If you are like me, you probably get tired of using your jet ski in the same river or lake over and over. Those lucky enough to live at the coast or near a very large lake have a vast array of options. For the rest of us? We have to load everything up and tow somewhere else to find something different.
The good news is that you can definitely tow your jet ski trailer over any long distance trip that you decide to take. These trailers will tolerate long distance towing just as well as campers or racing trailers. Be sure to keep the trailer maintenance up to date.
I’ve taken several 600 mile round trips with my skis, and a buddy of mine takes a 1,200 mile (one way) trip to south Florida a few times per year. There are a few things you need to keep in mind before heading out on a long distance trip.
Lets go over those now.
Trailer preparation for long-distance towing
These are items you should be inspecting regularly anyway, but they definitely need to be checked before you head out on a long trip. Here is a list of everything you should do before setting off to ensure a smooth trip without breakdowns.
- Inspect trailer tires for wear and defects
- Inflate tire pressures to recommended psi for maximum load
- Check all front and rear tie down straps for wear
- Check and lubricate the tie down ratchets if needed
- Check all bolts and nuts on trailer accessory mounts
- Check the coupler bolt and tower for any breaks
- Check the vehicle hitch bar and mount for loosening or wear
- Test wiring harnesses, lights and safety chains
- Look for any cracks in trailer welds and vehicle hitch hardware
- Pack extra items for backup in case something fails
Let’s go over each of those steps in a little more detail. I’ve already covered each of those in depth in the article How Fast can you Tow a Jet Ski Trailer. You should also check that out for deeper coverage of these items
Inspect trailer tires for wear and defects
This is pretty much just what the title says. Take a good light and look at the tire tread depth to make sure the tire isn’t too worn to use. Look for any uneven wear that could affect handling. Finally, look at the outside and inside tire walls for bulges on areas the curve inward. These can indicate side wall defects that can cause a blowout once the tire heats up on a long trip.
Consider replacing tires and any spares once they’ve reached 6-8 years old. They will deteriorate slowly over long periods of time, and that can lead to tire failure even with good tread and no visible defects. Storing your trailer in a cool, dark and dry indoor garage will increase tire longevity. Tire Rack has a good read on this topic.
Check tire pressures and adjust to maximum
When a trailer is loaded to near its upper weight limit, the tires should be inflated to the maximum pressure stated on the side wall of the tire (source). The load rating and tire pressure for that load will be stamped on the side wall. Look for wording like this: maximum load 1,280 pounds at 50 psi. Make sure your tire pressure is inflated to that recommended maximum when cold (not driven for at least an hour, longer if possible.)
Since you have two tires, and that maximum load is for a single tire, a tire maximum load rating of 1,280 can handle 2,560 pounds when fully loaded. Estimate your jet ski(s) weight, add 8 pounds per gallon of fuel, and be sure to estimate the accessories you have added or are carrying in storage. Those won’t likely add much weight though.
Check tie down straps for wear
Loosen and pull out several feet of strap material from each ratchet or tie down that you use. Look for any cuts or punctures. Inspect the edges for fraying or unraveling. Good quality straps will last for years. Just check them occasionally and also right before a long trip. You buy replacement material or a whole new ratchet and strap if needed.
Check the tie down ratchets for ease of use
Make sure the ratchets are moving smoothly when loosened and tightened. You can add a little grease or spray on lubricant to the moving parts. WD-40 works fine. Just be sure to cover the strap material when lubricating these parts. Some of the compounds used will cause deterioration of the strap material. Hold a cloth over the strap if spraying the moving parts to prevent accidental overspray.
Check all mounting and trailer frame bolts
Grab a couple of appropriately sized box wrenches or sockets and a ratchet, and then walk around the trailer checking every bolt for tightness. These don’t frequently loosen. Especially ones assembled by your dealer and then checked before purchase. But they can gradually loosen. If you’ve added accessories like a spare tire mount or bolt-on rear ratchet tie-downs, check those as well.
Check the trailer coupler for loosening
The tongue of the trailer has a ball-shaped coupler that attaches to the trailer hitch ball. Once in place, you clamp down the underside bracket to hold the trailer in place. This bracket is held in place by a bolt with a large nut on it. It can gradually loosen, allowing the trailer to bounce up and down on the hitch. Look at the nut to make sure it hasn’t worked its way down the bolt.
Then hitch your trailer to your vehicle, and try to lift up and push down several times while looking for any give or movement between coupler and ball. If there is any play in this connection, tighten the coupler bolt a little and check again. Repeat until the hitch and coupler are tight-fitting when connected. If you over-do the adjustment, the clamp will be too high to fit under the ball. Loosen it a few turns and try again.
While already looking at these areas, make sure your safety chains are intact. Check their attachment points on the trailer. Check each link for breaks or deformities that may cause weakening.
Inspect the trailer frame welds
Take your light again and walk around inspecting every welded seam. You are looking for cracks in the weld or any two surfaces that have become offset. If you do find any defects, you likely will need to take the trailer to a welder for repair. Steel and aluminum require different welding techniques and temperatures. Unless you are experienced at welding, this repair is best left to a professional.
Check the vehicle hitch bar and receiver
Again using a light or flashlight, make sure all the welds and bolts on the hitch bar under the rear of your tow vehicle are tight and without cracks or breaks. If you have an aftermarket bolt on hitch bar, tighten the nuts. Put your receiver bar in place, lock it with its pin, and shake it back and forth. There will always be some looseness. If you feel it is too loose, you can buy rubber material to line the receiver to decrease the movement and quiet all the vibrations you hear while towing.
Check wiring harness, lights and safety chains
Connect you wiring harness and turn on your tow vehicle. Test the brake lights, turn signals and tail lights. Make sure you have the correct wiring adapter if needed. Then check safety chain bolts on the trailer frame for loosening. Finally, inspect the links and the end hooks for any bending or any breaks. Replace if needed.
Check out this post on how to properly tie down your ski on a trailer.
Keep your trailer maintenance up to date for all uses
If you need to repack or change your wheel bearings at regular intervals, be sure to follow manufacturers recommendations. You should replace the bearings, the race and inspect the hub and spindle regularly. If you don’t know how to do this, Google and YouTube are your best friends. It isn’t hard and doesn’t require much mechanical expertise. If you aren’t comfortable doing it yourself, find a local shop that will do these things at a reasonable price.
If your trailer is over five years old and has never had bearings serviced, you probably want to get that done. Salt water is particularly rough on trailer parts, including bearings. If you launch and load in salt water, be sure to service the trailer bears and hubs more frequently.
Pack extras for the trip
When towing a from home to launch ramps a few miles away, breaking down isn’t a big deal. Frustrating of course, but spare parts and recovery are usually available within minutes to an hour or so. You can even unhitch and lock your trailer while you go home to get spare or head to an auto store.
On a long-distance trip, you may not have that option. This is especially true if you are driving in the late evening or at night. So consider packing these extras.
- Spare trailer wheel and tire. Consider taking two.
- Extra ratchet tie-down straps
- Bungees in case any item loosens
- Duct tape, because it can fix anything
- Tire pressure gauge
- Portable 12V tire compressor
- Lug nut wrench or socket that fits trailer nuts (they may be different than the tow vehicle size)
- Breaker bar and/or torque wrench for changing wheels/tires
- Miscellaneous tools including a utility knife
- Trailer and hitch locks
- Large cable ties
At one time or another, I have used everything on that list while on a trip. Other than the spare wheel and tire, the rest doesn’t take up much room.
Jet ski items for the trip
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I always carry my covers in the storage compartments of the skis. If you have a good factory original cover made specifically for your ski, and it has good side tie-down clips, you may be able to tow with it on. However, I’ve had two occasions where mine have blown off, so I’ve stopped towing with the covers on.
Luckily my wife was towing the skis and I was following with the boat. So I stopped and picked up the covers each time they blew off. But traveling in one vehicle with kids talking or music playing, you may not notice you’ve lost it until several miles later.
Make sure your ski is ready for the trip. Have the battery fully charged before you set off. Consider a smart battery jump box for backup, since it’s hard to jump start a jet ski in other ways. We keep the NOCO Boost Plus GB40 in the storage compartment of one of our skis. Note that you can’t or shouldn’t use a car to start your ski.
That’s often inconvenient or impossible anyway. I had to jump start my ski twice on a recent trip, and got a new battery for my ski when I got home. I made a quick YouTube video on the replacement process. My battery was 5 years old, so I got a good lifetime from it.
Securing your jet skis
We take marine brass locks and coated steel cables to lock our skis up wherever we end up docking. For my recommendations, read my jet ski security post. Or use these buttons to see my brass combination lock and cable recommendation from Amazon.
I wrote an entire post on different methods to stop thieves from driving or riding off with your jet skis, and on how to increase the chances of recovery if they do get stolen. There are a few more recommendations in there. Check out How to Prevent PWC Theft: 10 Inexpensive Strategies.
Trailer and hitch locks
I may be paranoid, but I always keep our hitch bar locked to the receiver and the trailer coupler locked to the hitch ball. This gives me the comfort of knowing that I can park for shopping, dinner and overnight at hotels without worrying someone will unhook my trailer and head off with my skis. I put these locks in place, and then I wrap one of our coated steel cables around the trailer frame and tow vehicle frame for one extra layer of protection.
These also come in handy if you will be parking your vehicle and trailer overnight at a lake or campground. When I do this, I use the same hitch locks and then run the waterproof cable through the trailer wheels as well. You can buy covered hitch locks and trailer wheel locks when leaving the trailer unattended but taking your tow vehicle with you. Here are several options on Amazon.
For the hitch receiver, I strongly recommend straight pins with locks. The curved ones are slightly easier to reach for unlocking, but they interfere with my safety chains and make connecting them difficulty. Take a look at this straight locking pin for 2” receivers in black finish or this polished chrome look heavy duty locking pin, both from Amazon.
You can tow your trailer long distances or across the entire country to take in new scenery and riding experiences, participate in races, haul a ski home that you bought from out of state, or to have on a camping or fishing trip.
Just follow some pre-trip preparation and pack a good set of backup supplies and tools. Then set out for a new adventure comfortable knowing you’ve done everything you can to make the trip smooth and carefree.
Get out there, stay safe and have fun.