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Pre-Tow Checklist for Hauling Your Boat

Make sure you check all the boxes before you hit the road with a boat in tow.

Pre-Tow Checklist for Hauling Your Boat

Trailering your boat allows you to experience adventures on different waterways, probe new fishing hot spots and venture to distant ports. But trailering can also be a bit stressful, especially in heavy traffic or on long hauls. To that end, having a pre-tow checklist you can go through before every outing will help give you the peace of mind that you’re ready to safely make the trip.

Every tow vehicle and every trailer boat is different, and you’ll probably want to make a tweak here and a modification there, but this basic pre-tow checklist is great for getting started.

First, Hitch the Trailer the Right Way

Hitching the boat trailer to the tow vehicle is a simple task, but obviously, it’s also one that’s quite important.

Take your time when hitching up, and observe the following procedure:

  1. Raise the trailer tongue above the height of the tow vehicle’s hitch.

  2. Back the tow vehicle until the hitch ball is directly below the trailer’s coupler.

  3. Lower the trailer tongue until the coupler is completely on the ball and the weight shifts from the trailer jack to the hitch.

  4. Flip the coupler’s latch into the closed position.

  5. Insert the locking pin or lock in the coupler. Hitches can have various types of pins and/or locking mechanisms, so you’ll need to follow the manufacturer’s recommended method.

  6. Swing up or raise the trailer jack.

  7. Attach the safety chains, being sure they cross each other under the tongue. Make sure the chains are up high enough that they’ll support the tongue if it comes off the hitch, and that there’s enough slack so they won’t bind when you turn. To shorten them, simply twist the chains a time or two. This Quick Tip video shows how it should be done.  

  8. If your trailer has brakes, attach the emergency break-away cable, which will engage the brakes of the trailer if it somehow pulls away from the tow vehicle.

  9. Plug in the trailer light wire plug.

Now, Check Your Trailer

After hitching your trailer, follow this checklist before hitting the road:

  1. Do a full light check. Trailer lights are notorious for failing, so before every tow make sure tail, brake, blinker and marker lights are all working properly.

  2. Ensure your transom tie-down strap(s) are fully secured.

  3. Ensure your winch is tight and engaged and your winch safety chain is hooked.

  4. Inspect the trailer jack stand to make sure it’s all the way up or locked in a tilted-up position, per the manufacturer instructions for towing.

  5. Check tire pressure on the tow vehicle and especially the trailer tires. Trailers commonly sit for a week or more between uses, and many people don’t check their pressure often, so towing with low tire pressure is unfortunately very common. This reduces fuel efficiency and can cause excessive tire wear.

  6. Inspect your boat for items that could potentially bounce or blow out. Everything inside of it should be enclosed in a compartment or thoroughly secured in place.

  7. Make sure your outboard or lower unit is at a safe level and properly supported. If you use a transom saver, verify that it’s in place and properly secured. This Quick Tip video offers more advice for protecting your boat and outboard while towing.  

  8. If your boat has any appendages, like a VHF radio antenna, see that it’s folded down into a towing position.

  9. Make sure you have the keys to the boat, the drain plug and other critical gear in your tow vehicle. Nothing’s worse than arriving at the boat ramp only to discover you’ve forgotten items like these.

  10. Give the coupler a final check before getting in the tow vehicle.
  11. Once in the vehicle, adjust and/or extend the sideview mirrors as necessary for proper visibility.

  12. If your trailer has electric brakes, make sure the controller is properly set.

Don’t Forget Monthly Trailer Checks

In addition to the pre-tow checks listed above, you should also perform a few monthly checks:

  1. Make sure the trailer hubs have proper lubrication.

  2. Check the tightness of wheel lug nuts.

  3. Inspect frame and axle condition, paying close attention for corrosion, which can be a particular problem for trailer boats used in saltwater.

  4. Check fluid level in hydraulic brake systems.

  5. Inspect rollers and/or bunks for wear and tear.

Keep this checklist in mind, along with any specific safety checks recommended by your trailer manufacturer, and soon you’ll be trailering your boat like a pro. That’s the first step toward enjoying new waterways and discovering untapped fishing hot spots that can produce some awesome on-water memories.

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