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Care of your boat trailer

By Francis Caldwell

Look around at the hundreds of boat trailers, in launch sites, in yards, in boat sales agencies. Boat trailers are as neglected as last year’s Christmas tree.

Very few are kept inside, which means they are subjected to the whims of weather, and theft.

Of the many things that can shorten the life of a boat trailer, and cause you the most trouble, exposure to salt water ranks highest. You may look at most trailers and see a galvanized frame, and think, this trailer is indestructible.

The trailers brake system is its Achilles’s Heel. Specifically, the inside of the steel brake drums. Unless flushed with fresh water after exposure to salt water, corrosion immediately begins its deadly actions on the smooth surface of the brake and internal mechanical parts.

CARE: If your trailer is equipped with a fresh water flushing system, you should see a hose fitting in behind one of the wheels, and tubing running across the axle to the opposite side. Hook it up to a fresh water hose and let it run for ten minutes. This should flush out the salt water.

If using your trailer in fresh water, you shouldn’t have much trouble. If it’s convenient, back your trailer into a freshwater lake and let it soak a few minutes after it’s been submerged in salt water.

Before submerging your trailer, always disconnect the electrical hookup, or you’re going to blow fuses.

I learned the hard way about salt water corrosion. I bought a 23-foot Bayliner Trophy in the water. The lights refused to work. The connections were green with corrosion. After fixing that, I towed the trailer home empty.

The first time I towed the trailer with the boat loaded, I could hear a terrible noise when I hit the brakes. At home I jacked up one wheel and pulled it off. What a mess! The drums were so corroded chunks of metal had fallen off. Evidently the previous owner had launched the boat, parked the trailer, without flushing it, and left it set for several years.

I took a hammer and chisel to the inside casting and removed all the rusty metal I could, before sending the brake drums to the shop for turning. The lathe operator warned me that he’d been forced to cut away so much to get to good metal that he didn’t recommend another brake job!

Before re installing the drums, I sprayed the inside parts, and housing (not the brake shoe surface) with a rust prohibitory, available at most automotive stores.

My trailer had a nasty habit of throwing buddy bearing grease caps. Then grease would run out when it got warm. Finally I got tired of this behavior, drilled and tapped the metal caps and locked them with 3/16 stainless steel studs. End of problem. Grease caps are designed to keep pressure on the bearings, and prevent salt water damage. Keep caps full of waterproof grease.

Brakes are not all that suffer from immersion in salt water. Wiring harness, tail and signal lights also corrode. Clean terminals with steel wool, then apply Bag Balm or Vaseline to the terminals. A complete rewire may be necessary.

The tow vehicle end of your wiring is a female fitting and not easy to clean. Protect it by packing it with Bag Balm or Vaseline.

Next are tires. Since trailers normally set outside where sunlight strikes the tires, they rot and decompose rapidly. Let’s face facts. Most boat trailer tires are cheap to begin with. If in doubt, stop by your tire shop and ask for their assessment.

When leaving your trailer sit out in the sun for long periods, cover the tires with white tire covers, plywood or whatever. Tire covers are cheaper than new tires. Tie them on with a strong cord to prevent them from blowing away while sitting.

THEFT Many trailer boats today are worth from $50,000 to $200,000 dollars. Some are crammed with expensive electronic equipment. All have either inboard-outboard engines, or outboards. Some have two or three outboards, each worth approximately $30,000. No wonder they are lucrative targets for experienced thieves.

Today’s newspaper, The Peninsula Daily News, has a story, “A Stolen boat stripped. Law enforcement continues to probe into alleged ring. A $60,000 custom-made aluminum sport-fishing boat stolen in Jefferson County in May was found Friday in Port Gamble, stripped and partially cut up.

“A man was charged with first-degree possession of stolen property, with a $75,000 boat stolen from Milton. Officers tracked a $200,000 Cobalt speed boat that had been stolen from Olympia.

“The boat was one of 18 that have been stolen in eight counties, and investigators are trying to piece together evidence for what they believe is a boat theft ring.”


Even boats moored in one of many boat basins, including those that have “security,” aren’t safe from thieves.

Boat theft is a growing problem. Some weird variations happen. Recently, an almost new trailer was stolen, but the boat had been shoved off and left on dry land.

Stolen boats are stripped of motors and electronics, and the hulls run through chop shops. Aluminum is cut up and sold as scrap. Fiberglas is cut up to avoid identification.

What can a boat owner do? Obviously, insure boat, engines and electronics. If possible, have your agent do a personal inspection. List everything, including serial numbers. Photograph the equipment with a video camera or still camera, and provide copies of the equipment and video to your agent, in case he “forgets.” During long lay ups, remove radars, and other expensive equipment. Your household insurance will probably cover the items, but check to make sure. If it’s a long lay up, you should get a reduction in your rates.

There are several ways to lock up a boat trailer. Run heavy cable through the wheels and around the frame, with padlocks on the ends. Padlock the hitch.

Regardless of how you protect your boat and trailer, professional thieves with an acetylene cutting torch could quickly cut off most locks.

If your boat trailer is old, and you tow it many miles, consider upgrading to the new disk brake and sealed oil bearing system. Go to www.ezloader.com to see a brochure and all the info you need.

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Thanks to Pete Morris, editor
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