In fall we begin to think about putting our boats away for the winter. We fog the engines and put anti-freeze in the water lines, but how many of us prepare our trailers to spend several months sitting in the cold? Let’s look at the many things you can do to extend the life of your trailer before putting it up for the winter.
If you do a lot of saltwater cruising, I’m sure you hose down the boat and trailer afterward. Some boaters even go to the carwash to use the high-pressure freshwater spray. I prefer to find a boat ramp on a lake and dunk the whole rig. That will thoroughly rinse even the trailer’s most remote corners. While you’re at it, run the engine for three minutes or more.
After the trailer is in its winter home, inspect it for rust. Many parts on galvanized or aluminum trailers only have electro-galvanizing, which consists of a thin coat of zinc. If you find rust, coat these parts with a good quality rust-preventive paint. Parts such as U-bolts and light and license plate brackets can all fall prey to rust. Check the leaf springs. Remove heavy rust with a wire brush, and spray the springs with rust-preventive oil. Also check the gears on your winch and coat them too. Do not oil the nylon winch strap!
While you are in the front of the trailer, check the brake lines. If they show rust, paint them with a couple coats of rust-preventive paint. Check the inside of the ball-hitch receiver, remove rust if present, and spray with the same stuff you used on your leaf springs.
Next, check the jack on the front of the trailer. Does it move smoothly up and down when you crank the handle? Is it tight, or does it squeak and complain when you turn the crank? If it does, it might need replacing. If it sounds OK and runs smoothly, liberally coat the moving parts with the rust-preventive oil.
Check the tightness of the lug nuts on all wheels. While these do not generally become loose in normal operation, it’s not unheard of for people at a boat ramp to tamper with lug nuts to discourage you from returning to their “secret” fishing spots.
Jack up the trailer and block it so the tires are off the ground. Tires in contact with the ground can deteriorate, causing weak spots. Coat tire sidewalls with ArmorAll protectant to slow the progress of dry rot. Spin the wheel. Does it make noise, or is it silent? If you hear noise, it could be the precursor of bearing failure. Take time to replace the bearings now. If you don’t have spring-loaded bearing protectors (Bearing Buddy is one brand), consider installing them. The springs keep pressure on the grease inside the hub and keep water out.
Resist the temptation to top off the grease in a spring-loaded bearing protector. Leave the spring only partly loaded. If you overload the spring, you run the risk of blowing out the seal on the inside of the hub, losing all your grease, and having your bearings fail. Replace the rubber caps on the bearing protectors.
If you had trouble with your running lights, this might be a good time to replace those old incandescents with LED lights. Unlike incandescent bulbs, which can pop when immersed in water, LED lights are submersible. If the lights are OK, finish your winterizing by cleaning the plug for your trailer lights. Wrap a piece of fine sandpaper around a toothpick and clean the sockets. Use sandpaper to clean the plugs, and coat all cleaned surfaces with dielectric grease. If you don’t have dielectric grease, a thin film of the stuff you packed your bearings with is just as good. Cover your tires to protect them from sunlight.
Now you can spend those winter nights confident that when spring arrives, you’ll have no trailering problems to deal with.
D/1st/Lt David H. Osmolski, SN, of Charlotte Power Squadron/27, has been repairing boats since high school when his first boat, a canvas-covered canoe with cedar ribs, leaked in gallons per minute and required constant repair.