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Getting Hitched

When hitching your trailer to your tow vehicle, it’s a good idea to have a friend help you. Have him or her stand by the trailer and direct you with hand signals until the hitch ball is directly beneath the coupler, and lower it onto the ball. Sounds easy, right? Not always, especially if you’re trying to do it by yourself.

If you don’t have anyone to help, start by backing toward the trailer, then stop, get out and see where your hitch is in relation to the coupler. If you back up in roughly 3- to 4-foot intervals at first, you can get your truck pointed in the right direction. Then, as you get closer to the trailer, make the intervals shorter, periodically stopping and getting out to check your progress. Before long, you will have stutter-stepped the hitch into place and you can lower the coupler onto the ball.

If you still find yourself having trouble doing it without a friend’s help, here’s a neat trick. With your trailer hitched up, try to pick a point on the front of it that aligns with, say, a spot on the tailgate of your truck. When those two come together, you’ll know you’re in position. If you want, you can even mark those spots with tape until you get good at it. Of course, you can skip all that and get a back-up camera (available on many trucks and SUVs or in the aftermarket), which displays what is behind the vehicle on a screen in the cab.

Once you’ve lowered the coupler onto the ball, lock it in place and raise the tongue jack to its highest position. That ensures you have the most ground clearance, which can be crucial, if, say, you have to back a boat down a steeply angled launch ramp. Once you’ve raised the tongue jack, crisscross the safety chains under the coupler and connect them to the eyes on the receiver. By crisscrossing the chains, you form a “cradle” that will catch the coupler should it come off the hitch ball. If you have S chains, loop the top of the “S” over the eyelets on the hitch. If you loop them under the eyelets, odds are greater that the chains could fall off. Your chains should be long enough to accommodate tight right- and left-hand turns. They should not be so long that they drag the ground. If they are, they will drag until they are severed in half. Have a qualified trailer shop tailor your chains to the right length.

Also be sure the coupler is latched and locked. If you have a screw-down, handwheel-style coupler, be sure it’s as tight as can be. If you have the throw latch, you might want to padlock it closed. Now check your lights, turn signals and brakes.

Because the majority of boat trailers use surge brakes, their electrical connections are among the simplest. When properly equipped with tow-package options, most trucks and SUVs come with seven-blade round and/or four-pin flat plug connectors so you can usually plug the trailer pigtail right into the factory connector. Some trailers use a five-pin flat connector. These can be hooked to a seven-blade connector with an adapter available at many trailer-supply or marine stores. As with your chains, be sure your trailer harness is long enough to make tight right- and left-hand turns, but isn’t so long it drags the ground. If it is too long and you don’t want to cut the harness to shorten it, you can always lash it to the trailer tongue with a zip tie or two to keep it off the ground.


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