Boat Trailer Chains: The Art of Hooking Up

Even if your state doesn’t require safety chains with closeout clasps, such as those pictured above, they are a good idea because they are less likely to fall off as you travel over over bumpy roads.

If you’re thinking of buying a trailerable boat, remember that there are two types of people at the launch ramp – those who are prepared and those who are not. On second thought, add two more types of people – those who can laugh at the unprepared, and those who seethe with anger at them for holding up things at the ramp.

Whoever you want to be is your choice, but your best bet is to be prepared, then decide whether you prefer laughter or elevated blood pressure.

Going boating starts the night before. Hook up the night before you go. Gas up the truck and the boat and install the plug if you haven’t already. Also load the coolers and all the gear you need into the boat that night. Load them into the boat so you don’t have to transfer them from the truck to the boat when you get to the ramp. No sense in double-handling things.

As you’re hooking up the trailer, be sure to cross the safety chains under the tongue. If it does come uncoupled, the trailer will fall into the “cradle” formed by the two chains, which allows you to maintain vehicle control and reduces potential damage. It sounds theoretical, but it really does work. I refuse to explain how I know that.

Also, if you’re towing between states, check applicable laws. Some states allow “S” chains, but some, such as California, require the J hooks with the closeout clasps, which prevent the chains from bouncing off.

Be sure the coupler is latched and locked. If you have a screw-down-style coupler, be sure it’s as tight as can be. If you have the throw latch, padlock it closed or use a cotter key. That way, it can’t come uncoupled. Also, because you’re hooking everything up the night before, you can check all the trailer lights without any help.

So, dawn arrives and you’re loaded and ready to go, right? Maybe not. Odds are, you need to remove the cover for towing, particularly if you’re towing on the freeway. Inevitably, wind sneaks beneath the cover and pops a couple of snaps loose, which then flail and flap in the wind and do unspeakably horrid things to your gelcoat. Unless your cover is expressly specified as compatible for towing, take it off before you head out.

Removing the cover is one less thing you have to do when you arrive at the ramp. And because the plug is already in and the gear is loaded into the boat, all you have to do when you arrive is detach the stern straps. Obviously, you leave the bow eye strap attached until the boat is safely in the water—lest you dump your boat onto the concrete ramp. I refuse to explain how I know that.

After driving to your favorite boating spot, understand that your trailer’s wheel bearings, brakes, and seals are probably hot. When you stick a hot trailer right in chilly water, all those components undergo rapid cooling, and that leads to rapid contraction, which can lead to water intrusion in the bearings. If you can, let them cool off a bit before dipping the trailer. And make it a habit. Why? Continual dunking of hot wheel bearings into cold water can decrease their service life. The rapid cooling that occurs causes the metals and seals to contract quickly, which actually draws water in. As a result, the metals can lose their temper and weaken. Grease can become diluted with water, which can lead to corrosion. However, it is a boat trailer, so the dunking is just part of its job, to the extent that grease and bearings are almost wear items.

You can think about that later. Right now, your boat is in the water, so enjoy!

Brett Becker

For much more on marine trailers, trailer brakes, and safe trailering, see the following: