An important aspect of trailering is the choice of tires. Nothing ruins a day of boating faster than having a problem with the trailer tires on the way to the launching ramp. While a classic Boston Whaler does not require special consideration in selection of the tires, you should think about the value or replacement cost of your vintage boat versus the cost of a set of new tires. In choosing tires, here are some things to consider:
Be sure that the tires on your trailer are matched in terms of type (radial vs. bias ply), size, load range, and inflation.
In general, the larger the tire the better, both for speed and load considerations. In particular, if you anticipate towing at speeds above 55 MPH, I would recommend avoiding 12-inch wheels and tires. Although their load rating is adequate for 13-15 foot Whalers, they are not suited for high speed trailering. The speed of the axle rotation increases as tire/wheel size decreases. You may be cruising along at 70 MPH with 16-inch tires on your tow vehicle, but the 12-inch tires on the trailer are spinning as if you were going 90 MPH or more! With 8-inch tire and wheels that were common in the 1960's, those bearings will be spinning as if you were going 100 MPH or more! Such high rotational speeds can cause wheel bearing failures from excess heating.
The tire load capacity must be adequate to support the trailer load. If using a single axle trailer, each tire must support roughly half of the total weight of boat/motor/trailer/gear. Some of the weight is born by the tongue and hitch, but if you ignore that in your calculations you will have included a safety factor.
Check carefully on each tire for the recommended maximum inflation pressure. Tires with Load Range "B" usually max out at 35 PSI; Load Range "C" can go to 50 PSI. Properly inflated tires will run cooler, provide better gas mileage, resist sidewall roll better, and get better tread wear. Inflating the tires to about 90% of maximum pressure is suggested. Low inflation is the most common cause of tire failure!
Purchase an accurate pressure gauge. I like the round dial type gauges, available for about $15 at most auto supply stores. These also have a "memory" catch in the pointer mechanism that allows you to retain the pressure reading, permitting you to more easily read it. The gauge I use also has a pressure release valve which permits bleeding pressure from the tire while the gauge is still connected and indicating pressure. This feature allows the pressure to be set very accurately.
I always check the tire pressure in the trailer tires and the tow vehicle tires before setting out on a long trailering trip. So far I've never had a problem.
There seems to be two schools of thought on this. One groups prefers bias tires for trailers because they believe they have better resistance to side wall rollover than radials. Ability to withstand side wall rollover is important in trailering because in an emergency or out-of-control manuever the trailer may experience swaying from side to side to a much greater degree than the tow vehicle. While conceding this advantage to the bias tire, another group prefers radial tires for improved traction (which may reduce swaying tendencies), better wear, better mileage, better (softer) ride for the boat on the trailer, and better load ratings at lower inflation pressure (for better riding quality). Radials generally cost more than bias-ply tires.
The collective advice: do not get passenger grade tires for a trailer.
All of my recent trailer tire purchases have been Goodyear Marathon Special Trailer radial tires. I recently completed a 5,000-mile round-trip to the Pacific and back without any tire problems using the Goodyear Marathon trailer tires. Considering the potential for problems as a result of tire failure, I think spending more for a premium trailer tire is a wise decision. I plan to purchase more Goodyear Marathon Special Trailer radial tires in the future.
The combined experiences of our core group of avid Boston Whaler trailer boaters: thousands and thousands of miles on Goodyear Marathon Special Trailer radial tires with zero problems. With other brands and style of tires: consistent problems. CONCLUSION: Get Goodyear Marathon Special Trailer radial tires.
Unless you do a great deal of trailering for long distances, your trailer tire is more likely to reach an unusable status due to rot, UV degradation, or road damage than from tread wear. Inspect your tires for cracking and separation. Suspect tires should be replaced or demoted to "spare" status.
Unusual wear patterns on trailer tires can result from alignment problems with the axle or axles. Check that the trailer's axle is mounted square to the frame. Also check that the axle is not bent up or down. This induces camber in the tire. Tires can wear unevenly in these situations.
No trailer set up is complete unless it has a spare tire! Spares for smaller tires (12-inch or less) may be carried in your trunk. If you trailer infrequently you could consider carrying the spare in the boat, but be sure to protect that Classic Boston Whaler interior from damage! If you add a spare tire carrier to the trailer and mount the spare, you'll want to position it so that it is not immersed, otherwise the additional buoyancy may interfere with the process of launching and loading. If you mount the spare forward, where most are, you'll be adding tongue weight, and you may want to rebalance slightly. Be sure the spare tire mounting does not present a hazard to the hull while launching or loading.
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Author: James W. Hebert with important contributions from others with attribution in the text.
This article first appeared May 14, 2000.