I was zinging along at nearly 40-mph, headed for a hot bite in the mouth of the Potomac River between Point Lookout and Smith Point, with the stereo cranking at full volume. Cool tunes, smooth waters, and the promise of schoolie stripers in the cooler had a smile plastered on my face – life was good.

launching a trailer boat
Just how well will this voyage go? It remains to be seen...

Then the little red light caught my eye. You know, the one at the dash that tells you when your motor is about to blow up? I pulled back the throttles, killed the music, and heard my port outboard’s engine alarm whining at about six million decibels. The question was, how long had that alarm been sounding off before the light caught my eye? I had no idea, thanks to Rage Against The Machine. And as a result, I could be looking at a cooked powerhead. The moral of the story: a loud stereo can ruin your ability to detect a problem. It was a pretty stupid thing to cruise along with the music so loud I was unable to hear anything but guitars and drums. Sure, we all make stupid mistakes, but when we make them with our fishing boats there’s a steep price to pay. I know – I’ve made plenty through the years, including the three major-league mistakes below. After reading this, hopefully you’ll manage to avoid such mishaps.

The Ultimate Botch – It’s forgetting to put in the drain plug, of course! There aren’t many trailer-boaters out there who can say they’ve never made this mistake, and even fewer who can say it honestly. After walking from your parking spot to the ramp and seeing your gear floating around between the seats you probably won’t do it again any time soon, but as the years pass and your memory fades…

The Solution – Get a battery-powered water alarm. They’re about the size of a deck of cards, are completely self-contained, and are sold in home improvement centers for $30 or so. Leave yours set low near the drain(s), so it goes off immediately after launching if water starts pouring in.

Coming Unhinged – Have you ever hitched up the trailer, but forgotten to place a bolt or lock through the trailer coupler’s locking mechanism? Be honest now, of course you have. Last time I did this, fortunately, I was hauling my crabbing skiff and not the big boat. So the dent in the back of my truck is a small one (when you feel the jolt of the coupler popping free and the chains grabbing, the instinctual response is to hit the brakes – which is followed by your own trailer rear-ending you).

The Solution – do away with those bolts, pins, and mushroom-style locks. Instead get keyed locks that run through the coupler latch and always leave your trailer locked down tight. This way, you’ll be forced into keying the lock open and keying it closed again every time you hitch up, securing the trailer tongue to the ball hitch.

The Hole Story – Anyone who has flush-mounted electronics on the helm has probably cut a hole in the wrong place at one time or another. You stand there with the saw in your hand, wonder if it’s in just the right spot, and then quadruple-check before finally pulling the trigger. It isn’t until fluid starts gushing out from under the console that you realize you misjudged the position of that hydraulic line behind the helm, and sawed right through it.

The Solution – Wait for night to fall, turn out all the lights, and center the brightest flashlight you can find in the spot you need to cut through. Secure it in place with duct tape, then stick your head behind the helm and look at the back of the dash. You’ll see the circle of light clearly. Now, check the back of the dash for those pesky things you really don’t want to saw through – steering lines or cables, wire bundles, and the like. You realize the hole needs to be two inches up and one inch over? Fine. Go back to the flashlight, peel up the tape, and re-center it. Now go to the back of the dash again, and reassess the location.

And turn the volume down a bit, will ya?