I saw a truck, boat and trailer on the side of the highway the other day. It looked like the left wheel bearing on the boat trailer had called it quits. I would have stopped to help but others had already done so. It did make me wonder, though; did the owner of the boat trailer grease the hubs before he left for his fishing trip? Trailer maintenance should be right up there with your boat maintenance habits. Unless your boat is in a sling or a wet slip you need that trailer to get your boat into the water, so let's talk about trailer maintenance for a moment.
I see a lot of trailers in the boat ramp parking areas that are not equipped with some type of after-market hub accessory fittings and I do not understand why. Bearing Buddy, Pilot, and other companies make wheel bearing lube kits and protectors that are easily affordable and will save you a lot of grief in the long run - it simply makes no sense not to have some device of this type on your trailer hubs.
We have Bearing Buddy adapters on the hubs of our boat trailer and we give them a shot of grease every trip before we leave home - just to make sure. We also check them and apply grease as needed at the ramp when we pull the boat out of the water before heading home. The Bearing Buddy has a built-in tell-tale indicator that lets you see at a glance if the hub is full or needs grease and it usually takes but a few seconds and one or two pumps from the grease gun - cheap insurance and great peace of mind while on the highway. Now Mr. Murphy may pay me a visit for stating this but I have not lost a bearing on the road since we started this routine.
Remember to go easy with the grease gun so as not to overfill the hub cavity and blow out the hub seals. Seals can be damaged very easily if you get a little too pump happy.
Every winter we remove the bearings from the hubs to check them for wear and rust and we also examine the races, spindle and seals at the same time. If everything checks out we pack the wheel bearings with marine grade grease and replace the wheel. Every other year we replace the bearings and the races in each hub whether they need replacing or not. Again, peace of mind is a wonderful thing. My personal preference for marine grade grease is Mystik JT-6 High Performance Marine Grease No. 2. There are other brands that probably work very well but this is the brand that is readily available at my local dealer and I like it.
In the toolbox on my truck I carry a spare wheel hub - complete with bearings, races, seals, wheel studs and lug nuts. I also have a grease gun loaded with marine grade grease and a tub of marine grade grease for hand-packing bearings and other uses if needed. If Mr. Murphy does show up some day all I have to do is remove the hub with the bad bearings from the trailer and replace it with the complete new unit, pump it full of grease, and drive on. I have seen the complete hub kits at Academy and other stores. Your local automotive parts store or marine dealership should have them as well. You will need to know the size of the wheel spindles on your trailer before heading out to purchase a hub kit. Perhaps the best plan would be to take your trailer to your marine dealer and let him select the hub for you.
Another tool that I always have with me is a small portable floor jack that comes in its own carrying case. It's invaluable if you have tire problems or bearing problems while towing your boat down the highway. Wal-Mart, Harbor Freight Tools, Northern Tools or your local parts house will have these. They don't take up much room in a truck tool box or in the trunk of a car and they are so much easier to use than a scissor jack or hydraulic jack.
Speaking of tools to change tires…do you have the right size wrench to remove the lug nuts from your boat trailer wheels? Odds are that the manufacturer supplied lug nut wrench that came with your car or truck will not fit the lug nuts on your trailer, so check it before you hit the road. You can buy a 4-way lug nut wrench at the same places that I mentioned above where you can locate a jack and they are a lot easier to use than the one that came with your vehicle. The 4-way wrench will remove four different size lug nuts and will more than likely fit your vehicle and your trailer. With a price tag of less than $25 this tool is a great investment.
I hate to even mention springs or torsion axles because I know that the torsion axles on our boat trailer will need to be replaced within the next couple of years and it's not an easy job. But none of the above tips will help you if you break a spring or a wheel spindle on the road. You should have someone who is qualified to work on the trailer springs, axles and spindles examine your trailer every year to make sure they are still safe and roadworthy. Most of the time, and especially if your trailer has springs, rust is your worst and most common enemy. Springs rust through and break and I have seen the results of a broken spring on the highway; a piece of leaf spring that came from a trailer ahead went through the radiator of a truck that was ahead of me on Highway 35 one morning. If it would have been a car in front of me the piece of spring would have gone through the windshield on the driver's side. So have your springs, torsion bars, spindles and hangers checked at least once a year and replace them at the first signs of excessive rust or wear. Also, it is a good idea to have the alignment of the axles checked. If a hanger or plate gets loose the axle can become misaligned just a tad and you'll find yourself buying tires much more frequently that you want to.
These days the majority of bay boats have drive-on trailers and the winch is used simply to snug the bow up against the trailer bow stop. But have you checked the winch cable or strap lately for rust and wear? Have you checked the hook that fits through the bow eye on the boat? Years ago my dad was winching his boat up the trailer when the winch cable hook broke and the cable and what was left of the hook came back like a bullet and went through the back of his hand and out the palm breaking bones and cutting blood vessels. Had he checked the hook he could have avoided some expensive hospital, doctor and pharmacy bills as well as a few months of rehabilitation. Winch cables rust, straps wear at the stitching and the bow hooks rust so take a moment to check yours before you head to the ramp.
Have you checked the air pressure in your trailer tires lately or taken a look at the tires for wear and for cracking? Trailer tires come in two different varieties; junk tires and good tires and there really is no in between. I won't get into a discussion of brands but as a general rule "more is better" when it comes to tires. Spend the money on good quality trailer tires and keep them inflated to manufacturer's specifications. I bet a lot of you think that the air pressure in your trailer tires is about the same as what you keep in your truck and cars; it's not. Read the recommendation.
If your trailer lights aren't working, odds are that you will be stopped on the highway by the DPS or other law enforcement branch and they will let you know about it. Saltwater just loves to eat up trailer lights and wiring and no matter how much you spend on waterproof LED lights, you will eventually have problems if those lights are submerged in saltwater. I got tired of dealing with trailer lights not working twenty years ago and we now rig our lights so that no part of the light, including the wiring, gets into the water. You can accomplish this by mounting the lights on your PVC guide stakes but the lights get a good shaking going down the highway or back and forth while not loaded from the ramp to the parking lot. Our solution which my son gets credit for was to mount the trailer lights on PVC pipe that fits into the rod holders on the stern of the boat. We mount a PVC T on top of the pipe and mount the lights to the T. The wiring runs down through the pipe and out the bottom then across the deck and over the bow to plug into a tow vehicle's trailer light plug. I have never had to replace a set of lights by rigging them this way except to make a new set for a new boat.
We spend a lot of time and money on our boats but none of that care and expense really matters if we can't get the boat to the water, so spend some time and some money and make sure your trailer will get you to the ramp and home again.