AVOIDING TRAILER PANIC STOPS By WARREN STEPTOE
New fish in new places is one of fishing’s great pleasures, and brings you face to face with the reality of fishing travel.
Packaged fishing is more popular than ever and is often a better option when the cost of boat, trailer and associated tackle, camping gear or accommodation is added on trip by trip. More than one astute angler has sat down and worked up the numbers, and then opted for the packaged trip option. Most of us prefer our own boat, and do our own thing on trips at least some of the time. Albeit with the benefit of as much local info as can be obtained by fair means or foul. A fact of highway travel is that you often see boats on broken down trailers stranded on the side of the road. This has a lot to do with inadequate maintenance, which we’ll come to shortly, but all too frequently the reason is that the trailer wasn’t up to the job. Putting your pride and joy on a trailer worthy of it is one of those hoary old chestnuts I seem to have been preaching about forever. When a boat buying budget gets squeezed, as boat buying budgets always seem to, saving money on the trailer is an easy a trap to fall into. Cost cutting with boat trailers is so common it’s difficult to purchase a decent trailer. And by decent I mean one up to regular highway trips, say a couple of times a year or so. Boat buyers are as much to blame as dealers who insist trailers be as cheap as possible to keep packages competitive with other dealers. My point is that too many trailer components are poor quality. I followed my own advice and spent several thousand dollars extra to put a boat I knew was going to spend significant amounts of time on the highway onto a trailer I thought I could trust, only to be let down by crappy components. I’ve since found quality components, which I’ve replaced the originals with at considerable expense. I found that there are quality trailers available, provided you ask for them, and are prepared to pay the dollars. I just got the brand wrong. It took a lot of homework to get to this point, so the advice on offer is not to take what the dealers say about trailers as Gospel; do as much homework on the trailer as you would on the rest of the rig. Several top boat manufacturers insist their trailers are used under their boats. In a few cases of less reputable brands, this is about the boat company trying to maximise profits. However, when reputable brands like Cruise Craft or the Haines Group insist on a particular trailer, they are doing so for their customers’ benefit. These companies are aware trailer hassles cause a great deal of dissatisfaction, and it’s sound business sense to ensure customers are satisfied. Furthermore, I’ve seen both the mentioned brands ask customers how and where they’re going to use their boats. The guy just wanting to trailer his boat down to the local boat club for launch and retrieve gets one trailer set up; the bloke intending to tow his boat to north Queensland regularly gets a different (read more expensive) highway trailer. A highway trailer is based around a chassis built from heavier box section or chassis channel. It’s a bit off track, but the trend to chassis built from “C-section” is positive as these are easier to hose down, dry quicker, and won’t trap moisture inside like a box section trailer chassis. You should always flush box section chassis with fresh water after immersion, particularly if the trailer has to be immersed for launch and retrieve. Another trend is to aluminium trailers. This is a good thing in some ways as there is less likelihood of corrosion weakening the trailer chassis; however, aluminium isn’t as resilient as steel and is far more likely to crack. Aluminium trailers for regular highway need to be designed properly and massively over constructed to minimise the likelihood of stress cracks. Then there’s an uprated suspension, necessary for the extra loads inherent on road trips where boats tend to be loaded with camping gear. Dealing with sub-standard roads, yeah even our Aussie highways are pretty bad once you leave the major urban centres, is another function of an uprated suspension. Uprated tends to mean the suspension can carry more weight, but there’s a little more to it than that. Heavier springs means thicker ones less likely to break, or more leaves placing less stress on each individual one. Larger shackle pins is another factor often gained with uprated suspension. One trick experienced long-trip boaties use is to buy the biggest trailer their boat will fit on, rather than the smallest. Trailers rated for longer boats usually already have heavier chassis and uprated suspension, and there are two bonuses: a longer trailer is more stable at higher speeds, and because the draw bar is longer, they’re easier to back. The boat sits further away from the tow vehicle where you can see it better, and stepping between boat and tow vehicle in servos or when readying the boat for a fishing trip, is less fraught with peril. Tyres are a major factor in boats sitting forlornly on roadsides. Think about it, a lot of them have flat tires. Cheap tyres is a way to keep trailer prices down, but cheap tyres don’t last long at highway speeds under a heavily laden trailer in the heat of an average Aussie summer. Any boat and trailer rig weighing over a couple of hundred kilograms should be running on light truck tyres. Radials run cooler than (almost obsolete) cross ply tyres, and radial light truck tires are more common now than old style tyres. Using quality light truck tyres on boat trailers is necessary with boat and trailer rigs getting towards the switch over from single to dual axles. My boat and trailer rig weighs in about 800kg empty, let alone with a full fuel tank and a heap of camping gear. It’s a big ask for a single tyre each side, although the whole rigs too small for dual axles to be a good idea. I learned the hard way that trailer tyres deteriorate with age faster than you’d expect. Rubber hardens in a few years and tire carcasses lose the flexibility needed to deal with the radical deflections that bumps and potholes produce. Tyres are capable of crapping themselves while sitting still. Several of my trailer tyres have cracked of their own accord, or gone out of round before the tread exhibited significant wear. If your trailer tyres are more than a couple of years old, inspect them closely. If not confident you can detect signs of deterioration, take them to a tyre service centre and get them to inspect your trailer tyres. I get 2-3 years out of mine before they go hard, start cracking and go out of round. That the pointy trailer will carry its own spare wheel goes without saying. On long trips, such as to North Queensland, I carry two spare wheels for a single axle trailer. Two spares is probably okay for dual axle trailers because you’ve still got one wheel to progress with. Provided you strap up the offending axle, you can keep going at reduced speed. It’s a long way between tyre service centres up that way, and smaller centres likely won’t have the size tyre you need if one dies completely. A lot of flats on boat trailers end up destroying the tyre before you realise it’s going flat. The way to deal with this is to set your side mirrors so the wheels are visible, and to develop the habit of periodically checking the bulge in the sidewall in the mirror. This way (hopefully) you’ll notice a deflating tyre before it self-destructs. It would be ideal on long trips if the tow vehicle and trailer had the same wheels, that way if you carry a spare on the trailer and one in the vehicle you’ve got two. Many of us use a 4WD for towing, and only larger boat trailers are likely to have 4WD-size wheels. If in the lucky position of trailer and tow vehicle having the same size wheels and the same stud spacing, I suggest you check that the trailer wheels will fit both ends of the vehicle. Critical points are the overall diameter of the tyre and the stud spacing of the hub. I mention this because (say) 15 and 16-inch 4WD wheels can have the same diameter tyres and the same stud spacing on the hubs. However, it may well be that the 15 inch wheels won’t fit one end of the vehicle because the smaller diameter rims will foul on the brake calliper. Quite a few 4WDs these days have 17 inch or bigger wheels, and massive disc brakes, so this is worth checking out. Even if it means your trailer spare will only fit the rear of the tow vehicle - front brakes are bigger than rear - you can still get yourself out of strife by swapping wheels around. A lot of mucking around jacking the vehicle up twice and shuffling wheels, although it won’t seem like too much trouble when you’re miles from anywhere and the mobile doesn’t work. The main reason some boat builders insist their boats are carried on factory-approved trailers is that it ensures the hull is appropriately supported by the trailer. Think why these factory built and factory approved trailers invariably have more rollers supporting the hull, and the picture becomes clear. More rollers aren’t necessarily better if they’re in the wrong places, but it helps. My experience is that every fishing trip to greener pastures can be expected to involve at least one panic stop. Whether it’s an idiot of one kind or other, a roo or bunch of bovines casually wandering across the road; it’s good to lose enough speed not to hit them. Brakes on boat trailers are an absolute pain in the arse. Nevertheless, you have to have them on rigs weighing over 750kg in my State, and a set of functional trailer brakes suddenly seem a fantastic idea when cattle are standing on the road staring you down. The best set of boat trailer brakes I ever had were a set of simple mechanically actuated disc brakes on Flat Cat’s trailer. Their cables needed periodic adjustment to keep the stoppers up to par, but they worked and kept working with maintenance, and an occasional check the pads weren’t worn out.
My experience is that every fishing trip to greener pastures can be expected to involve at least one panic stop. My boat trailer is on its second set of hydraulic disc brakes. The manufacturer-fitted brakes didn’t last the first year. The second set of brakes was fitted at great expense, and although functioning well, require regular maintenance. These brakes have bronze rotors and stainless steel callipers, but it is a crude system that doesn’t have a means to return the piston after the brakes release. Many simple disc brakes are like this. My brakes drag constantly, and if the brakes are left on, by using the parking lever, for more than a few minutes, they lock on. Not only that, the non corrosive rotors and callipers are fine, but the brake pads are backed with mild steel, which can corrode enough for the entire pad to fall out. Larger boat trailers have electric brakes and break away systems, which introduce another high maintenance element into a necessary part of all bar very small boat trailers. All I can say in the way of wisdom here is to religiously maintain your boat trailer brakes. They’re easy to forget about most of the time, but when you need ‘em, you really need ‘em. The other parts on boat trailers you need to maintain religiously are the wheel bearings. These should be repacked with high temperature, waterproof bearing grease once a year, whether they need it or not. Launching situations that dictate the hubs go under water mean more maintenance. Only the cheapest boat trailers these days don’t have “bearing buddies” on the hubs. And while bearing buddies are a wonderful invention they don’t mean that hubs don’t need regular attention. Constantly pumping bearing buddies full of grease isn’t the answer either, although if you don’t have trailer brakes to get all fouled with grease, and don’t mind the mess created by grease flung out of the inner seals, it might keep you out of trouble. The one time I do like to give my bearing buddies a shot of grease is when launching after a being on the road long enough to heat the hub bearings up. If you back straight down into the water with warm hubs, the sudden cooling is likely to literally suck water in, so a couple of pumps with a grease gun, just enough for the inner seals to bulge is right. This will pressurise the inside of the hub, and go a long way towards keeping water out of your precious bearings. And finally, there’s no point having a great boat trailer if the boat doesn’t stay on it. Tie downs have come a long way in the past few years and chain auto accessory stores these days stock a wide variety of load rated tie down straps. Use them. When the transom tie downs are ratcheted tight, I like my boat to be tied down solid at the bows with a length of chain set at an angle off the trailer chassis so it comes tight to prevent the boat riding forward.