If you’re driving a van or car with a shell strapped to the roof the only change you need to make to your driving is to be a little more careful than normal. But driving a shell trailer is a completely different story.
At their best shell trailers—and shell trucks—are difficult to drive. A trailer loaded with un-sectioned eights is as long, if not longer than a tractor-trailer. At their worst they can be a hazard on the highway to yourself and others.
It’s crucial when driving a shell trailer you plan your route ahead before beginning your journey. There are many things to be concerned about. A few notable ones are:
- Rush-hour and construction traffic
- Dangerous turns
- Low overhead
- Bag weather
- Driving at night
The three most common causes of accidents involving shell trailers are poor driving skills, lack of good visibility, and improper tying of shells.
All of these items are important when transporting equipment, however, in this short post I wanted to touch quickly on a four items.
To help avoid problems with low overheads measure the total height of the trailer, or vehicle, after the shells are loaded. Make your measurements from the ground to the tip of the rudder or skeg—most trailers with shells on the top rack will be around ten feet high. I usually add four inches to the number as a safety margin.
Then write this information down and tape it to the dash-board. This could save you a lot of embarrassment at such places as low bridges, gas stations, and drive-thrus.
When choosing who drives don’t put inexperienced people behind the wheel. In fact, most insurance companies demand that the driver of the vehicle be experienced and at least twenty-one years of age, which prohibits many students from driving. Drivers should carry their licenses, registration(s) and insurance information with them.
And I strongly suggest a minimum of two drivers in the vehicle. An extra “set of eyes” will make driving the shells safer, especially on long trips when one driver gets tired.
When you finally hit the road constantly be looking, listening and feeling for anything unusual with the vehicle or load. If you notice anything pull over as soon as it is safe and check for the cause. And speaking of checking, get in the habit of checking the trailer and load every time you stop—on long trips I suggest you stop every 100 miles. Check the tie downs, flags, equipment, lights, hitch and tires for any problems.
Many trailering accidents happen because people try to drive a shell trailer like a car. The acceleration of a trailer is much slower than a car and the stopping distance is much greater. You must allow more time for simple automobile tasks like pulling out into traffic, changing lanes and passing. Extra caution will especially be needed for backing up, cornering and pulling into service areas. Make absolutely sure that a lane is clear before changing, and use your turn signals.
The two most difficult parts of driving a shell trailer are cornering and handling the overhang of the shells. Trailers turn inside the track of the tow vehicle meaning you need to take corners wider than normal. But the overhang is what gives most trailer drivers problems. Remember— you may be driving one of the longest vehicles on the highway, with thousands of dollars of shells just hanging out. If you’re not comfortable with this thought—or with your driving skills—load up the trailer one Sunday and go to a parking lot and practice. It’s a good investment of your time, especially considering the alternative may be waiting three months for a boat that’s in the repair shop.
When you finally arrive where you are going plan…Plan…PLAN…ahead where you will park. There’s nothing more annoying then getting blocked in at a regatta and having to wait hours to leave because you’re stuck.
If, after all your best preparations, you are unfortunate enough to have an accident there are several things you should do.
- Activate the emergency flashers and place emergency signals to warn approaching traffic.
- Give appropriate first aid if needed and make sure that everyone is in a safe place.
- Notify law enforcement and your supervisor promptly.
- When things get under control record as much information as possible: names, address, phone numbers, and driver’s license numbers.
- Get information from witnesses. Try to document the scene as well as possible and if you have your camera with you take pictures.
photo by rjseg1