If like me, you have had the wheel hubs collapse on your old boat trailer, you will appreciate the importance of having a regular maintenance schedule. At that time, I didn’t and it served me right. After fourteen years sterling service, the old trailer was consigned to the great scrapyard in the sky. The axle stubs had been badly scarred and bent. The damage had been done.
One mile from home, after a three-mile trip back from the local ramp; within minutes of each other, both hubs exploding and collapsing! Axle stubs badly damaged and hubs shot to pieces. Ho hum! It is, frankly, embarrassing! And yes of course it happened on a narrow road, on a bend, opposite a busy entrance to a local golf course driving range, during the home time rush hour, on one of those busy ‘community connecting routes.
Now I have a new ‘gleaming’ ‘unbraked’ trailer from Admiral Trailers up at Honiton in Devon; and very pleased with it I am too! Heavily adapted from one of their stock trailers, I have promised myself and more importantly, signed a contract with my blood for the ‘boss’ that says “I will do maintenance checks every trip out and monthly inspections too”. Apparently, I will die before I have another new trailer!
You can find out more about the new trailer by searching 'admirals trailers' in the search box opposite. Or use this link https://arwensmeanderings.blogspot.com/search?q=boat+trailer
So, without further ado – here is my check list for trailer maintenance! All common sense but easily forgotten in the excitement of getting out on the water or sailing new destinations. I know, it sounds ‘nerdy’ but hey it’s a list that works for me and I hope it is of use to others too!
Before each trip out
I have a routine – it takes a few minutes and it covers brakes and bearings, electrical components, hitch coupler, tyres and safety chains.
1. Test tyre pressures and visual check for wear and tear concerns
2. Put spare trailer tyre in the car boot
3. Check wheel bearing protector caps secure; check tightness of lug nuts
4. The safety breakaway chain coupling is intact
5. Lighting board/lights work correctly; lighting board connector pins - clean and dry
6. Hitch coupling works correctly
7. All wobble and keel rollers are securely pinned, not crushed or collapsed and are functioning correctly
8. No loose bolts holding trailer components together
9. No severe rust areas or stress fractures evident on frame
10. Boat trailer toolkit put in car boot with wheel chocks and car jack
11. Test winch strap bow eye hook functions correctly; bow eye is secure; boat winch ratchet working correctly
12. Mudguard checked for splits, looseness and rusting/loose bolts and nuts
13. Jockey wheel check
14. After hitching up to car and before leaving – a final walk around check of boat security, correct storing of items etc. A ‘BIG’ visual check.
After each boat retrieval
1. Rinse the trailer at slip way - particular attention to wheels, rims, hubs and any internal frame areas that are open/exposed and all rollers on the trailer
2. Back home, the following day after wheel hubs have cooled, top off grease levels in hubs
Although not relating to my trailer as it is unbraked, I guess that those with bigger or braked trailers would also
1. Ensure trailer brakes are clean
2. Have brake shoes/pads inspected annually
One every month or two, as per ‘blood signed’ contractual promise, I check
1. Tyres for wear and aging; check air pressures
2. Lubricate the trailer hitch coupling unit
3. Check the lighting board that light units are tight and not leaking; that wires are not pulled out or frayed
4. WD40 the lighting board connector
5. Top up the hub bearings with grease via a grease gun
6. Clean the rim and check the tyre seal against it; check wheel nut torque
7. Grease all keel and wobble roller pins and spindles
8. Top up waterproof grease on winch mechanism if needed
9. Test the jockey wheel and if necessary WD40 spray or grease moving parts
10. Structural integrity assessment of the frame and drawbar; a check on all U bolts – tightness, rust etc.
11. Look at the winch strap to see if it is fraying anywhere; grease the actual winch mechanism
12. Check trailer ratchet straps for condition and that they are still securing boat to trailer correctly
13. Check the mudguard attachment bolts
So, let’s go into a little more detail on each of these checks.
Trailer tyres and wheels
Tyre pressures – low pressure can cause delamination, blow outs, worn tyres etc. I inflate to max rating on the tyre wall. Arwen sits on a steeply sloping drive and the wheels are chocked by concrete blocks, so periodically I will take the trailer off the drive to move the wheel position. The spare lives in the garage but I check it as part of the trailer tyre routine. As with our motorhome, I look at wear and tear on the tyres every few months. I’m not so concerned about tread depth as scratches and nicks on sidewalls or evidence of uneven wear across the full tyre tread width; or bulging – some of which might indicate a bearing issue, an out of alignment axle stub etc. Over winter I’m conscious that in colder weather air pressure in tyres may lessen! And now contentiously I’m sure – when do you replace tyres? On our motorhome – every six years even if they still have tread and are in good condition. I will be doing the same with this trailer.
Ugh! Still have nightmares about ‘trailer disaster day’! Arwen’s trailer wheels have hub caps with a tiny pinprick hole in the top. I pump in waterproof grease via the nipple until a tiny stringy bit comes out of the hole. Them bearings are then well greased – its packed in! Perhaps it is time to invest in the spring-loaded proper wheel bearing protectors. Whichever arrangement you have – make sure you grease them regularly. I grease the nipples every time just before I submerge the trailer. I also run some grease around the back of the hubs as well. It seems to be working!
I have promised to disassemble the hubs every other year, clean them and repack them with grease. Its on the contract, signed with my blood!
By the way, how do you know your bearings might be on the way out? You see grease seeping out on the wheel hub exterior; unexplained grinding/squeaking noises when you rotate the wheels; the wheels don’t spin freely when you have jacked the trailer up.
Safety trailer chain coupling
No rust, no fractures, no worn links. Simple! A visual check that it is still securely attached and not showing any drag or rust damage.
Trailer lighting board
Check your lights every time you hook up! Its simple! Ensure your towing connection sits correctly in its little cup when storing the trailer. Better still buy a little green protective cap for it. Ensure the connectors on both socket and pins are clean. None of the wires are pulling out of the little rubber grommets on the board; nor are they showing signs of fraying/chafing. WD40 the lighting board connector. I don’t have trailer wire tubes on my trailer – the long cable runs along the boat side deck and then down over the bow to the car socket. So, if your arrangement is like mine – check that the cable is tied securely and wont drop down onto the road; and that it has sufficient slack in it so you can go around sharp corners without socket and pin separating!
It’s still in good condition? It fits properly? All the parts move correctly and cleanly? I grease the moving/locking parts but I don’t grease the friction plate/collar that surrounds the tow ball. Now I know that some people do. I’m jury out on this one because I just don’t know enough about this. If it wont lock correctly or it appears dented by the way – play safe - replace it!
Keel and wobble rollers (Or bunks if you have these)
I visually inspect these before I go on a trip. None are loose; none collapsed. Every few months I regrease spindles and pins. No loose bolts/nuts, no badly rusted holding brackets. I don’t have bunks but I guess it would be checking the quality of the carpeting etc. For support rollers, I also check they are in correct position and haven’t been jolted looser. Arwen shouldn’t rock even a tiny fraction if the wobble rollers are at their correct heights.
Trailer frame components
My trailer is galvanised but the two main pieces are open at the end because the lighting board extension arms fit inside them and are locked in place with screw threaded handles. After every retrieval the trailer is washed down at the slip, including sticking the hose up the interior of these tubes. The locking screw handle threads are greased after every trip. The lighting board bungie cords get checked every couple of months although the lighting board is stored in the garage between trips. Before each trip I do a quick visual – bolts, rust areas etc. No obvious cracks in frame.
Boat trailer toolkit
Here is what I carry in a small box – a grease gun, spare can of grease, cloths, tyre inflator, car jack, one axle stand, plastic wheel chocks, ¾” plywood board on which jack base can stand, four way lug wrench, torch, small foam sleeping roll mat, a plastic tupperware box to put nuts etc in, pliers, hammer, flat-blade screwdriver. What’s in yours?
Boat trailer winch and boat bow eye
Ratchet mechanism has waterproof grease on moving parts and the strap has wound back on correctly. The winch hook is greased and rust free. Bow eye is still tight and secure on boat stem. The winch strap stitching is good and there is no frayed/worn areas.
I check them for splits/fractures, correct alignment and that their securing brackets are sturdy and not loose. I periodically check the holding nuts and bolts and grease those as well every couple of months. I’ll give the interior of mudguards a good clean at the end of the sailing season and then at the end of the winter storage season as well.
On shallow slips I have to almost completely immerse the trailer right up to the top of the mudguards so that Arwen floats off. I often resort to a rope launch to stop the car wheels going into the briny. The jockey wheel therefore gets periodically immersed. Every trip it gets rinsed down on the slip but the following day I will quickly unwind the leg as fully as possible and spray it with WD40; I’ll also waterproof grease the wheel spindle area as well.
Being the owner of an unbraked trailer I feel totally ill equipped to proffer any advice on this matter at all. My take on brakes is that they should be rinsed immediately after every immersion – part of the routine when you do the wheels and lug nuts. My Dad, a retired engineer and once upon a time car enthusiast suggests that brake drums/pads be checked every year – cracks, unusual wear patterns, contamination. At the same time inspect brake lines. Researching this post, I read that if the reservoir level is suddenly low it suggests a leak in the pipes somewhere. I know that braked trailers, like our old caravan, will have a breakaway system as well. Make sure that you check that works effectively as well.
Other bits and pieces
My son when he was a teenager did a full restoration on a 1968 barn find battered Motovespa super 125 small frame vespa. ‘Stacey’ had her own ‘second hand’ trailer. It had leaf springs and we had to replace one set because they were badly corroded, cracked, rusted and useless!
Remember I’m an overcautious, overthinking, overcomplicating nerdy type! But I hope this is a useful checklist reminder for you, just in case like me, you’ve reached an age where ‘things begin to slip your memory’!