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Three Steps To Maintaining Your Inflatable Boat Trailer Lights

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Whether you're buying an inflatable boat trailer or already own one, the lights and wiring are the first things to check. These parts come into contact with water every time you launch and retrieve your boat – and they're usually the first place where things go wrong. An inflatable boat trailer without proper lights creates a hazard for yourself and other road users, and you could find yourself facing a fine or inspection order. Using these three simple steps, you can keep your inflatable boat trailer lights in good condition with only a minimum of mechanical knowledge and tools. Optional extra steps are included – these require some mechanical knowledge and equipment, but they should still be fairly simple for the home handy-person.

1. Check lights and ground cables

For this step, you will need an assistant, a screwdriver set, and light cleaning tools – sandpaper or a wire brush.

  • With the trailer attached and its wiring plug connected to the socket at the back of your vehicle, have one person stand behind the trailer and one in the vehicle to operate the lights. Check indicators and hazard, brake and reverse lights in turn. Then check the trailer's licence plate light and position lights or reflectors. (Make sure to check the fuses in your vehicle -- use your owner's manual for reference, or check the diagram on the fuse box. A blown fuse can affect your trailer lights.)
  • Take a close look at the lamp assemblies. Most inflatable boat trailers use incandescent light bulbs, but some use LEDs – check which type is installed on yours.
  • While checking each lamp assembly, locate the ground cable. It should be a white wire that connects to the trailer frame using a screw. Wiring on Australian trailers is colour-coded by function – for instance, the ground wire should be white, and the left indicator wire should be yellow. (If you're not sure, scroll down to section 9 on this link to the Australian government's regulations on trailers, and check table 1.1.) Use the wire brush or sandpaper to clean away any corrosion from the screw and the terminal at the end of the wire. Use a screwdriver to ensure the wire is fastened snugly to the trailer.

Optional: Check your trailer and car connectors. A multimeter or other circuit test device is needed, as well as safety glasses, hearing protection and gloves.

  • First, check whether your trailer uses 12-volt or 24-volt power, and adjust your test device. Then, determine the function of each wire on the connector.
  • Connect the black (negative) lead to the white ground wire on the trailer connector. Connect the positive (red) lead to each wire on the connector in turn, as your assistant in the vehicle operates that wire's function. Alternatively, purchase a purpose-built trailer circuit tester at an auto parts and marine store. Plug directly into the connector, and check that the correct LED lights up as your assistant checks the indicators and brake, hazard and reverse lights.

2. Replace faulty bulbs

If you find a faulty light and you're sure the problem isn't the connection to the vehicle, you need to replace the bulb. Make sure you have a screwdriver set and sandpaper or a wire brush.

  • Make sure your wiring is correctly installed. Check the Australian Department of Infrastructure's rules at its website (scroll down to section 14) to make sure your wiring is properly supported and insulated.
  • Remove the lamp cover with a screwdriver. Pop out the faulty bulb by pushing it in and giving it a half-turn. If the bulb has burned out, replace it with a new one. (If your trailer has LED lights, you may not be able to complete this step)

Optional: Test the connection at the lamp assembly.

  • Set your circuit tester to 12 or 24 volts, depending on the specifications of your trailer. These should be marked on or near the wiring plug. Ground the negative test lead on the frame of the trailer, then place the positive against the bottom of the empty bulb socket. Your meter should display the correct voltage – if it doesn't, the lamp assembly is faulty.

3. Replace faulty lamp assembles

For this step you will need a new lamp assembly and a set of spanners or sockets. You may also need clip-type wiring splicers, available at auto parts and marine stores.

  • Take note of how the existing lamp assembly is installed. Use masking tape to label the wires and their corresponding connections on the trailer and the lamp assembly. Unbolt the lamp assembly and disconnect the wires.
  • Purchase your new assembly. The lamp assemblies usually used on inflatable boat trailers are cheap and easy to find in auto and marine stores – or look online. Try to match the replacement as closely as possible to the original.
  • The new lamp assembly should come complete with the necessary nuts and bolts. Position it correctly in the trailer frame and hold it loosely in place with two bolts. If you've labelled your wires on the trailer and the old lamp assembly, you should be able to match them up easily with the new ones. Connect the wiring with the clip splicers. Insert the rest of the nuts and bolts, and tighten them correctly.

Your lights and wiring should be in perfect working order, and your inflatable boat trailer should be ready to hit the water. If you find any unexpected issues, have your trailer inspected by a specialist, such as Midcoast Marine & Rescue Products.


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