Fulton Coupler Hinge

Fulton HingeOne of the real joys of small boat ownership is being able to store your rig in the garage.  In addition to keeping it out of the elements and generally taking good care of it, you also have the opporunity to do any necessary and “unneccesary” tinkering in relative comfort.  Trouble is, garages these days are barely large enough to park a car or two in and get out, so getting a skiff in amongst all your other stuff can require a little geometry so the door will close with that all important inch of clearance.  If your rig has a break-away or removable tongue, you’re probably in business, if not, a swing tongue is a great solution that can really make garage storage easier and simpler.   A Fulton Fold-Away coupler is a great solution, it’s a relatively easy install and can create up to a 48″ swing tongue.

Before cutting the tongue off the trailer and realizing I’d forgotten to do something important like pull chase lines for the wiring harness, I spent some time laying out exactly what needed to be done, and in what order.   Measure twice, cut once.  The installation process is very smooth and the tools required are pretty basic.  I used a 4″ angle grinder with a metal cutting disc, a reciprocating saw would work but I found the angle grinder worked really quickly.  In addition to all the standard miscellaneous tools; hammer, tape measure, square, etc, you’ll need a drill (two charged batteries helps) and ratchet that can accomdate half inch bits, a torque wrench capable of 80 ft.-lbs, and a number 55 torque bit which I found at Northern Tool Supply for about $5.   Fulton provides a complete set of installation instructions which are easy to follow and they make coupler kits for a variety of sizes capable of fitting trailers with frame dimensions from 2 x 3 all the way up to 3 x 5.  For this install, a bolt-on style hinge was used, weld-on models are available also.

The tongue before measuring and cutting

The tongue before measuring and cutting, note the location of the wiring harness exit.

After pulling chase lines through the frame for the wiring harness (and then being extra careful not to cut them), the tongue was cut using a 4″ angle grinder with a metal cutting disc.  A file knocked down any burrs or rough edges and it’s a good idea to hit the raw exposed metal with some Cold Galvanizing spray to protect it from rusting.  I also test fitted the coupler and marked the locations for drilling the holes required for bolting the hinge in place.

The tongue after cutting with marked pilot holes for drilling.

The tongue after cutting with marked pilot holes for drilling.

Test fitting with pilot holes marked prior to drilling.

Test fitting with pilot holes marked prior to drilling.

At this stage there are lots of pilot holes to be drilled, 16 in total and it’s easier (and much more accurate) to begin by drilling with an 1/8″ diameter bit and then expand the holes to 1/4″, 3/8″ and finally 1/2″ using the appropriate sized bits.  Now you’re ready to install the thru-bolts and snug them down tight with the torque wrench.

Hinge installed and ready to reroute wiring.

Hinge installed and ready to reroute wiring.

With the coupler hinge in place it’s time to reroute the wiring harness.  I found it easy to keep the wiring harness out of the way by coiling it in an empty 5 gallon bucket.  Note the chase lines draped over the top of the hinge ready to be reattached and pulled back through the trailer frame.  You’ll want to make sure that the rerouted wiring harness has enough surplus to allow the hinge to comfortably open but not so much as to be pinched when you close the coupler for trailering.

The installed hinge in the folded position.

The installed hinge in the folded position.

The completed installation ready for storage and trailering, you can go ahead and slide your skiff into position in the garage.  Now that I can store the boat straight in instead of at an angle, it’s saved all kinds of room and the garage door easily clears.  The Fulton Coupler hinge is available at most quality marine stores for around $100.