Is your boat trailer safe for the road?

Several years ago I had an experience that I never plan to repeat. I had been fishing in the lower part of the Chesapeake Bay for several days. The weather was not cooperating so I said to my wife and daughter “let’s head home”. I drive a 79 Chevy 3/4 ton truck, had a 2000 pound cab over camper setting in the bed, and was pulling my boat with the truck. The boat weighs 2150 dry, and the trailer weighs about 700 pounds. Up until that day my policy had been to clean and re-pack the wheel bearings on the trailer ever other year. I had a plastic bearing caps on each wheel and had greased the wheels before pulling the boat the 185 miles south that week. We had launched about three times during our stay. I had a grease gun with me but assumed the bearing had “plenty” of grease. My wife and daughter were following in our car, and had told me on the CB radio that they were going to stop for some crab meat to take home. I continued on, dropping my speed back to 50 mph to allow them to catch up with me.

I had only gone about 20 miles when a van pulled up beside me and started blowing his horn. His passenger shouted that I was about to loose a wheel on my trailer. I had felt the truck swaying, but just thought it was do to the cross wind blowing that day. I immediately pulled over on the shoulder of the road. When I got out to look at the trailer wheel on the passenger side, the wheel was sticking half way out of the fender on the trailer. The plastic bearing cap was gone, so was all the grease and the bearing in that wheel. The hub was actually riding on the nut that held the hub onto the axle. The nut had gotten so hot acting as a bearing that it had turned a deep blue in color.

About ten minutes after stopping my wife came along and pulled over in front of me. I jacked the trailer up and removed the wheel and what was left of the hub, and nut. The inner bearing race had been welded to the axle and could not be removed. After trying for two hours I finally located a new hub, and bearing. Since what was left of the inner race was welded onto the axle, I couldn’t get the new bearings on far enough to allow the nut to go all the way on the axle. I couldn’t get the cotter pin through the axle that would prevent the nut from coming off. This type of repair is not fun, especially when you only have limited tools. I drove the remaining 150 miles home at 45 mph and stopped every 20-30 miles to check the condition of the wheel, hub, and nut. After returning home I had to replace the trailer axle and install another new bearing.

The solution to this problem is simple. I now clean out the old grease, and re-pack the bearings with new grease every year. I have now installed metal bearing buddy’s on both wheels, and I give each wheel a shot of grease after any long trip, before the first launch. I also carry a spare wheel bearing. After the wheels are re-packed, I give it a shot of grease the first couple of times I pull the boat, to insure that the bearing is full of grease to prevent water from entering the bearing. Don’t let something like this happen to you. Spend the time to do a little preventative maintenance on your wheel bearings at the start of the boating season.

Here is another tip I picked up from an “old salt”. Make a wheel chock for your boat trailer. You will not believe how many times this comes in handy at the launching ramp, or just to insure that your trailer stays put where you park it. My chock is made from a 10 inch piece of 4X4. In one end I have attached a large screw eye. I have a 6 foot piece of nylon parachute cord tied to the screw eye and a large loop in the other end. When I’m launching at a ramp with a steep incline, I block one of the rear wheels of the truck with this chock, and loop the end of the cord around the truck’s bumper. When I pull out of the ramp the chock is attached to the truck’s bumper and is drug across the parking lot until I have the trailer safely out of the water. This is just extra insurance that prevents my truck from taking an unauthorized swim at the launching ramp should the emergency brake fail to hold.

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