Boat Trailer Tricks by Keith Jackson
One of the hassles of being a boat owner is the trailer.
To fishermen, boat trailers are a necessary evil.
They don’t help you catch fish, and they can be a pain to maintain.
The good news is that over the last half dozen years or so, some really functional products have been introduced that take away a lot of the problems of having and using a boat trailer.
For instance, one of the best things to come out of the plastics industry, in this boater’s opinion, is the variety of bunk caps now available.
Trailer bunks are boards, usually 2x4 or 2x6 lumber, that support the bottom of the boat on the trailer. Bunks give the best support for most boats because they spread the weight of the boat over a much broader area than rollers do.
Traditionally, trailer bunks are covered with marine carpeting, which has a couple of negatives. First, carpet wears quickly, especially if you are launching frequently and doing so in dirty water or trailering your boat on dusty roads. Another negative is that you have to float your boat off, something that isn’t easy to do in a shallow launch.
If you’ve tried pushing a boat of any size off bunks, you know exactly where I’m coming from—it gives orthopedists business.
Enter bunk caps.
These accessories come in a variety of shapes and are known by a host of names, but their function is similar: they provide a nearly friction-free surface on top of the bunk. These bunk caps are so slick that you can’t unhook your boat until you’re ready to launch at the waterline.
With bunk caps, called bunk slicks by some, you can push a heavy 20-foot boat off the trailer with one hand.
Early versions were bars of ultra-dense plastic (UHMW in many cases) that bolted to the top of the bunk, but newer versions are molded to fit on the top and both sides of the bunks. They are available from a number of companies.
Rollers have been improved as well
Now, there are rollers made out of a denser plastic than in previous years, making them more wear resistant and non-marking.
While the characteristic black rub mark of older rollers doesn’t hurt a boat’s ability to take you to fish, it does show where there is friction, and the softer rollers made winching more difficult because of increased friction.
Another improvement is in the lights
...one that has caused more headaches for boaters than just about any other you can mention.
There are two problem areas: shorts at one of the many exposed junctions such as at the plug or the side lights. The second area was the light itself. Either the bulb or its connection would be corroded (sometimes so minusculely that it would be hard to detect) or the bulbs would short or pop when submerged.
Lights using light-emitting diodes (LEDs) get around the bulb popping part.
They are more expensive in terms of initial cost, but well worth it in the long run. On the trailer I’m rebuilding this summer, LEDs are part of the plan.
Another problem area for boat trailers is wheel bearings.
Every summer I see boat trailers parked by the side of the road with one (occasionally both) wheels off. The owner is in the next town shopping for bearings.
One problem with boat trailers is that there are so many different ones that come equipped with different axles, hubs and wheels, that often it’s nearly impossible to come up with the right assemblies without taking the hub in to a parts shop.
There are ways to deal with this: first, bearings should be serviced regularly—whether repacked in the case of standard hubs or flushed with fresh marine grease in the case of those bearing assemblies that have grease fittings.
The key is to add grease frequently, and when on a long trip, stop to make sure the hubs are cool, and add grease if they’re not.
Some fishermen who trailer their boats long distances have taken to keeping a spare hub assembly with packed bearings at the ready.
The idea is that in the case of bearing failure, the boater only has to take off the affected wheel, pop the hub off the axle (remove a cotter key and nut and unscrew), slide on the new assembly and close things up.
It’s a process that beats trying to repack new bearings while sitting on the side of the road.
Another solution to the trailer-bearing problem is perhaps the best. Tiedown Engineering has developed a bearing-lubrication system that uses heavy gear oil instead of grease. It’s the Turbo Lube Hub.
What makes it special is that it uses heavy oil to lubricate the roller bearings. This has several advantages. First, maintenance is reduced. The quality of oil can easily be checked by looked at the see-through hubs.
The oil (a variety of oils, including synthetic, are suitable) only needs to be changed if it falls below the fill level, if it shows significant contamination from moisture, or every two years or 100,000 miles.
Another benefit is that because the bearings retain some of the oil, Tiedown says that the bearings are safe to use for 100 miles after losing all oil in the reservoir. That means if you bump the case on a rock, you can make it back home or to the nearest shop.
Also, because the oil does a better job of lubricating the bearings and keeping them so, there is less resistance to towing, less wear as a result and supposedly better mileage on your tow vehicle. It sounds good to me.
Regardless of the effort, spending time working on your boat trailer will make your fishing life easier, and that’s not science fiction.
- Written by Keith Jackson