Traveling to new destinations is an exciting way to explore new waters and experience different fisheries. Trailering your boat long distances can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Here you’ll learn how to best prepare your boat when traveling. With a little planning and preventive maintenance before you hit the road, you can safely travel long distances with your boat on a trailer.
Before you load up and hit the road, you will want to review these 14 tips for preparing to travel. Using these items as a checklist will help you prevent delays and trip-ending disasters.
- Preparing the trailer
- Preparing your boat
- Get boat insurance
Below we will review each of these in depth to make your travel experience fun and easy.
Preparing the trailer
By far the most important aspect of traveling with a boat is to have a sound, functioning trailer. Even a brand new trailer will require some preparation before traveling long distances.
Check your boat trailer tire pressures
The very first thing you should do is make sure your tires have adequate pressure. Tire pressure will naturally decrease over time, especially during temperature changes. This may seem like an obvious tip, but this is the number one cause of tire blowouts. Never skip checking your tire pressure.
Using an air compressor at your home is the preferred way to fill your tires. If you do not have access to an air compressor, you should immediately head to a gas station when beginning your trip to use the air station. Make sure to always carry a tire pressure gauge in your vehicle as a lot of the gas station gages are broken or unreliable. A cheap tire pressure gauge can be picked up from any auto parts store for just a few bucks.
When filling your tires, be sure to check the recommended PSI listed on the tire. Most tire manufacturers will list the maximum allowable PSI. Generally, this is 50PSI for trailer tires. I recommend filling the tires to be 5PSI less than the maximum.
Tire pressure should also be checked periodically along your trip to make sure that tires are holding adequate PSI.
Invest in a spare tire for your trailer
Without a doubt, you should have a spare trailer tire. For a single axle trailer, one spare should be carried. For a double axle trailer, it is recommended to carry two spare tires. Most trailer manufactures will mount a spare onto the trailer when the trailer is purchased.
Your spare tire is equally as important as your tires in use. Spares should be checked for adequate tire pressure and wear and tear. Tires that are not in use for a period of time have a tendency to dry rot. If your spare tire is older, it is a good idea to have a new tire mounted on the rim before travel.
Any spare tire should be mounted on a matching rim as the existing trailer tires. In the event of a flat, you do not want to be traveling long distances on mismatched rim sizes. Spare tires should be mounted to the trailer using a standard spare bracket and secured with matching lug nuts. These lug nuts will serve as spares as well in the event of a lost or broken lug.
When possible, traveling with a second spare is advised. This is especially true for multi-axle trailers. In my experience, tire blowouts come in pairs. If you have a tire blowout, it is not uncommon to have a second blowout. Having two spares will help you avoid being stranded on the side of the road without an additional tire.
Be prepared for hub failures
One of the most overlooked aspects of your trailer is the hub assembly. The hub is the lifeline to your trailer tire spinning correctly. Hubs are attached directly to the axel and use a bearing system to allow the tire to spin. The tire is then mounted to the hub.
When traveling at high speeds, the tire is spinning at such great velocity that the bearing is subject to friction and heat. The hub relies on grease to reduce this friction. Hubs need to be greased and even disassembled and repacked periodically to avoid failure.
I strongly recommend installing a buddy-bearing system onto your hubs. A buddy bearing allows quick access to regrease the hub bearings through a grease cert on the outside of the trailer. Before traveling, grease can be applied through the buddy bearing using a grease gun.
How much grease should you put on buddy-bearings?
Be sure to not over grease your bearings. Typically only a couple of pumps of grease are required. If you see grease oozing outside of the buddy bearing seal, you have put too much.
Each time you stop while traveling, your hubs should be checked. Placing your hand on each hub and checking for heat is a good way to know if you are about to have hub failure. If the hub is too hot to touch with your hand, do not travel any longer on that hub. Additionally, if you notice grease is pouring out of the hub, then you have blown a hub and you should not travel any further.
Having a spare hub with you when traveling long distances is highly recommended. Replacing a hub can be a little time-consuming and require some effort. You do not want to replace a hub on the side of the road. Where possible, get off the highway and find somewhere that has sufficient room to work.
Check your trailer lights
Having improper light signals can not only earn you a ticket from the local police department, but it also creates a safety risk. Before traveling you should always check to make sure your trailer lights are working properly.
Check to make sure that both brake lights and turn signals are bright and visible. Additionally, you should make sure that your license plate is illuminated when traveling at night.
Having proper lights ensures that vehicles behind you are aware that something is in tow and especially needed when breaking. You don’t want someone running into the back of your boat because they were unaware of you stopping.
The most common cause of light failure is a bad ground wire. If you notice your lights suddenly stop working, checking your ground is a good place to start. This is often indicated by dim lighting when the trailer lights are on.
The ground wire on trailer lights will be indicated by a white wire. This wire is usually attached to a bolt-on trailer using an eye-ring connection. Check to make sure the ground is not corroded. If the ground connection is rusty or shows oxidation, try cleaning the connection with a wire brush.
If this does not work, cut the connection and reground the wire to any metal surface on the trailer.
Use a trailer lock
At the very least, a cotter pin should be used to secure the trailer coupler latch down. Failure to do so can cause the trailer to become unattached from the vehicle, especially when going over bumps.
A better option is to use a trailer lock. This will not only serve to keep your trailer secured to the vehicle but prevent theft when traveling or at the boat ramp. Trailer locks can be purchased at any of the big box hardware stores or from your local West Marine.
Believe it or not, boat trailers are stolen more often than you might think. A stolen trailer can be parted out by thieves or simply sold with a homemade trailer title. We will discuss avoiding theft a little later in this article.
Lastly, you will want to make sure that your trailer is equipped with safety chains. These are your last defense before losing your trailer when traveling. Safety chains are two pieces of chain or metal wire that are attached to the tongue of the trailer and are hooked to your vehicle’s towing package.
If your trailer does not have safety chains, they can be purchased from any trailer supply store or West Marine.
Strap your boat down
Even though boat trailers are designed to fit your hull onto the trailer, it is highly recommended to strap your boat to the trailer.
Typically, trailers will have eye-bolts on the rear end to allow for straps to be hooked. Using a simple ratchet strap will keep your boat from bouncing around while traveling with your boat. The ratchet strap should be secured across the stern of the boat and attached to the trailer on either side. Do not over-tighten the strap as you do not want to cause damage to the rub rails of your boat.
A very handy feature is to install boat buckles onto your trailer. Boat buckles are built-in individual ratchet straps that secure to your boat’s tow eyes. These straps take seconds to attach and are easily unhooked with a press of a button. This is a far easier option than attaching a ratchet strap across the stern each time you trailer.
Boat buckles come in various sizes and have varying strengths. If you decide to purchase boat buckles, make sure you select an adequate size and make sure they are made of stainless steel components. These buckles will be submerged each time you launch the boat, so stainless is a must.
Bring trailer tools for common issues
The most important thing you can do when traveling is making sure you have tools on hand to perform any fixes to your trailer. Do not rely on your vehicle’s standard tire change kit to get you out of a jam.
Here is a list of tools that I store in my truck when traveling with my boat:
- Hydraulic Jack – although this is bulky, it makes changing tires very fast and is far safer than a car jack.
- Impact Drill – Having an impact drill with a socket adapter allows me to change tires faster than using a 4 way wrench.
- Socket Set (½”) – A large socket set helps change tires and replace hubs
- Crescent wrench – good for removing any size bolt
- Hammer – sometimes removing a blown hub will require a little beating
- Grease gun / grease – in the event of a blown hub, you will need to grease the new hub.
- Spare hubs – I like to travel with two spares
- Brake cleaner – Will remove grease and corrosion when changing parts
- WD 40 – Helps lubricate lugs or other replacement parts
- Wire stripper/crimper – Used to fix any wiring issues.
- Heat shrink connectors – Varying sizes of heat shrink butt connectors and eye rings.
Preparing your boat
Now that you have prepared your trailer for the trip, it is time to prepare your boat. There are quite a few different methods for preparing your boat, but the constant theme is to secure your items. Here are some tips for getting your boat ready.
Use an engine transom saver
The transom of your boat is where your engine is mounted to the boat. Being that boat engines are heavy, the transom is usually reinforced to become stronger. Even though the transom may be reinforced, the boat is still made of fiberglass or composite material. This makes the transom vulnerable to damage caused by the weight of the engine.
When you travel down the road, any bump you hit is causing the engine to bounce. The force of the engine bouncing is being absorbed through the transom. Over time this can cause cracks in the transom of your vessel.
A solution for this is to use a transom saver. A transom saver is a bracket that connects the foot of the engine to the trailer. Placing this bracket under the engine and trimming the motor down creating a wedge onto the trailer, allows the force to be transferred from the transom to the trailer. Since the trailer is made of metal, it is far stronger than the fiberglass transom.
Outboard motors are also equipped with tilting brackets. These are small levers that fold down to hold the engine up. These should not be used when trailering the boat. The intention of these levers is to hold the engine in a tilted position when performing maintenance, or in the event your tilt and trim fails. I often see people trailering their boats using the tilt brackets. This does not prevent any stress from your transom.
Remove and store boat cushions
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many boat cushions I see flying down the highway. If your cushions are not bolted down, then they should be removed before traveling long distances. This will include any slide-on or snap-on cushions. Boat upholstery is very expensive, so don’t risk losing them by taking chances.
I like to store my cushions within the large hatches of my boat. If your cushions do not fit in a hatch, I would strongly suggest putting them in the trunk of your vehicle.
In fact, anything that is loose in the boat should be moved to a hatch or put into the vehicle. This includes things such as nets, pliers, and storage bags.
Remove electronic devices
Similar to cushions, I would recommend removing any electronics that you can. This would include things such as GPS units, trolling motors, and head units of stereo systems.
Removing these items not only protects them from unexpectedly coming loose, but also protects you from theft.
If your GPS unit can easily be removed, I would recommend storing this in your vehicle. If that is not an option, then I would store it inside of a hatch on the boat. For permanently mounted units, remove the face covers so they do not blow off.
Personally, I like to store my trolling motor inside my vehicle as well. Trolling motors are secured to the boat by a removable bracket which makes it easy to remove, but also makes it more prone to failure. Given their expense, I do not want to risk having the motor come loose when traveling.
Many people will choose to leave the trolling motor on their boat. If you decide to do so, I would highly recommend using a small padlock to make it less likely to be stolen.
Bring safety gear
Adventuring to new areas is exciting, but the lack of familiarity can create some safety challenges. Since you are already packing for a long road trip, now is a good time to check all of your safety gear.
You will want to make sure that you have adequate life jackets for any individual that will be on the boat. In addition to life jackets, it is required to have a throw device onboard in the event of a man overboard. The throw device requirement is satisfied by having a detachable cushion on board. Make sure you pack one of these when traveling.
Check to make sure that your fire extinguisher is full and free from corrosion or rust. If you will be fishing in the ocean, you will be required to carry flares. Now is a good time to check the expiration date on these.
A couple of other things to consider is making sure you have a whistling device on board, a good anchor, a manual bilge pump, and a first aid kit. First aid kits should include things such as cleaning agents and bandages.
If your vessel is equipped with a VHF radio, make sure it is in good working order and perform a radio check when heading out to your destination. Having a handheld VHF radio is always a good idea as well.
Lastly, make sure you have access to navigation tools for the area you are headed. This will include things such as maps on your GPS unit, phone apps such as Google Earth, or even a physical map. I would highly recommend studying the area on a map prior to your trip.
Bring basic boat tools
You are asking for trouble if you do not carry at least some basic tools on your boat at all times. Since you are already reviewing the safety gear on your boat for the trip, now is a good time to review your tool situation.
Saltwater is a tough environment and even if you have tools on board already, they should be checked periodically to make sure they are still in working order. Wrenches are notorious for seizing up over time.
When packing a tool kit for the boat, think of all of the possible things that could go wrong and what you would need to fix them. Here is a list of the tools I keep on my vessel at all times:
- Crescent wrench
- Needle nose pliers
- Small socket set
- Wire stripper/crimper
- Spare fuses
- Wire connectors
- Zip ties
- A sharp knife
The majority of issues experienced on the water cannot be fixed while on the boat, however, some of them can. Having these tools onboard allows you to keep minor issues from turning into something major. As mentioned above, this is another reason to have insurance. Boat insurance typically includes vessel towing services.
Protect against theft
It would be nice to live in a world where we did not have to worry about theft, but sadly this is not the case. Being that you own a boat, you have experience with how expensive boating and fishing gear can be. Doing little things to avoid theft will help you protect the investment.
As mentioned above, whenever something can be stored inside of the vehicle, it will be much safer. Thieves typically look for things that are easy to grab such as fishing rods, trolling motors, coolers, and GPS units.
When stopping at any gas station, restaurant, or hotel, you will want to secure these items. When possible, move your rods into the vehicle while stopped or make sure they are locked inside of a rod hatch. This goes for coolers as well, especially expensive brands such as Yeti. Once at your destination, these items should be moved inside when not in use.
Locking your trailer to your vehicle will help you avoid having your boat stolen. Trust me, this happens. If possible, park your vehicle in an area where you can see the boat out of the window. Also, try to park under lighted areas at night where it may deter a thief due to being seen.
Get boat insurance
Now is a good time to talk about insurance. There’s nothing worse than being stranded on the side of the road with a boat. Having insurance is a big help, as most insurance companies offer roadside assistance in addition to coverage on your boat. If you are not confident in your ability to perform roadside maintenance or simply want peace of mind, I would highly recommend purchasing insurance.
The last thing you want is to be involved in an accident that causes damage to your vessel and having to fork out the repair costs. This is what makes insurance worth the cost. Even if you believe your vessel is not worth enough to insure, having insurance will also protect you from any damage you cause others while on the water or when towing the boat.
Policies can also be used to cover fishing gear that is in your boat. This is a great way to protect your gear in the event of theft while traveling.
The goal of traveling with a boat is to have an enjoyable time. Taking some extra time to prepare before the long haul can save you some time and heartache.
Make sure your trailer has been maintained and that you are prepared in the event of a breakdown. Store valuables inside of your vehicle when possible.
The number one theme is to make sure everything is secured. This includes making sure your trailer and boat are secured down. Since you are traveling to a new area, take some time to familiarize yourself with the area on a map and double-check all of your safety gear.
Having tools on hand for the trailer and boat can get you out of any unexpected jams. Do these little things to make traveling with a boat a breeze.