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Trailers & Towing

25 Tips For Safely Trailering & Launching Your Boat

1 - INSURANCE: Make sure your auto and/or boat policies cover your liability and damage to your own car, boat and trailer while pulling your boat trailer.

2 - Make certain your tow vehicle has the horsepower to do the job. Burning-out your transmission or jeopardizing safety is the only outcome of an underpowered towing vehicle. Also consider having an oil cooling system installed to help keep engine oil from overheating if your towing vehicle does not already have one.

3 - It is important to consider the size, weight and length of your boat and capacity of the trailer when you're shopping for a tow vehicle. A rear-drive vehicle is far superior to a front-wheel-drive vehicle when it comes to getting your boat in and out of a slippery boat ramp.

4 - Be sure that the total weight of your boat, engine, gear, and trailer do not exceed the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating). Check the metal or plastic certification label attached by the trailer manufacturer to the left forward side of your trailer. It may show the maximum load-carrying capacity of the trailer. It is required to show the GVWR, which is the load-carrying capacity PLUS the weight of the trailer itself.

5 - PRACTICE: Find an empty parking lot, and practice backing, turning and maneuvering your trailer. Set up cones or other markers to mimic the edges of a boat ramp. Practicing trailer maneuvers here will save you embarrassment and time at the actual ramp.

6 - A good trick for practicing backing a trailer is to put your hand on the BOTTOM of the steering wheel. Move your hand to the left, the trailer goes left. Guess what happens when you move your hand to the right?

7 - There are good trailer hitches and dangerous ones. A bumper hitch should never be used and may be illegal for towing in some states.

8 - You should never try to modify or install a trailer wiring harness yourself, unless you are trained to do so. You can easily burn out an expensive computer component on your towing vehicle.

9 - Periodically, check your trailer for cracks in the welds, and tighten any bolts that may have worked loose.

10 - Attach the trailer to the hitch properly, insuring that the ball is properly engaged and locked.

11 - Before you backing your trailer into the water, unplug the lights. This will help save your bulbs from being shorted out. Don't forget to plug them back in before you take off again.

12 - Always use safety chains when connecting a trailer to a tow vehicle. They should be crossed underneath the hitch before attaching them. Use bolted connections rather than "S" hooks, which can stretch or straighten out under severe strain. Adjust the chains if necessary to keep them from dragging along the ground.

13 - Connect a safety chain from the trailer post to the bow of your boat, so that a sudden surge won't force the boat to slide off the back of the trailer.

14 - Use a chain or extra heavy-duty strap from the back of the boat to the trailer to keep the boat from lurching forward into the rear of the tow vehicle if you need to stop quickly.

15 - Check your boat's straps, chains and winch cable regularly, and replace them if they look frayed or worn.

16 - Inspect the trailer bearings and grease them as needed. If you use "bearing buddies," make sure they're tight on the axle and filled (but not over-filled) with grease. Overfilling can blow the inner seals out of their housing.

17 - Before leaving home or leaving the launch ramp, walk around the trailer and the tow vehicle, checking to make sure everything is connected properly, locked, strapped down, secure.

18 - When you get to the launch ramp, before getting in line for the ramp, take your time getting your gear squared away before launching. This extra time is needed to give your wheels and bearings a chance to cool down. If they're hot when you dip them into that cold water, you risk of seizing the bearings.

19 - If your trailer has brakes (recommended for gross weight over 1,500 pounds), make sure they are adjusted and working properly. If they are "surge" brakes, see to it that the brake fluid reservoir is full.

20 - Keep your trailer tires and your tow vehicle tires properly inflated.

21 - Make sure the tire jack you intend to use in an emergency will fit properly beneath the axles or lifting points BEFORE you have to use it. Don't assume that the same jack and lug wrench that works with your tow vehicle will work with your boat.

22 - Keep a fire extinguisher in the tow vehicle or on the winch stem when trailering. Lots of things can happen to put it to good use: A bearing catching fire, someone throwing a cigarette into or onto your boat when you're stopped for lunch ... use your imagination.

23 - Make sure you know your state's trailering laws. Most states require a special permit to tow if your load exceeds eight feet.

24 - Always stay in your car while you launch your boat. No driver, no access to the brake pedal, which activates the brake on all four wheels. The parking or hand brake only sets the rear wheels.

25 - Make sure that 5 to 7 percent of the total weight of the tow (boat, motor, contents and trailer) is on the tongue of the trailer. More, and the tow vehicle will handle poorly. Less, and the trailer is likely to fishtail.

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