Don’t be so eager to get sailing that you overlook key tasks and checks before leaving your dock or mooring. Most boating problems and accidents can be prevented, and it’s essential to find and correct any issues before you’re occupied with the sailing. Without a checklist, new sailors may overlook something basic because of inexperience, while long-time sailors often simply suffer a memory lapse.

Make your own checklist for your boat, choosing the applicable items from the following list. Keep a copy on the boat and quickly run through the list before heading out.

Before going to the boat

  • Check the forecast and local wind and wave conditions
  • Tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back (float plan)
  • Prepare guests: appropriate clothing and gear to bring, seasickness prevention
  • It’s critical to understand the risks of cold water or cold air (especially if caught in cold rain or spray) because hypothermia hugely increases the risks of accidents – so dress warmly in layers and be prepared.

Launching from a trailer

  • Make sure the drain plug is in place
  • Check fuel and oil levels
  • Prepare dock lines and fenders in advance
  • Brief crew on launch procedure: who does what

On the boat: before starting up

  • Disconnect and stow away dock power and water lines.
  • Smell around the cabin for any suspicious fumes
  • Check the engine: fuel, oil (even if you don’t plan to use it); inspect hoses, look for loose wiring, etc.
  • Check the bilges for fluids or leaks
  • Open seacock for engine water intake
  • With a gas engine, run the blower before starting
  • Confirm safety equipment present: fire extinguishers, flares, PFDs for all crew, first aid kit, etc.

While the engine warms up (if used to leave the dock)

  • Check engine cooling water outflow; check engine gauges
  • Open other seacocks (head, sinks, etc.)
  • Turn on the VHF and check the forecast if needed

On the boat: show guests around

  • Stow personal items and gear out of the way
  • Show how to put on a PFD
  • Show how to operate the marine head
  • Talk with new guests about what to do in an emergency

Just before heading out

  • Tune the VHF to channel 16
  • Turn on and test other appropriate electronics: plotter, radar, etc. (running lights at night)
  • Ensure your chart is handy (with paper chart backup for a plotter)
  • Assign crew roles for leaving the dock, handling lines and fenders, etc.
  • Make sure noncrew guests are comfortably seated out of the way

See also Safety For Crew and Guests on Your Boat.

In addition, if you are the only one aboard who knows how to sail, it can be critical for someone else to know how to handle the boat if you become incapacitated or are knocked overboard. Here are the essentials to teach your sailing partner or crew.