Pre-Departure Boating Checklist: 20 Things to Do Before Leaving the Dock
Ever have that feeling you’ve forgotten something? Take a cue from airplane pilots and make a pre-departure boating checklist for your boat and it could prevent a significant inconvenience or safety issue.
We’ve created this sample boating checklist you can use prior to launching or leaving the dock. Our boating pros also recommend that you create your own unique checklist that matches your boat and your typical boating experience, then print it up, laminate it and get in the habit of checking the list before your shove off the dock.
Also, be sure to explore the Boat Safety Equipment Checklist to ensure you have the proper equipment onboard.
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Boating Checklist: Before You Launch
If you trailer your boat or keep it on a boat lift, check these items before you launch the boat:
- Check the weather forecast
- Leave a float plan with someone on shore – including where you’re headed and when you expect to return
- Ensure the drain plug is securely and properly installed
- Check engine oil level
- Check battery connections
- Bump the ignition switch or key to make sure the battery is not dead
- Check the fuel system for leaks – give the bilge a “sniff test”
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Before You Depart the Dock
After you launch the boat but before you leave the dock, check these items:
- Everyone on board is wearing a life jacket
- Check fire extinguisher charge indicator
- Activate electronic MOB (man overboard) devices if you use them
- Test VHF radio
- Test navigation electronics
- Test navigation lights
- Test the bilge pump
- Test the horn
- Check your fuel level – use the rule of thirds: 1/3 for the trip out, 1/3 for the trip home, 1/3 in reserve
- Run the bilge blower (inboard boats) for two or three minutes before starting the engine
- Make sure steering and throttle/shift controls are operating smoothly
- Attach the ECOS (Engine Cut Off Switch, or “kill switch”) lanyard to your belt or PFD
Every boat is different, so having a boating checklist that perfectly fits your lifestyle on the water is crucial. New boat owners should also take time to read our First-Time Boat Owner Checklist, for tips and tricks for success on operating, maintenance, storage, insurance, and more.
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Charles Plueddeman is a self-employed writer and photographer based in Wisconsin. A staff editor and contributor to Boating Magazine since 1986, he is the author of its “Off My Dock” column. In the marine realm he specializes in engine technology and trailerable boats. His editorial work has appeared in many national publications, including Popular Mechanics, Men’s Journal, Playboy, Popular Science, Cycle World, and Harley-Davidson Enthuisast.