Trailer often overlooked by eager boaters

Marsh bass will cover the banks this month. Here’s how to get them on the end of your line.

I watched with some envy as my neighbor across the street prepared his boat for his annual spring break fishing trip to South Florida.

He spent an entire weekend working on the trailered craft in his driveway, cleaning out the boat, reinstalling freshly charged starting and deep-cycle batteries, changing the sterndrive’s lower unit lube, testing and replacing burnt-out navigation light bulbs and installing a new combo sonar/GPS system that Santa had given him for Christmas.

I helped him determine the best place to put the fish-finder’s transducer, and after watching him buff the final haze of wax from the hull during his final prep task, wistfully wished him a safe trip to the sunny sub-tropics.

I heard his car door slam sometime before daylight the following morning, and knew he was on his way toward a blissful week of fishing fun. That’s why I was shocked to see his truck back in the drive by noon, sans boat and trailer, and dashed across our shared cul-de-sac to inquire what had happened.

“The trip is off,” he said dejectedly. “A leaf spring on the trailer snapped when I hit a pothole on the interstate. By the time I can get it replaced and installed, it won’t be worth the drive down and back, and it’s already cost me a bundle just to get the rig towed off the road and to a place that can do the work.”

It turns out that the leaf springs had succumbed to their annual saltwater dunkings over the years, and one leaf on the side that didn’t break outright was cracked as well, and probably had been before the vacation-breaking mishap.

For as much effort as my friend had placed on preparing his boat for a mishap-free week on the water, he had overlooked checking-over the equipment that would get it there: his trailer. A quick visual check of the springs would have revealed the weakness and given him the opportunity to have the suspension replaced in plenty of time to enjoy his outing.

Whether you plan to cross several latitudes or simply head across the county for the first trip of the season, when you break out the rig from winter storage, the trailer deserves as much attention as you give the craft it cradles.

Here are some of the keys areas to check:

• Test the trailer’s lights. If one doesn’t work, check the bulb, the fuse and the connector plug in that order before you direct attention to the wiring system.

• Inspect and, if needed, lubricate or outright replace the trailer wheel bearings. Make sure the spindle nut is tight, and top-off bearing protectors with the proper lubricant.

• If so-equipped, check the brakes and breakaway system, and adjust to the specs listed in the owner’s manual. Top-off the fluid level, and replace shoes if necessary.

• Take a close look at the tires — including that all-important spare — checking for lumps, cracks or excessive tread wear. Replace any questionable tire, and top off each with the recommended PSI of air.

• Inspect the winch strap and safety chains for signs of wear. Look at the entire length of the strap, and replace it if is frayed or worn, paying extra attention to where it attaches to the bow hook.

• Check out the hitch coupler and winch. Make sure the coupler latches tight onto the vehicle coupler, and adjust or replace it if it doesn’t. Test the winch brake to make sure it engages easily and is able to hold its own.

• Look at the bunks and/or rollers, and make sure they are supporting the hull as evenly as possible and all rollers are making contact with the hull, and not a strake or a thru-hull fitting. You may have to float the boat off the trailer to adjust the rollers and bunks and to get the boat properly positioned.

• Do what my neighbor neglected to, and inspect your trailer’s suspension. Look for cracks in the leaf springs or excessive rust anywhere on the system, and if in doubt, have it replaced.

The road — especially if it leads to a fishing vacation — is a terrible place to learn that your boat’s trailer is not up to the task of taking you past the end of your street.

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