Friday, February 10, 2012

Tips on Trailering

In my Newport Beach gondola operation, I have eight boats, and for all but one week out of the year, I've got only seven gondolas in the water.
It's a slow rotation; we always have one boat out of the water for maintenance.
One week each year I have all boats in the water - that week of course,
is the one surrounding Valentine's Day.

Yesterday, after lots of work, I trailered a gondola out of the service yard, and parked her near the launch ramp so I could add her to the fleet this morning.
It's been almost twenty years now that I've been "messing around with boats" in this manner, and while the trailering thing is nothing new,
it's always taken seriously.

Here are a few thoughts I felt like sharing on the subject of trailering a gondola.

strap the boat down.
You might think you're the exception. 
You might think that there's no reason for you to worry about the boat moving around on the trailer, after all, there are no stop signs,
traffic lights and no obstacles between you and that ramp. 
Murphy's Law applies to people just like you
(I should know, Murphy is practically my middle name!).

Strap the boat down anyway - when a cat, squirrel, fox, kid with a ball,
or idiot in a Toyota enters your path unceremoniously - you'll be thankful you strapped the boat she won't come through the back window and join you in the front seat when you have to slam on your brakes.

I prefer to place the straps with the ratchet-buckles on the left side of the boat so I can see them in my rear view mirror better.
It should also be mentioned that if you don't strap the boat down,
you will likely have a hard time explaining to the nice officer who pulls you over, that you are the exception - you're not, and he will tell you so.

Make sure your stern isn't hanging too far off the back of the trailer,
and if it is, hang a flag or other attention-getter off the tail. 
Your boat will thank you, and so will the guy driving behind you.
Also, if you are crossing state lines, check to see if the overhang requirements are different in the state you're driving into.

On the subject of overhang, leave your gondola hanging too far off the back of the trailer for too long, and let's just say that "bad things" can happen.

Smile as you drive. Smile at the folks at traffic lights,
smile to the people looking and pointing from the sidewalk,
and definitely smile at the curious policeman who pulls alongside you on his motorcycle.
Smile, and he might not be as likely to pull you over.
Then again, smile too much and he'll call for back-up.

As you drive around with that beautiful boat in tow, folks will be looking. 
Smile and they might just go out of their way to look up your business and book a cruise with you.

Flash your hazard lights to make sure the tail lights work on your trailer.
It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of trailering and forget to connect the lights.

Chances are good that anyone sharing the road with you will be so interested in your boat that they won't need to rely on your brake lights,
but Murphy has a wicked way of capitolizing on such situations.

Anyone who has spent time playing chess competetively, has a brain that's already wired to drag a trailer. 
Sadly I got my butt kicked in checkers, never really played chess,  
and that was that. 
Navigating with a trailer was something I had to learn to do.
Like chess, this kind of driving requires you to "think five moves ahead".

You don't just turn onto a street without first determining:
whether it is wide enough for you and your trailer,
that it doesn't dead-end,
and isn't going to lead you into a dangerous or challenging piece of road.

Driving carefully ought to be a given, but sometimes we get a little carried away, in an "I got this" kind of manner.  Here's what happened to one such guy:
"Bad Things Happen - Part 2 - Dropping and Dragging" see the "Transit Tragedy" part.

Thinking ahead doesn't just apply to the driving part; you must also think ahead with other things.
For instance, a week before you're going to trailer, hook up the lights and make sure they work.  Time is on your side at that point, but if you wait until the day of, you might discover a problem and decide to just go without lights.
Chess, my friends, chess.
While I'm at it, make sure you've brought everything you'll need to accomplish the goal - including a full tank of gas!

It's amazing what you can forget to bring.
Today, I'm sorry to say, my adventures were stalled because I was missing a small but important item, one that connects the vehicle to the trailer.
Sure, I suppose I could have just chained the two things together and skidded down the road, but I think the men-on-motorcycles with ticket books would have had a field day with that.
Better to wait while someone goes and gets the wayward piece of hardware.
Mhmm, insert your favorite chess vs. checkers wisecrack here.

B.A.R.F. stands for "bring a real friend", and in many cases you won't need one, but when you do!

Sometimes you need to lift something that takes two people.
Sometimes you need a friend to stop traffic while you back out of that alley you shouldn't have turned into (ask that friend to help you learn to play chess later).
Often you need a friend to guide you as you line your vehicle up to connect with the trailer.
I like to have my friend follow directly behind me to keep an eye on things.
In some traffic scenarios, having a friend who can shoot ahead of you to help facilitate a critical lane change can save you a lot of grief.

John Kerschbaum likes to say:
"better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it".

There are times when having a simple item with you can make a huge difference.
Duct tape certainly fits that description sometimes.
When trailering, I always have a traffic cone with me.
Most of the time I don't need it, but it's helped me more than once:
Finding a parking spot for vehicle and trailer is hard enough,
getting into that spot can be even more difficult sometimes. 
Now imagine you've been away for twenty minutes and some jerk has parked his black BMW six inches from your front bumper and there's a truck behind you that doesn't look like it's moved in three months.
Yes, I know your first thought - it's the same as mine,
and while it may feel gratifying at the time, 
four-wheeling over the rear quarter of the BMW will probably cause more problems than it's worth.

If you'd placed a traffic cone five to ten feet in front of your vehicle,
you'd probably come back to find it right where you left it.
It's a funny thing about traffic cones - nobody wants to move them once they're placed.

If you have several cones, you might even get away with saving a spot for your vehicle and trailer - this doesn't always work though. 
If you show up and there's a police officer holding your cones,
when he asks if they're yours, say "no..."
(because he appears to own them now),
"but I sure could use a few cones if you're looking to get rid of them".

There are several other uses for a traffic cone while trailering but I'll let you explore that on your own.

learn some of the trucking protocols. 
You might not think you're like the 18-wheel rigs you share the highway with, but there are many similarities.
And as you motor down the road, with drivers rudely cutting in front of you (because they don't want to get stuck behind you), you'll gain a better understanding of what it's like to drive a big-rig, and people can be downright mean to you. 
There are behavioral courtesies among truckers too, but they are noticeably nicer. If you flick your lights and allow a guy in an 18-wheeler to change into your lane in front of you, he will likely tap his brakes twice - it's a sort of "thank you".  Ten miles down the road, he may offer you the same courtesy.  Drive something that long, and you'll begin to appreciate every friend you find on the road.

Eat with the boat in view.
If you're going long distance, and need to stop and grab a bite to eat,
try to park the gondola where you can see it.  These boats are like attention magnets - from curious kids to crazy drunk fraternity brothers, everyone seems to want to investigate.

Dress for the occasion.
Be ready to get dirty, wet, and make sure you've got the kind of footwear necessary for the various tasks you'll need to accomplish.
I once had to change a flat tire on my car while on my way to a wedding.
No, I was not dressed for the challenge, and it took a lot more care and skill to do what I needed to do in my crisp white dress shirt.
I managed to get it done, stay clean, and arrived just in perform the ceremony.

Sometimes you've got to get your feet wet,
sometimes you've got to go in up to your knees or waist,
and sometimes you've just got to fully commit.
Empty your pockets.
Bring a towel.
You may not be planning on getting wet,
but sometimes Mr. Murphy has other plans for us.

Oh, and if you're launching in cold conditions, expect the worst and bring an extra layer.

I grew up in a waterskiing family, and my uncle had a saying that my cousins and I loved:
"This rock is slicker than snot on a doornob!"
He would say that and we'd just laugh like crazy.
Of course we were very young, but if I heard him say it again today,
I'd probably still laugh out loud.  As a matter of course, there always seems to be a slick surface around a boat launch area, and I always seem to find it (often by accident).
Watch your step, or you'll know what i know from experience:
it really IS "slicker than snot on a doorknob".

Lastly, watch out for those slick surfaces with your vehicle,
otherwise you might just end up launching more than just your gondola!


Once you're done with your trailer, if you leave it empty, lock it up!
I lost one a few years back and don't want to see that happen again,
to anyone.
(see the post "Lock Up Your Boat Trailers" )

1 comment:

staff said...

Thank you so much for the tutorial my friend. I loved to read it especially the paragraph "Slick"!! that made me laugh loudly. Nereo