Boat trailers are often an overlooked piece of fishing equipment.

I heard it from my next door neighbor. All the moaning and groaning, as he was down on his hands and knees looking at a wheel on this big bass rig hauler. Apparently the wheel bearing was out, and he admitted not inspecting it the season before. 

Then I am reminded of the episode of Swamp People when cast member Tommy Chauvin borrowed Joe LaFont’s small backwater boat and trailer to do some solo gator catching. Turns out in the process of hauling the old, dilapidated rig to the bayou and then trying to pull it out of muck at the bank, the whole axle came out from underneath the trailer.

One can only suspect the trailer was way past some inspection and needed repair. Don’t let this happen to you. 

Conducting a boat trailer walk-a-round

On the surface, I guess a boat trailer seems like a pretty simple piece of equipment. However, there are a lot of components to a trailer and, consequently, a lot of little stuff that can break, breakdown, wear out, get out of alignment and such.

Any angler worth his five-box, heavy-duty bass-lure tackle case should give their trailer regular inspections and preventative maintenance, especially before backing down the ramp into the water. 

A quick walk-around inspection of a boat trailer can often turn up a lot of issues or potential ones.

Virtually every trailer consists of a vehicle hitch, a winch and coupler to secure the boat to the trailer, tie-down straps, bunks and rollers, mounting boards, carpet, lighting gear, trailer wiring and plug, tires and wheels, axle, exterior finishes, and more. 

Take an adequate amount of time when you hook up your rig to your vehicle to look the whole thing over, top to bottom — especially the bottom while the boat is on it.

Once the boat is off the trailer after you pull out of the ramp or before you go back to retrieve your boat, give the whole thing another close look. 

Essential components first

I was coming back from deer camp on Interstate 55 back in January, and there it was a breakdown alongside the shoulder on the highway. It was a completely destroyed tire on the rim of a boat trailer.

It had either gone flat and then burned up, or the guy drove it flat too long. I thought the remaining tire was way too small for the trailer. 

So before you pull out of the driveway check your boat trailer tires. Check for the proper air pressure and, if short, get them filled to the proper inflation.

Inspect for wear, tear, cracks, dry rotting and general condition. Buy new ones if needed.

Check your spare trailer tire, too, as this and the one on your primary vehicle are most often neglected items. 

Before you drive out into the street, make sure the trailer hitch is completely functional and locks up tight. A regular spray of Liquid Wrench does wonders.

Inspect the hitch safety chains. Walk around to double check the tie-down straps and that the motor support is locked.

Look at the electrical plug and clean as needed with a small brass brush. Water, dirt and time can really deteriorate the connection points and in the bumper plug, too.

Test for light function for both turn signals and stop lights. Replace burned out or dysfunctional bulbs as soon as possible. 

Secondary inspection tips

“Out of sight and mind is no excuse. Trust me: I test this principle nearly every day and I am the one most often fooled,” laughed Mark Cockrell, who regularly fishes the Ross Barnett Reservoir and the Gulf Coast. “Since I use my boat in both fresh and saltwater venues, I try to keep up with regular maintenance. I work on the big items first, but sometimes the little ones slip by.

“Glance at your trailer license plate for the next annual renewal date. Walk over to check your boat registration stickers and that your state license boat number is intact. I have seen cases where these can get rubbed off at a boat dock pretty easily. These are easy things to do while you are giving the trailer itself the once-over.”

It is also recommended to get down with proper wrenches and sockets to tighten every bolt on the trailer. Do this where the trailer hitch is attached to the trailer.

And it’s especially important to check the axle mounting brackets where the axle is assembled to the trailer frame. In time, these nuts and bolts can loosen in travel or outright deteriorate due to rusting from water submersion.

Look at the fenders over the wheels. Check the grease faring/cap on the axle hub. Occasionally give each wheel lug nut a twist with a tire wrench. 

Undoubtedly there are more items to inspect, maintain, repair or replace. Just be sure before and during the fishing season that you give boat trailer maintenance some time.

Otherwise I might be passing you broke down on the side of the highway or at a boat dock.