New boat and trailer? How did you do on the trailer towing test?
How much could there possibly be to know about pulling a trailer behind a car? You can rent utility trailers and they’ll hook you up without a single question.
“A 24-year-old man was killed when his car was hit by a boat and trailer which had fishtailed into oncoming traffic. “
Towing a boat trailer doesn’t have to be dangerous but it does create a number of issues. Here are some tips for you based on research and personal experience.
Before you “hook up”
• Be aware that some automobile insurance policies don’t provide coverage when towing a trailer. Check your policy.
• Inspect the trailer to make sure that bolts are tight, wheel bearings have been serviced and tires are in acceptable condition.
• Be prepared when something fails. Make up an emergency maintenance kit and keep it with you. Include a lug wrench that fits the nuts on the trailer wheels, a basic tool set, two wheel chocks and a hydraulic jack.
• Plan ahead to avoid the two big causes of “fishtailing”, hard stops and improper weight distribution. The “tongue” (hitch) weight should typically be between 5% and 7% of the total weight (your vehicle owner’s manual will likely have specific guidance for you to follow).
After you “hook up” but before you drive away
• Hitch balls and trailer couplers come in different sizes. Make sure that the hitch ball on your vehicle matches the coupler on your trailer.
• Put a locking pin through the coupler to keep it from popping open and make sure the safety chains are securely attached to your vehicle.
• Be sure that the boat is secured to the trailer. If your trailer has a chain for the bow eye, use it. Use a ratcheting tie down strap to secure the back of the boat to the trailer.
• Double check to be sure that the weight you’re towing is within the maximum load carrying capacity of the trailer and tow vehicle. A gallon of gas weighs about 6.3 pounds. Add 60 gallons to your trailered boat and you’ve added 378 pounds.
• Check to be sure that the trailer tires are inflated to the indicated tire sidewall pressure when cold.
• Check the trailer lighting to make sure it’s working properly.
• If you have trailer brakes give them a safety test to make sure they work.
• Even if your vehicle can tow the trailer at your usual highway speeds it’s just not safe to do it.
• Constantly think about maintaining a safe distance between your vehicle and the ones in front of you.
• After you’ve towed for a few miles find a safe place to stop and pull to the side of the road. Carefully feel the bearing covers in the center of your wheels to see if any of them are hot. If they’re too hot to touch, you have a bearing that needs some immediate attention.
Remember the adage that most accidents happen close to home. Don’t ignore good practices just because you’re only going from the house to the launching ramp. Your goal is to get the boat and your crew safely to and from the water.
Don’t ruin a great day on the water with a bad day on the road.