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I just came back from
my annual spring fishing trip to Minnesota and I gotta say that every year
I get a little bit more nervous as I trailer my boat 600 miles in each
direction. The reason is simple: people drive way too fast nowadays…
without pulling some sort of trailer behind them. But add a boat and
trailer behind a car and the speeds at which watercraft are towed should
be cause for real concern – for a number of reasons.
First of all,
consider the fact that one needs a special license and classification to
drive things like motorcycles, school busses and vehicles with air brakes
like semi-trailer trucks, gravel trucks, etc. (And by the way, those
classifications don’t automatically make holders of those licenses
expert drivers either...) But as far as I know, just about anyone can go
out and buy a $30,000 boat and trailer, attach it to his/her car… and
simply drive away. No special training is required beforehand and no
special license classification is needed. For those of us who have hauled
a boat around for a number of years – well, we know that it may not be too
difficult to drive in a straight line at low speeds. But when it comes to
things like driving at highway speeds, passing other vehicles, high winds,
backing up, etc… the task becomes much more difficult than one might
think. And there are many important reasons that hauling a boat should
cause – at the very least, some concern – in all of us. Why??
The first and
possibly most important of those reasons is: tires. On this last trip, a
car pulling a narrow trailer with a 14-foot fishing boat and 10-HP motor
blew past me at about 80-85 mph. Forget for a moment the fact that the
speed limit was only 65 mph. Judging by the condition of the boat
(quite old and not very well taken care of…) it also appeared that the tiny
tires – they appeared to be only 10 or 12-inch wheels – were in
approximately the same shape and of the same age as the trailer: old.
This speed and small tires is a deadly combination. Most tires spend a
great deal of time doing little more than standing still, baking in the
hot sun. You have seen what an overdose of UV radiation can do to
unprotected skin in a very short period of time. This very same UV
radiation can do virtually the same thing to tires. At the very least, it
will weaken and degrade the sidewalls. After 4 or five years of such UV
abuse along with the destructive ozone in the air, these tires can very easily fail at highway speeds, even if they
look OK to you and have only 10,000 or less miles on them.
Replacing them is the best insurance of avoiding an ugly mishap.
(Believe it or not, the absolute maximum recommended length of time a
tire should be in service on a trailer is six years. No matter
how good they look, replace them at that point!)
Inflation is another
important tire issue. Almost half of all calls for towing and trailer
assistance involve flat tires or blowouts, many of which are caused by
under inflation. Tires can lose a pound or more of air per week. If
those under-inflated tires are then put under the stress of highway
trailering, two things result: excessive heat buildup and/or fishtailing –
neither of which is good… not for you or for those on the road around
you. Both things can easily cause a flat or blowout. Once a tire is
“lost” in such a fashion, steering quickly becomes very difficult. Too
many accidents result from flat tires and many could be avoided by a
quick, pre-trip check of tire pressure.
oft-overlooked item relating to tires is the rating of the tires.
Cars have a P (passenger) rating and pick-ups and SUV's usually
have an LT (light truck) rating. Trailer
tires should be ST (Special Trailering) rated. Are yours? These tires
have stiffer sidewalls, helping to reduce swaying and are obviously
designed with a special purpose in mind. But even so, be aware that even
ST rated tires are designed for a maximum speed rating of 65mph!
Size… it does
matter! Larger tires rotate more slowly and therefore stay cooler. In
general, they are safer than smaller tires. Conversely, smaller tires
rotate faster, generating more heat and thereby increasing the chances of
failure from blowout (heat increases pressure), among other things.
Hotter, faster rotating tires will also transfer that heat to the bearings
and the axel, two other areas of concern.
Speaking of bearings,
heat – as mentioned above – is the enemy when trailering. Heat causes
things to expand and get closer together, thereby causing more friction,
which causes more heat, which… well, you get the idea. And, when you get
to the lake, you are normally anxious to get your boat into the water,
right? The difference in temperature between the cool lake water and your
overheated hubs will cause water to be drawn into the hub… unless the hubs
are properly greased and have hub protectors. This water can corrode the
bearings, which in turn will cause more friction, more heat and so on.
This can ultimately cause the bearings to seize up and the wheel to lock
up as well. So keep those bearings properly greased (over-packing the
bearings is not good either…) and check the temperature of the hubs at
every stop. Also, consider getting those bearings repacked on a regular
Although the trailer
itself seems to be a simple piece of equipment, there are several things
to be mindful of: the frame, axels, nuts and bolts. Keep a watchful eye
out for rust, and when the opportunity presents itself, sand a rusted area
and touch it up with paint. Not only will the trailer look better, it
will last longer and be safer besides.
One last but very
important piece bit of advice is in order. Consider a checklist (here's
a great one from Boat U.S.) that will provide you with a
consistent way to always be aware of the things on your trailer that
require attention, long before you attempt to back it out of the
driveway. Are the tires properly inflated? Does all the lighting work
properly? A non-functional turn signal can bring a vacation to a quick
halt with unpleasant consequences. Make sure that the coupler and latch
are working and that the boat is firmly on the ball. Make sure that the
safety chains are attached. Make sure that the safety cable/chain is
connected from the trailer to the boat and be certain that the tie-downs
are snugly secured. A blow-out that causes the trailer to fish tail can
throw an improperly secured boat right off the trailer – I’m sure you have
seen many a boat sitting on the side of the expressway… without he trailer
beneath them. It is a very expensive way to start on holiday. Finally,
when possible, stow your gear in the car rather than in the boat.
Improperly stored gear can change the weight on the trailer tongue,
causing either trailer or car – or both – to handle poorly.
For that car to be
traveling at such a high rate of speed with too-small tires was dangerous
enough. I wonder how many other items the driver overlooked before his
trip. Please, take the time to take as much care of your trailer and
tires as you do your families. I would like to see you all back next