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10-Step Trailering Checklist

By Craig Ritchie - June 27, 2022
For some people the most daunting part of owning a boat is simply getting to and from the water. But towing doesn't have to be difficult. Happily, most potential problems can be easily avoided by taking a few minutes to check everything over before you set out. Pilots use checklists to avoid trouble along the way, and smart anglers do too.
Here's a simple 10-point checklist to make towing as safe and carefree as possible.

1. Check Your Gear Is Secure

When you're headed for the lake, it is best to carry your gear in the tow vehicle rather than in the boat. But if you need to transport some gear in the boat, make sure it's safely stowed - ideally inside one of the boat's storage compartments, and that the door is properly secured. You don't want expensive fishing rods or a landing net to blow out of the boat and onto the highway. Beyond proving expensive, your gear could hit another vehicle and cause an accident.

2. Check Your Straps

Before hitting the highway, take a moment to ensure that all tie-down straps are properly fastened. It's also worth checking that the strap tag ends are also secured, so they won't flap while underway or drag on the road.
Always check the straps are properly connected, and that the tag ends are secured so they don't flap in the wind.

3. Check Your Cover

If you're towing the boat with its cover in place, make sure it's properly installed and that all of its tie-downs are also secure. Wrap the tag ends neatly so they don't loosen while under way.

It is important to note that most mooring covers are not intended to be used when towing. If you prefer to keep the boat covered while underway, you'll want to invest in a proper trailering cover that's designed for extended drives at highway speeds.

4. Raise Your Engine

Protect your engine from impact damage while towing by ensuring it is set in the raised position. Using a transom saver to provide added support will protect both the engine and the boat transom from stress caused by potholes or rough roads.

5. Check Your Hitch

Before hitting the road, take a moment to check that everything is connected properly between the trailer and your tow vehicle. Check the coupler is seated properly on the hitch ball, that the coupler latch closes securely, and that your safety pin (or better yet, a pad lock) is securely in place to keep the latch from springing open while underway.

6. Check Your Connections

It's also important to check your electrical connections for the trailer brakes and the lights, to ensure they're properly hooked up. Test the brake lights and turn signals to ensure they're working properly.
Make sure your connections are properly hooked up.

7. Check The Safety Chains

Cross the chains under the hitch, so the chain on the left side of the trailer connects to the right side of the hitch, and vice-versa. This will protect the coupler from hitting the road should it be jump off the hitch in an accident.
Closed loop connectors on safety chains are a lot safer than old-school S-hooks, and are required in more and more jurisdictions.
More and more jurisdictions in North America are calling for motorists to replace the basic steel S-hooks on safety chains with proper closed loops. Replacing S-hooks with approved closed loops is a good idea, and ensures that you're legal no matter where you travel.

8. Check Your Brake Fluid

Most of us know to keep the fluids topped up on our vehicles, but may not realize that trailers equipped with brakes also need periodic maintenance. Watch for leaks under your trailer's brake actuator, and check the fluid level regularly.

9. Check The Trailer Tires

Because they're repeatedly heated by rolling down the highway, then plunged into cool water when we launch, trailer tires take a tremendous beating, and need to be carefully checked for wear. Examine the side walls for tiny, spider-like cracks, and check the treads for wear (insert a penny into the treads - if you can see the top of Lincoln's head, it's time to replace them).

Trailer tires are normally inflated to a higher pressure than those of your tow vehicle. Always check the inflation every time you set out.

10. Check The Trailer Bearings

Just as trailer tires are subject to shock from being repeatedly heated and cooled, so too are your trailer's wheel bearings. Any evidence of grease spots on the wheel rim or the inside of the fender are a clear sign of trouble.

Pop off the bearing dust cap every now and then to visually confirm it's fully packed with grease. If the level is low, or you're seeing any bare metal, you'll want to repack the bearings as soon as possible.

Adding aftermarket bearing protectors is an inexpensive way to protect the bearings from damage from water intrusion. A pair of Bearing Buddies or similar type of protectors are cheap insurance against a breakdown on the highway.

Taking a few minutes to perform a basic check ensures you'll never have any trouble getting to or from the lake.
Author Craig Ritchie
Craig Ritchie
Over a near 40-year career as a full-time outdoor writer, Craig Ritchie has fished all over the globe for a variety of freshwater and saltwater species. The author of The Complete Guide To Getting Started In Fishing, he has written thousands of articles for magazines, websites and newspapers worldwide, appeared as a guest on several television fishing programs and won numerous awards for his writing and photography. He lives in the Great Lakes region where great fishing is as close as his own back yard.
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