trailer bearings: Why many trailing sailors have the wrong type – Practical Boat Owner Magazine

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Clive Marsh explains why many trailing sailors may have the wrong type of boat trailer bearings and don’t know what is happening inside their hubs…

Being able to easily trail your little boat to new cruising grounds is a great feeling. Many owners of cruising yachts simply don’t get the time to go far from their moorings and their boats become day sailers from the one location.

But the trailer-sailer can be taken to new haunts around the coast and to inland lakes and waters that are not accessible to cruising yachts.

I like to book into a good hotel or boarding house and day sail. My wife certainly prefers this to being stuck at an angle on a damp mooring up a muddy creek. Since trailer sailing I have got in order to know many ports plus inland waters.

For a working man with just a few weeks holiday each year a fin keel touring yacht on a marina does not give much opportunity to visit many brand new places, even if the particular weather window allows it. So for me you can’t beat a good trailer-sailer.

Now, for a trailer-sailer to be safe and enjoyable the trailer and launching arrangement needs to be well designed for the boat and to work well. Skimp on the trailer at your peril.

Article continues below…


Compulsive vessel owner Clive Marsh describes why little luggers make perfect trailer-sailers

Paul Adamson from the Isle of Man, writes: “My wife and I are looking to buy a trailer sailboat, mainly…


You need the first-class trailer and with regard to this reason even a dinghy with a purpose-built truck can cost more in order to buy than an used small cruiser. But the particular savings in marina, berthing or yard fees enjoyed can be significant. Mooring, harbour or haul out fees and the rest for a small cruiser on the South Coast may easily come to more than £3, 000 a year.

Beware wet boat trailer bearings

For lighter dinghies a combination trailer/trolley is often used. This type has a separate launching trolley that slides off the road base. This means the boat trailer bearings on the road trailer will not get damp and will last longer. For heavier day boats, however , it’s normal to launch the boat directly from the road trailer plus we now enter the world of wet bearings.

You really don’t want to get your own bearings wet, especially in salt water. So to avoid this happening we have invented swing back trailers and break back trailers which might enable the motorboat to be launched plus recovered without the need to immerse the wheel bearings.

Swing cradle truck

However , there will come the time when a wave gets you or a careless tractor driver immerses your trailer. This is when you need in order to pay attention to the type of bearings you have on your trailer.

Another word of warning, never assume when you buy a second hand boat that the bearings are OK whatever the seller tells you. He or she may have the particular best of intentions but I’ve been caught on many occasions and found myself changing bearings upon the side of the busy British A-road within the rain.

The best type of boat trailer bearings

For me the best type of ship trailer bearings are the particular simple tapered variety. I like these because We can easily strip them down and change all of them around the roadside in just 15 minutes. It really is simple. It is even easier to just replace the hub with new bearings and take the old centre and bearings home to service.

Trailer with easy recovery roller units at rear

The huge advantage associated with these types of bearings are their simplicity to inspect and service on site with no special equipment other than spanners, pliers, hammer, grease and wheel nut remover and perhaps a bearing puller, although I actually have never needed to use one.

Another type of bearing will be often described as ‘sealed regarding life’. These are similar in order to those used on caravans. I don’t think they’re suitable for marine use if there is even a small a chance they will be immersed in water. The reason for this is you can’t easily strip and inspect them on-site.

They’re normally serviced in a garage with a bench press. I thought they’d become fine on my swing back trailer which did not need its hubs to get wet. Unfortunately, the inevitable immersion occurred.

A short time after immersion I got the garage to check them away. One set was completely shot and the other side was well on its way. Salt water had got in through the back and done the damage. So if you have sealed for life bearings make sure you do not immerse them and in case you do find out how they can be serviced.

There is usually another type of bearing that originated on the Continent. These have the clear cover and are filled with oil rather than grease. With these it is possible to look through the clear hub cap cover and see the particular oil level and also whether there is water visible in the front of the chamber.

This has the advantage of saving the bother of removing the center cap to inspect the lubrication level.

Combination trailer/trolley

Boat trailer bearing protection

Then there are things that will can be done to help protect your boat truck bearings such as always letting your bearings cool before launching, keeping the particular bearings adequately packed plus using bearing hub covers. I used the words ‘adequately packed’ because over packing with grease can possess unwanted consequences.

Over greasing may lead to high operating temperatures when towing which can lead to collapsed seals. Also the resulting degradation of the particular grease can result in accelerated wear of components. So, my solution is:

  • Use simple, very easily removed and serviced tapered bearings
  • Avoid immersion
  • Check, re-grease or replace when they do get immersed
  • Check regularly depending on mileage even in the event that not engrossed

Red hot hub

Probably the worst having experience for me was travelling south down major A-roads and across the Dartford Crossing. The seller of my new boat, who I know well and would never knowingly sell a pup, had assured me that the vessel trailer bearings were fine and good for the particular 100-mile journey.

Off I went with my chum, Maurice, riding shotgun plus with a supply associated with spare bearings. Looking in the wing mirror he noticed that the nearside wheel did not look right.

A fin keel yacht being towed. Photo: ZarkePix/Alamy

I pulled onto the hard shoulder to find that the hub was red hot and that the particular bearings had disintegrated. Removing the old bits of bearing was not easy and parts had become welded in order to the axle. In order to get the new bearings on required filing metal off the axle.

We hadn’t brought a file but did have a trusty Swiss Army penknife with a nail file. This was a long and slow job mainly for Maurice in the rain and with traffic hurtling past at speed it was dangerous. We managed this and limped home down to the South Coast.

A few years later another seller convinced me that his bearings were fine for the 120-mile journey home and I had a similar experience at night with my wife as passenger who had hoped intended for a nice day out. Dinner was cancelled.

A motorboat should be balanced on its trailer with sufficient head weight within the dragging eye. If your rig does not have adequate head weight try moving objects within the boat forward

The one good thing about these experiences is that will I can now remove and change trailer bearings of the tapered variety in a few minutes and do so regularly. I usually know the state of my bearings. Do you?

Useful trailer sailing advice

If a person want advice regarding trailer sailing a good web site to join is the particular Dinghy Cruising Association page on Facebook. Members upon here tow and launch all sorts of vessels from one end associated with our island to another and are only too ready to share their varied opinions which you can compare.

This article has concentrated on boat trailer bearings. The gov. uk website will explain the law regarding towing, if a person need brakes on a trailer and what weight you can tow.

Cornish Shrimpers on trailers by the Camel Estuary at Rock, looking towards Padstow in Cornwall. Photo: Photo Cornwall/Alamy

Getting truck brakes wet is an additional problem and for this reason I always now create sure that my car/trailer/boat combination is within the part of the law where brakes are not required.

Keeping things as simple as possible means more time on the particular water and less time upon maintenance. The law concerning the ability of a driver to tow has furthermore recently changed and you need to check this particular out.

Also, make sure your insurance covers you as a driver and also any modifications such as the addition of a tow bar that have been made to your tow vehicle.

Vyv Cox

Boat trailer keeping technicalities

PBO expert Vyv Cox on rolling bearing materials

The vast majority associated with rolling element bearings are usually manufactured in steel in order to SAE 52100, containing regarding 1% carbon and 1-1. 5% chromium. Heat treatment through-hardens this alloy to a high hardness, between 60-64 Rockwell C, along with very low ductility.

Any impact, particularly during fitting, is likely to result in fracture. The particular elements, either balls, straight or tapered rollers, are given a slightly higher hardness to improve their own fatigue resistance.

Bearings in AISI 440C are produced for more corrosive conditions. This martensitic stainless steel also contains about 1% carbon yet the chromium content is definitely increased to 18%.

The hardness achievable is rather less compared to for SAE 52100, around 58-60 Rockwell C. The load bearing capacity of bearings to this standard is thus somewhat lower. Corrosion resistance is improved over the basic material but not sufficiently for good resistance to seawater.

A third materials for bearings is AISI 316, an austenitic stainless steel. This has good corrosion resistance in seawater but, as with all 300 series stainless steels, it cannot be hardened by heat treatment. Its load having capacity is thus low and mainly limited in order to low speed use.

So there’s no easy answer to immersion in seawater, immediate flushing with fresh water being the optimum, although make use of AISI 440C may well give benefits.


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This feature appeared in the July 2022 edition of Practical Boat Owner . For more articles like this, including DIY, money-saving advice, great ship projects, expert tips plus ways to improve your boat’s performance, take out there a magazine subscription to Britain’s best-selling boating magazine.

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