings a good shot of fresh grease to start the season. Lubrication systems that employ the "EZ Lube" system, where product is fed into the internal portion of the hub, properly apply grease to both the front and rear bearings. "Bearing Buddy" style devices, which replace the dust cap, only apply lubricant to the front bearing. It's a fair level of protection, but understand that the hub should be removed periodically to service the rear bearing.   Premature tire wear is typically caused by under-inflation, so check the pressure now so you don't have to replace them soon. Most tire manufacturers recommend pumping trailer tires up to 50 psi.  

Other Trailer Areas  

Do a thorough visual inspection of the remaining key trailer components. Examine the winch strap for wear. Do the same with the transom tie-downs. Make sure the side bunks are tight. It's tough to properly inspect the main support bunks with the boat sitting on the trailer, so make a note to give them a quick check the next time you're fishing, before you load the boat.  

Finally, as with the boat, verify that your trailer registration is up to date.

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Last modified on Tuesday, May 20 2014 9:51 am
Jeff Knapp
expert

Jeff Knapp, of Kittanning, Pa., has been covering the outdoors for over 20 years. He's been published in a wide variety of national, regional, state and local publications. He also operates the Keystone Connection Guide Service, which focuses on fishing for smallmouth bass on the Allegheny River, as well as other species in select western Pennsylvania waters. 

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