Chapter 3: Launching and Operation

The Pre-Departure Checklist

The best way to prepare for a boating trip is to write and refer to a pre-departure checklist. This list ensures that one has all bases covered and is ready for anything out on the water. It can also be used to acclimate any new boaters or passengers to all of the tools needed as they set off on a boating trip.

Write and reference a pre-departure checklist for all boating trips and never be unprepared in case of an accident or emergency.

A complete pre-departure checklist should detail each of the following:

Boating Equipment



  • Always keep a toolbox on board.
  • Be sure to include any spare parts one may need.
Fuel &amp Batteries

Fuel & Batteries:

  • Check the coolant and oil levels and ensure there is enough fuel for the trip.
  • Ensure that the battery is fully charged.
  • Ensure that all battery-powered equipment is functioning.
  • Pack spare batteries for any essential equipment such as a flashlight or handheld radio.
Ventilation Equipment

Ventilation Equipment:

  • For powered boats, ensure that all enclosed spaces are well ventilated.
  • Always run the ventilation blower for a full 4 minutes before starting the engine. Be sure there is no smell of fumes after running the blower.
Anchor and Lines

Anchor and Lines:

  • One must have at least one anchor, on board, attached to the anchor line.
  • One must have two fenders, for docking.
  • Ensure fenders and anchor line are in good condition.
  • Make sure to bring spare dock lines.
  • Inform passengers of proper anchoring procedures and tips.

Safety Equipment

Personal Flotation Devices

Personal Flotation Devices:

  • One will need to have a minimum of one PFD per passenger along with a minimum of two total. Even boating alone, one will need at least two Personal Flotation Devices.
  • If the boat is over 16 feet long one will also need to have at least one throwable PFD on board.
  • Let passengers know where all of the PFDs are and inform them that the best PFD is the one that is worn at all times.
  • Teach all passengers to properly put on their PFD. If using inflatable PFDs, tell passengers the appropriate way to wear and deploy them.
Fire Extinguishers

Fire Extinguishers:

  • Have a U.S. Coast approved fire extinguisher in a readily accessible location.
  • Ensure that it is securely mounted, not expired, and in good working condition.
Sound Signaling Devices

Sound Signaling Devices:

  • It is required that a minimum of two sound signaling devices such as an air horn, bell or whistle be on board.
Navigation Lights and Signaling Lights

Navigation Lights and Signaling Lights:

  • Always bring a flashlight and spare batteries.
  • Ensure all of the required navigation lights are in the correct positions and that they are all functioning.
Emergency Distress Signals

Emergency Distress Signals:

  • Ensure passengers know the location of any distress signals and how to use them.
  • Store all flares in a dry and accessible place, like a distress signal box.

"To-Do List" Before Departure

Check Weather Forecast:

  • Check the weather forecast before every trip.
  • Bring a handheld radio to monitor the weather. Inform passengers of the location and proper use of the radio.

File a Float Plan:

  • Write and share a float plan with current passengers, family, friends, and/or other reliable parties.

Hold a Safety Meeting:

  • Ensure passengers are aware of the best practices when boating.
  • Review the proper procedures for falls overboard, capsizing, running aground, and collision.
  • Inform passengers of the locations of all safety tools onboard and how to use them.
  • Inform all passengers of the on water emergency procedures, especially those regarding foul or rough weather.
  • Know how to use the VHF radio if available.
  • Keep a stocked first aid kit in an accessible location and let passengers know where these items can be found.

Check Documentation:

  • Ensure that you have the boat registration, radio license, any fishing permits, and boater education card along with any other required documentation on board and that they are stored in a safe dry place.
  • Bring any local charts for quick reference.