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Author Topic:   ARRGGHHHH!!! (trailer light woes)
kgregg posted 10-10-2002 06:59 PM ET (US)   Profile for kgregg   Send Email to kgregg  
Seems like every time I use the boat I gotta mess around with some of the trailer lights. Bulbs are either burned out or corroded in their fixture. I recently caulked every opening I could find in both rear lights in an attempt to keep water out only to discover completely blown bulbs next time I checked them (my guess is no heat could get out of fixture and bulbs were cooked). I don't want the high end LED light fixtures (they cost a bunch) but I want better lights than what I have now. Any ideas? What lights are on your trailer? Thanks. Kevin
Tom W Clark posted 10-10-2002 07:51 PM ET (US)     Profile for Tom W Clark  Send Email to Tom W Clark     

Trailer lights are tough. There's no perfect solution. However, there are some lights and wiring that are much better than others.

For starters, you need a light fixture that is perfectly waterproof, especially if you are going to dunk it in salt water.

By far the best light I have ever used is the "Dry Launch" brand of light. They come in black or white and either round or rectangular shapes. It doesn't matter which style you choose. The design of these lights is very simple and that is what makes them near to being fool proof.

The light bulb assembly and the electrical connections are made inside the light unit which is open on the bottom. The lens is sealed to the body of the fixture and thus forms a pocket of air to keep the light bulb and wiring dry.

These lights are not expensive. They will last a long time. I have used them since 1980 with good success in salt water. They will, however, eventually succumb to corrosion if salt water gets splashed up inside or if the trailer is stored in a salty marine air environment.

If they are used exclusively in fresh water they may last for a decade or more.

As for the wiring on your trailer, what most manufacturers give you on a new trailer is not very good. I have found that if I spend the extra money and use some good tinned wire like Ancor's marine wire in a heavier gauge like 16 ga, the lights will be much more reliable

I especially like Ancor's epoxy coated crimp connectors or a soldered connection sealed with epoxy filled heat shrink tubing.

The other often overlooked shortcoming with trailer lights is the tow vehicle to trailer ground connection. You will have a more reliable connection of you use an auxiliary ground wire running from the frame of the tow vehicle to the frame of the trailer, bypassing the hitch and the coupler. There will be still be the usual ground wire running through the plug for the trailer lights but this extra path to ground will often keep the lights lit when they otherwise would not be.

DanT posted 10-10-2002 07:51 PM ET (US)     Profile for DanT  Send Email to DanT     
I've been using lights made by Drylaunch. The design traps air to keep water away from the bulb. They make both a round and square light. I have the round Drylaunch lights and they have been performing well in salt water. About $10 each.
masswhaler posted 10-10-2002 08:00 PM ET (US)     Profile for masswhaler  Send Email to masswhaler     
I mount my lights on a 4x4 that mounts on the back of my boat wires run over the boat and the whole thing never sees water alittle more work at the lanch but nice bright light for your trip home!
kgregg posted 10-10-2002 08:10 PM ET (US)     Profile for kgregg  Send Email to kgregg     
Well... by my count, that makes 2 votes for the Dry Launch lights and no votes for any other brand of lights. I see some Dry Launch lights in my future. [smile]

My trailer wiring seems sound. A new bulb in the tail lights always works just fine (until it gets wet).

How do the bulbs in the Dry Launch lights not burn out from too much heat and no ventilation? Or maybe they don't put out much heat? The bulbs (model 1157 from your local auto parts store) in my lights put out a good amount of heat. Thanks.

David Ratusnik posted 10-10-2002 08:13 PM ET (US)     Profile for David Ratusnik  Send Email to David Ratusnik     
Mount the light fixtures atop the tall guides. Don't get dunked. Last longer. David
DanT posted 10-10-2002 08:24 PM ET (US)     Profile for DanT  Send Email to DanT     
No need to worry about heat. The design is open on the bottom. Try to picture this. If you were to take a glass and turn it upside down and then quickly put it under water you would have air trapped in the glass. Now picture a light bulb up in the trapped air. That's how the bulb stays dry.
simonmeridew posted 10-10-2002 08:29 PM ET (US)     Profile for simonmeridew  Send Email to simonmeridew     
I honestly think that trailer lights are one of life's eternal mysteries; maybe put on Earth in order to test us. Take ANY trailer on the road, not just boat trailers, utility trailer, construction, whatever, and I'm willing to bet you, figuratively of course, that at least one of the lights, whether stop, turn indicator, license plate, red clearance or yellow clearance, at least one of them doesn't work on any trailer older than a year old. I think if before anyone used a trailer, they had to make the lights work each time or face certain death, there would be very few trailers on the road.

The telling question is this, how come the lights on your car or truck ALWAYS work, whether you live in Key West, San Diego, or Miami, or else 1000 miles from salt water like Chicago or Des Moines, or somewhere in between, like Wheelock, Vermont. It can't be vibration; my Tundra and Jeep go plenty of vibration prone places, and Vermont is full of gravel roads. Salt water dipping? My utility trailer has never been near water. I drive my trucks all winter long on terrifyingly salted roads; my vehicles spend their winter encrusted with road salt. The lights always work. My 1986 Cherokee rusted out around me so that the only thing holding the drivers seat off the road was my carpeting, and yet, the lights--all of them, worked up to the moment the crusher got a hold of it...last February. Maintenance? When's the last time you performed preventative maintenance on you truck brake lights? I hate to sound like an old fuddy duddy, but if they can send a man to the Moon,......

My Montauk trailer's lights totally crapped out in a year and a half,(it's a 1999) so I thought, bite the bullet and get LED's. Big bucks but what the heck? So what happens after 4 months?: the diodes in one of the brake lites and one of the red clearance lights craps out. These babies are caulked in place with GE silicone so getting them off is not a simple trick.

So Kevin, no answers from me on this one. My sympathies.

PFSQUAN posted 10-11-2002 08:32 AM ET (US)     Profile for PFSQUAN  Send Email to PFSQUAN     
I trailer only twice a year to and from the ramp as the boat stays in the water May through November.

I got so fed up with my trailer lights not working I installed a new harness and wired it outside the trailer instead of threading the wires through the frame. I duct taped the wires (the gray tape matches the galvanizing) to the frame in a few places to keep the wire from flapping about and it works fine.

I know this is a short term solution but you may want to consider keeping a spare harness in case you ever get stuck at the ramp.

Whaler Proud posted 10-11-2002 08:43 AM ET (US)     Profile for Whaler Proud  Send Email to Whaler Proud     
When I rewired my trailer, I used off the shelf water-resistant trailer lights from Autozone. I then wired them with #12 copper wire in steel flex.

The lights are much brighter using the heavier wire, and do not have the usual problems of shorting out from vibration. Each connection was soldered and then wrapped in heat-shrink tubing. I also coated the outside of each lamp base (with the lamp installed) with clear silicone.

I use my Whaler in freshwater exclusively so I cannot attest to the endurance of my installation in saltwater.

jimh posted 10-11-2002 08:59 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
It is just me, or has every traffic light in your county been replaced with a new one that uses LEDs, too?

And it seems like half the trucks on the road have LED tail lights now.

I have Westbar lights on my trailer. I think they're original (from 1987) and still working. That's probably due to the fresh water only use for the past decade.

kgregg posted 10-11-2002 10:29 AM ET (US)     Profile for kgregg  Send Email to kgregg     
>has every traffic light in your
>county been replaced with a new
>one that uses LEDs, too?

Some of the traffic lights in my area (Columbia MD) are now LEDs. And they are showing up on a LOT of vehicles, too. Are they that much cheaper than regular bulbs or are they just more "fashionable" now?

kgregg posted 10-11-2002 10:30 AM ET (US)     Profile for kgregg  Send Email to kgregg     
I just ordered a pair of the round Dry Launch trailer lights from West Marine web site... $19.99 each plus a few bucks for shipping. Thanks again for the tip! Kevin
Dr T posted 10-11-2002 10:57 AM ET (US)     Profile for Dr T  Send Email to Dr T     
1) Recently, one of the forum members pointed out that LED trailer lights are much less expensive when purchased from a (heavy) truck supply store.

2) I always (or at least when I remember) unplug the lights before backing the trailer into water. It seems to work, but you have to remember to plug things back in. My 13's trailer needs no brakes.

3) All LED traffic lights up here as far as I can tell.

4) I have been getting little LED flashlights for my key chains that claim an expected bulb life of 20,000 hours.


shoctor posted 10-11-2002 11:47 AM ET (US)     Profile for shoctor  Send Email to shoctor     
I did something a wee bitt different on my setup. I have too succombed to the testers and frustration of those god forsaken and stressful trailer lights. I did however come up with a simple solution. The first thin I found was that the running lights never burn out or it is just the bult the lights that always burn out are the rear "main lights" I solved this by doing a 2 fold project. On one of the water exit holes in the trailer running to the rear lights I pulled the wire out to expose it and cut and put in a simple connector with shrink wrap fitting to water proof then re ren the wire back. When the rear lights burn out aside form the buld I simply replace the unit. Wiring has never gone bad on me just the lights. I buy the el cheapos from auto zone 10 bucks a peice I think and keep a spare in my tow box in the truck when the lights go out I replace. Simple fast and damn near foolproof. Also saved money by not having to buy beer in the process of fixing which turned out some fine works of art after the second hour of drinking I mean diagnosing.
Jerry Townsend posted 10-11-2002 01:38 PM ET (US)     Profile for Jerry Townsend  Send Email to Jerry Townsend     
Another tip - spray the inside of your sockets with WD-40 which is a better water repellant that it is a corrosion inhibitor. This works on all vehicle and RV clearance lights too. ---- Jerry/Idaho
lhg posted 10-11-2002 02:22 PM ET (US)     Profile for lhg    
For trailer lights, it's DRY LAUNCH, DRY LAUNCH, DRY LAUNCH period. In the round version, they are fantastic. They last and last and last.

I have them on both of my trailers, and all are still original. My 1989 Outrage 25 trailer still has the original ones, now 13 years old, with close to 100,000 miles traveled, salt and fresh water launching 50/50. I routinely bury them, with lights on under the water, and never had a bulb pop. I have never even thought of disconnecting before launching. Simply not necessary.

The lamps only burn out from old age. Try these, you'll love them. Any trailer manufacturer worth a darn, furnishes them as new equipment.

dfmcintyre posted 10-11-2002 03:51 PM ET (US)     Profile for dfmcintyre  Send Email to dfmcintyre     
I just unplug prior to launch, plug after retrieval.


Dr T posted 10-11-2002 03:52 PM ET (US)     Profile for Dr T  Send Email to Dr T     
The dry launch web site is

dreid posted 10-11-2002 04:27 PM ET (US)     Profile for dreid  Send Email to dreid     
Mike, the trolling motor guy, once told me to put a thin coat of Vasaline on all my electrical connections, boat, trailer, battery terminals, power blocks, all plug-in connectors, inside and out. Ten years later, everything still works. Yeah, I replace bulbs now and then, and I re-touch the Vasaline every spring with the annual maintenance stuff. But the wiring has never given a problem. This is salt water talking.
WhalerAce posted 10-11-2002 08:17 PM ET (US)     Profile for WhalerAce  Send Email to WhalerAce     
To simonmeridew,

Always taking a chance in joining hotly-contested threads like this one, but I kinda (not strongly) disagree with you about the vibration issue on trailers, especially boat trailers and utility trailers.

I have a utility trailer that I use around the house. It is rated for around 1000# and probably weighs about 200#. Therefore, I imagine that the springs are designed to carry around 1500-2000#. Now, with the trailer empty, there is not nearly the mass to absorb small-excursion vibrations as when it is loaded. Thes excursion (vibration) get transferred directly to the low-mass frame and ulitimately to the filaments in the bulbs. (A low mass will translate the energy applied via the vibration to a higher acceleration to the absorbing body -- in other words, it jerks around more quickly).

Even more so with my Outrage. Weighing in at around 7500#, there is a big difference in how quickly the energy is transferred to the frame when the trailer is empty vice when the boat is loaded on the trailer.

Now take the cars. They weigh around 4000#, so the springs are designed to carry about that much mass ALL THE TIME, with the number of passengers (say 200# each) not having that much effect on the total mass of the vehicle. Also, most cars have at least shock absorbers with the springs, not to mention some kind of rubber or other vibration damping material.

I guess what I am saying is that trailers have a real wide weight/mass range for the springs to carry, and it is probably at the "empty" period when most vibration damage is done to the really hot filaments in the bulbs.

Just a thought...

Also curious about the LEDs. Are not the "LED Lights" really a BUNCH of individual LEDs potted in one assembly? That should prevent one failed LED from making the whole light assembly bad.

PS I tried to stick with the term MASS instead of WEIGHT, because mass is unchanging (whether in weightless space or on Jupiter) and weight is a function of the gravitational pull exerted on the mass, and can change from one location to the other.

PPS I also apologize for spelling and grammatical errors.

simonmeridew posted 10-12-2002 06:53 AM ET (US)     Profile for simonmeridew  Send Email to simonmeridew     
There may be something to what you say about the vibration issue, especially on the utility trailers. Usually run empty or on the light end of their weight capacity. They do bounce around some. Trouble is I can deal with a broken filament, just put in a new bulb and away you go, but rarely is is a bad filament that is the issue or cause of the malfunction.
On a boat trailer, for example my Montauk's trailer is always(except for the 100 feet I drive to park at the ramp)anyway, is always towed at near full capacity, so I think the mass issue is not valid on a boat trailer. Regarding car or truck lights, when's the last time you checked the brand of light connector/fittings your vehicle came with. They're "Ford" or "General Motors" or "Toyota" or whatever; they all work 100%(maybe not the "Yugo")

Regarding LED lights, yes my LED lights consist of a series of LED diodes, each one lighting up independently. So if one or two diodes burn out, as they have with my left stop/tail light, the unit as a whole still gives off light, although less. The side marker lights only have two diodes in them, so if one craps out the other is very dim, certainly not DOT legal. ONe of my red marker lights did this, and the other diode is extra dim now(not nearly half as much light) it barely glows.
I'm thinking, down and back to Cape Hattaras, that's 40 hours, 5 trips to Maine and Merrimack River, another 40 hours: that's eighty hours total, assuming the lights are on the whole time, (they aren't) that's a long way from 100,000 hours.
I'm thinking if I hadn't gotten into the LED thing I'd take advice here and get the dry launch lights, nothing to lose.
You won't get much of an argument from me, just complaining.

Cicada posted 10-13-2002 10:50 AM ET (US)     Profile for Cicada  Send Email to Cicada     
Glad this topic came up. I had gotten to the point where rewiring the trailer was an accepted yearly routine. Now if I can figure out a way to eliminate those occasional curbs, rocks etc. that seem to pop up when backing.
Eric posted 10-13-2002 06:14 PM ET (US)     Profile for Eric  Send Email to Eric     
I agree, trailer lights are a pain no matter what the use of the trailer.

If you have guides, that's the place for the lights. Then you don't dunk them at all. I've had my (cheap) lights on my guides for about two years, and only changed one bulb. I almost boat exclusively in salt water, and the trailer sits outdoors too.

One wiring option I've seen is to use heavy duty outdoor extention cord. Run it straight to the lights and then splice a backrun from there to the markers, so that there's no splices anywhere that they will be dunked. You can't beat the heavy insulation, and a good quality cord is made from many fine strands of wire that will withstand the constant flexing required for such an application.

EddieS posted 10-15-2002 01:38 AM ET (US)     Profile for EddieS  Send Email to EddieS     
A simple way to make your wiring connections waterproof to your new lights is to use gel caps. I solder the connection and then screw on a gel cap. Completely waterproof! You can find them at the hardware store most often used with irrigation supplies.


simonmeridew posted 10-15-2002 06:55 PM ET (US)     Profile for simonmeridew  Send Email to simonmeridew     
Say again what a gel cap is please. I thought you took gel caps when you got a headache... i.e.,when your trailer lights didn't work and you were late for fishing.
Is it some sort of gel material that hardens and becomes waterproof? Or a mechanical device to waterproof?
kingfish posted 10-15-2002 09:06 PM ET (US)     Profile for kingfish  Send Email to kingfish     

They are like a "wire nut" except they are filled with a water-proof gel and at least some of them have sort of "prongs" in the wide end of the wire nuts to help hold the wires in place once they are twisted and inserted into the gel.

Another solution altogether (one that I like and use) is the cement-filled heat-shrink butt connectors made by Ancor. Once heated and shrunk, between the cement and the shrunken sleeve, a water-proof bond is effected to the insulation of the wires.

lhg posted 10-16-2002 03:47 PM ET (US)     Profile for lhg    
I use Clark Roberts' method of using a conventional wire nut, filled with Boat Life caulking after being twisted on the wire. This even works for underwater connections, once silicon is set.

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