Two fa­tal­i­ties serve as re­minders about the im­por­tance of prop­erly se­cur­ing boat trail­ers to tow ve­hi­cles.

Soundings - - Contents - By Kim Kavin

Boat- trailer de­cou­plings that lead to deaths and crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion are so rare that the Boat Trailer Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion doesn’t even have sta­tis­tics about them, says Dar­ren En­vall, the group’s as­sis­tant ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. Still, two fa­tal in­ci­dents serve as re­minders about the im­por­tance of prop­erly se­cur­ing boats and trail­ers.

Within a month of a 42- year- old man be­ing sen­tenced to 60 days in jail for crim­i­nally neg­li­gent homi­cide after his boat and trailer broke loose in traf­fic and killed a woman on Staten Is­land, New York, po­lice were in­ves­ti­gat­ing a fa­tal trailer de­cou­pling on a highway in Louisiana. The death that led to jail time in New York oc­curred in 2015 when Michael Kh­mil was trai­ler­ing his Tro­phy be­hind a Toy­ota SUV. Ac­cord­ing to news re­ports, Kh­mil had the 4,000-plus­pound boat atop a trailer de­signed for a 3,000-pound load; had failed to in­stall safety chains con­nect­ing the trailer to the ve­hi­cle; and had failed to in­stall a brak­ing sys­tem on the trailer, de­spite warn­ing la­bels.

Dur­ing rush hour on Hy­lan Boule­vard — a ma­jor thor­ough­fare — Kh­mil steered the SUV from the right lane to the cen­ter lane, the re­ports state. Two bi­cy­clists were in the right lane. The trailer de­tached from the ve­hi­cle and stayed in the right lane, strik­ing the bi­cy­clists. Alexa Cioffi, 21, was pro­nounced dead soon af­ter­ward at Staten Is­land Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal.

The Louisiana in­ci­dent oc­curred in late Novem­ber 2017 about an hour south­east of Ba­ton Rouge, where mul­ti­ple news re­ports say a boat and trailer un­cou­pled from a Chevy Sil­ver­ado driven by 20- year- old Jeremiah Allee. The boat, whose make was not im­me­di­ately re­ported, and the trailer then crossed a highway’s cen­ter­line. They slammed into a de­liv­ery truck, killing its 49-year-old driver, David Bur­vant.

It was un­clear whether Allee had fol­lowed lo­cal trai­ler­ing reg­u­la­tions, or whether he had used safety chains. “It’s some­thing that’s so rare that you hardly ever, if ever at all, hear of it,” En­vall says, talk­ing about the New York in­ci­dent. “If peo­ple fol­low in­struc­tions and make sure the cou­pling is on the ball, the chains are in­tact, it’s the right trailer for the job, ev­ery­thing would be fine.”

Kendra Ans­ley, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the National As­so­ci­a­tion of Trailer Man­u­fac­tur­ers, says that not just fol­low­ing in­struc­tions, but also know­ing a trailer’s de­tails and lo­cal laws are key to safe boat trai­ler­ing. How­ever, she adds, know­ing all of that in­for­ma­tion is some­times eas­ier said than done.

Laws vary from state to state about whether safety chains must be used, and how many chains. Laws also dif­fer among states about whether trail­ers need to have brakes, how many and what color lights a trailer must have, and how long and wide trail­ers can be. In ad­di­tion, there’s safety in­for­ma­tion that comes with the make and model of the trailer, along with the make and model of the boat. Those de­tails, which rep­utable boat deal­ers pro­vide, typ­i­cally in­clude the to­tal weight that can be towed on the trailer, as op­posed to the weight of the boat it­self.

“A lot of times, peo­ple don’t un­der­stand what the trailer is ca­pa­ble of tow­ing,” Ans­ley says. “When the boat and trailer come to­gether as a pack­age, then typ­i­cally the trailer is meant for that boat. But if they fill up the boat with things they want to take to the [wa­ter] and then try to tow it, they may be over­load­ing the trailer.”

To help own­ers de­ter­mine the best prac­tices, the BTMA sug­gests a pub­li­ca­tion ti­tled “You and Your Boat Trailer,” pro­duced by the National Ma­rine Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. It ex­plains ev­ery­thing from cal­cu­lat­ing to­tal weight and dis­tribut­ing it prop­erly to the ba­sics of trailer hitches, cou­plings, safety chains, tires and brakes. It also con­tains sec­tions about trai­ler­ing tac­tics and tips, in­clud­ing a no­ta­tion for salt­wa­ter boaters to rinse the trailer with fresh wa­ter after ev­ery trip, and to give the trailer an an­nual coat of wax.

“Cou­plers are gen­er­ally tested to a stan­dard that will haul what­ever is meant to be hauled,” Ans­ley says. “As long as they’re be­ing main­tained prop­erly, they shouldn’t break. But peo­ple leave their trail­ers out­side. They get rained on and rust. They en­ter the wa­ter and come back out, which means the salt wa­ter can start to break things down.”

Ans­ley urges boaters to think about trailer safety from the day they buy their trailer. Reg­u­la­tions haven’t changed much in re­cent years, she says, but both the NATM and the NMMA have pro­grams that send in­spec­tors to man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties to en­sure that trail­ers are be­ing built to ex­ist­ing re­quire­ments. Shop­pers can look for the NATM or NMMA de­cals — or both — to make sure they’re start­ing with a well-made trailer.

Ans­ley also sug­gests re­view­ing AAA’s on­line list­ings of state-by-state re­quire­ments for trailer light­ing, tow­ing, di­men­sions and brakes. Those lists are at driv­inglaws. aaa. com and

ex­change.aaa.com. They’re search­able for free. In­for­ma­tion in the list­ings in­cludes the fact that Ohio does not re­quire brakes on all trailer axles, though neigh­bor­ing Penn­syl­va­nia does, and that in New York, where the cy­clist was killed, at least one safety chain from the trailer to the ve­hi­cle is re­quired.

And no matter the law, Ans­ley says, two chains are bet­ter than one. “You’re ac­tu­ally sup­posed to crisscross them un­der­neath the cou­pler, with enough slack that you can turn your ve­hi­cle with­out them drag­ging on the ground,” she says. “When the cou­pler breaks, it will fall; the safety chains are crossed to catch that piece so that it doesn’t fall to the ground.”

Prop­erly se­cur­ing a trailer can pre­vent a lot of dam­age, she says, as well as tragedies. “The­o­ret­i­cally, it shouldn’t hap­pen that of­ten be­cause con­sumers should be us­ing safety chains,” she says. “That’s why they’re there, in case the cou­pling unit breaks. The safety chains keep the trailer con­nected to the ve­hi­cle.”

Be sure the boat doesn’t ex­ceed the weight-car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity of the trailer.

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