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West Marineʼs
Safe Boating Checklist

Download this Safe Boating Checklist .pdf File

Pre-Departure


Download this USCG Float Plan.pdf File

  1. Check weather report and tides/currents
  2. File a float plan with someone you know. Tell them where youʼre going and when you intend to return (and what to do if you don’t).
  3. Identify non-swimmers
    • Supply non-swimers with life jackets that fit and that they will wear while on the water
  4. Identify second-in-command in case of skipperʼs incapacitation
  5. Acquaint crew with the location and operation of Coast Guard required safety items if fitted:
    • Life jackets—should be readily accessible
    • Lifesling or throwable flotation—should be immediately accessible.
    • Horn or sound-producing device as required
    • Fire extinguishers and a brief description of their operation (Pull the pin, Aim the extinguisher, Squeeze handles together, Sweep—P.A.S.S.)
    • Flares or other Visual Distress Signals
    • Check operation of Navigation Lights

    • Keeping a few inexpensive vests onboard, like these All Family Runabout Life Vests helps to ensure that you never get caught short.

  6. Identify incremental recommended gear if fitted:
    • VHF Radio: Turn on and demonstrate how to select Channel 16. Ensure at least one other person knows how to transmit a Mayday.
    • Ensure that one anchor and rode is ready for immediate use
    • Turn on GPS
    • Length of nylon line for a towline, perhaps 75' x 1/2"
  7. Demonstrate engine shutdown technique
  8. Check bilges and pump dry if water is present
  9. Before engine is started
    • If gasoline inboard, run blower for at least four minutes
    • Check lubricating oil
    • Check fuel level
    • Make sure buzzers sound on engine panel
  10. Once engine is started
    • Verify cooling water flow
    • Check for oil pressure
    • Attach kill switch lanyard if fitted
  11. Disconnect shore power cable
  12. Upon leaving the harbor, store a “go home” waypoint on the GPS

While on the water


A digital selective calling VHF marine-band radio allows mariners to instantly send an automatically formatted distress alert to the Coast Guard. Coast Guard photo by PA2 Brandyn Hill.

  1. Drink responsibly—especially if you are the skipper!
  2. Be weather aware
    • Use the weather channels on your VHF radio
    • Watch for changes in wind speed and cloud formations
  3. Know the location of the nearest harbor or protected anchorage
  4. Monitor fuel consumption and remaining range
    • Use the “Three Thirds Rule” (one-third outbound, one-third inbound, one-third reserve)
  5. Monitor VHF radio Channel 16 for emergency traffic
    • Be prepared to lend assistance if you are the nearest vessel
  6. Know the waters in which you are navigating
    • Refer to local charts
    • Stay within marked channels
    • Be conscious of tides and currents

When you return to the dock

  1. Moore boat correctly with bow, stern, spring lines and fenders
    • Ensure snubbers (if so equipped) are in place
    • Ensure lines are protected from chafe
  2. Pump holding tank. Add holding tank treatment
  3. Always-on loads (automatic bilge pump, alarms, clocks) are on
  4. Non-essential loads (running lights, VHF, stereo, etc.) are off
  5. Shore power cable is connected and protected from chafe
    • Battery charger is on
    • Inverter may need to be turned off
  6. Logbook has been filled out, signed, and dated
  7. Close float plan by calling person whom you originally contacted.

This checklist was created by West Marine as a public service. We practice and encourage safe boating and seamanship.

For more info:

Read this short article on how to stay safe from the Coast Guard: 12 Tips for 12 Weeks of Summer.