Check Your Trailer Before Towing Your Boat on Vacation

Inspecting your trailer will get you on the road to a great trip, and help you avoid breaking down.

Before you head off on a trailer-boating vacation adventure this summer, take some time to inspect your boat trailer to make sure it's in top condition. The time and effort you spend on this might make the difference between a wonderful trip, or breaking down on a remote highway without access to parts or service. For towing checklists and video tips for safe towing, see Boating's Guide to Towing.

There’s always some part that requires maintenance on a boat trailer, especially one used in salt water. Before your vacation, inspect everything, paying particular attention to tires (making sure they are at or just below the maximum inflation). Don’t forget to check the trailer spare tire(s), too.

If the tires are five or more years old, replace them, no matter how the tread or sidewalls appear, as trailer tires rot unseen from the inside.

Trailer wheel bearing and seals are trouble-prone, and so have these completely serviced, packed with fresh lube and capped with a bearing protector before a long trip.

Malfunctioning trailer brakes can also be problematic. If they bind, the wheel hubs will overheat, literally welding the bearings, hub and spindle together within a few miles on the freeway. So having the trailer brakes and surge-brake actuator inspected and serviced before a trip is critical.

Trailer lights are a constant source of maintenance. Make sure your trailer’s running, brake, clearance and turn signal lights are operating properly, regardless of whether you plan to drive at night or not.

In addition, look at your vehicle’s factory jack to make sure it will work for the boat trailer, too. If it won’t fit under or sufficiently raise the trailer in case of a flat, you’ll need a separate jack. Make sure you have a lug wrench that will fit the lug nuts on the trailer wheels, in case you need to fix a flat.

There are key elements that tie the tow vehicle, trailer and boat together, and they all bear special attention before you leave, as well as periodically during a long tow.

Inspect and, if necessary, adjust the trailer coupler, trailer safety chains, trailer-lights plug, bow-winch strap, bow safety chain and transom straps. Stop every few hours on a long haul to re-check these items. Also, make sure the outboard or stern-drive remains tilted up and well supported, and that everything inside the boat is still secure.

Towing your boat is a marvelous way to enjoy your summer vacation and explore waters far from home. Having the proper trailer, and keeping it in top shape, will help ensure that you and your rig reach your destination and return safely.

Spare Parts
In addition to a fully stocked tool kit, carrying spare parts and supplies can help ensure that you get to your destination and return safely. This is particularly important if you are towing your boat outside the U.S. For a list of critical spares, see our Trailer Boating in Baja feature.