Checking your trailer and launch ramp safety

Trailer boating is perhaps the best way to experience the joy of being on the water. With your boat on a trailer you can visit any lake, river or waterway that is within a driveable distance to your home.

However, trailering a boat adds the responsibility of maintaining the trailer in top shape, towing it in a safe manner, and using safe procedures at the launch ramp. There are several critical safety items to be aware of with trailer ownership.

Getting There

The first is the trailer frame. Rust on painted frames, and corrosion on others is the most important item to watch and should be cleaned up and repaired as soon as possible. Aluminum trailers with galvanized or metal bunks, roller frames, or bolts, will corrode where the dissimilar metals meet.

One area to watch is the inside of tubular frames. Steel frames especially are susceptible to rust on the inside as they can not be painted.

Tires and rims are also important. Tires for boat trailers have thick and heavy sidewalls as they must be inflated to over 50 psi – check your boat trailer’s tires for the exact pressure required. Because sidewalls are so thick the tires can hold their shape and look inflated when they are substantially low on air.

Tire pressure should be checked before every use and sidewalls and treads should be inspected for signs of wear, cracking or other damage. Tires should be checked for date of manufacture and replaced if they are old, even if they look fine. Likewise, lug nuts should be checked for tightness before each use.

While inspecting the tires and rims, check the wheel bearings and seals for signs of leaking. Trailer bearings and seals get heated up on the road and then rapidly cooled when dunked in the water. If you see grease that has leaked out of the seal, wipe it off and check it again after the next road trip. If there is more, it is time to replace the seals.

Lights should also be checked before each trip. Newer trailers have LED lights that require little or no maintenance. Older incandescent systems though need regular attention. These older units should be unplugged from the vehicle before putting the trailer in the water and pay attention to corrosion that occurs at bulbs that go through wet and dry cycles.

If your trailer has brakes, they should be inspected at least once each year. While water can corrode components, most problems stem from brakes that sit unused for months at a time. If possible, the brakes should be worked every once in awhile, even when the trailer is parked for the off season.

There is much information about trailering your boat available from the salesperson, the trailer manufacturer, and other locations, including the internet. You should be familiar with loading, your hitch assembly and safety chains, and manoeuvring the trailer in forward and reverse.

At The Ramp

Once at the launch ramp, there are several items to consider to ensure you don’t end up in a YouTube video about launch ramp accidents.

The first thing to do at an unfamiliar ramp is to check it out thoroughly. Check its steepness, slick spots, overall traction, potential underwater and overhead hazards, and don’t be shy about asking locals for their advice about the ramp.

Prepare the boat away from the ramp so you are not blocking other people’s access and not feeling rushed to get prepared for launch. Remove tie-downs, make sure the drain plug is in and the leg is up and disconnect the trailer lights. This will also give the trailer wheel bearings time to cool down.

Make sure every person and all pets are out of the tow vehicle just in case there is a problem and the tow vehicle ends up in the water. For the same reason, lower all the windows in case you have to make a hasty exit.

Put life jackets on children and locate them in a safe place near the ramp. Adults are distracted at the launch ramp – both those launching and those retrieving, and they don’t usually have time to watch out for children. And do not let anyone go swimming anywhere near the ramp.

Launch ramps are slippery. Be careful with traction with both the tow vehicle and if you get out and walk on the ramp. Oily residue, water, and weeds can all be found on ramps, making them hazardous. Also be careful walking or standing on a trailer. If you haven’t applied no skid to the surfaces, they too can be treacherous.

Before launching, make sure there is at least a long bow line and preferably also a long stern line that can reach the dock from the launching point so someone on shore can control the boat after launch.

Do not release the bow wire or strap until the boat is floating off the trailer. This will help avoid accidently launching the boat onto the ramp if you stop suddenly or pull ahead.

The final safety tip involves backing the trailer onto the ramp. It is ideal to have someone watching the launch who can communicate with hand signals to the driver. Work out before hand what signals will be used as shouting above the noise seldom works. Make sure the driver can clearly see the hand signals.

A little maintenance and advance planning will ensure safe trailering and launching and add to your carefree fun on your boating days.