Discs and Drums Aren’t Just For Music: Choosing the Right Trailer Brakes

Sometimes the thought of getting your boat out on the water is so exciting that you start cruising a little too fast down the road and suddenly you have to come to an abrupt halt at the bottom of a hill. If your trailer does not have a trailer braking system, you can expect your boat to come crashing into your towing vehicle very quickly. This is why it is important to install the appropriate brakes on your trailer.

trailer brakeTrailers brakes can be installed if the axle has brake flanges welded to it. Boat trailers generally utilize hydraulic surge brakes. When your tow vehicle stops, the surge actuator releases fluid into the brake which triggers the mechanism in the brake itself to activates. Surge brakes are an entirely self-contained system and need no hookups to the towing vehicle. However, there is a split second delay between wherein the trailer load pushes the tow vehicle and activate the surge actuator. This does require a longer distance to stop your rig so make sure to be wary of this while driving.

Trailer BrakesTrailer brakes come in two varieties: disc and drum. Disc brakes are easier to maintain than drum brakes and more effective with heavier boats. In comparison to drum brakes, disc brakes offer better resistance to fade when descending a mountain pass or stop-and-go traffic, are self-adjusting, have greater stopping power, and are easy to visually inspect. However, disc brakes require a reversing solenoid to be installed in order for the trailer to be backed up without the brakes activating. While it may seem that disc brakes are the obvious choice, drum brakes can be more effective with lighter boats. Drum brakes give better braking torque at a lower hydraulic pressure. At a given rate of deceleration, when the mass of the trailer is increased, the differential pressure will increase and the hydraulic output will increase, resulting in an increase in braking response. In short, the lighter the trailer, the lower the hydraulic pressure. Unlike disc brakes, drum brakes are a free backing system and the brakes will not lock up when going in reverse. They are not as easily to inspect as disc brakes and require a fresh water wash-down kit to clean the hub drums after being used. Drum brakes need to be adjusted annually or every 3000-5000 miles.

Make sure you choose the right brakes for your trailer and that they are properly installed. Regardless of the type of brakes, if they are installed incorrectly, you will be very unhappy when you try to decelerate down a mountain and cannot.

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