West Marineʼs Safe Boating Checklist

Last updated: 5/4/2021

Equipping your boat with required and supplemental safety gear—and knowing how to use it—is essential to ensure a safe boating experience. While this list is geared toward small day cruisers and larger boats, if you own a small runabout or kayak, the concept of preparedness still applies. For an overview of required and recommended safety equipment for all types of boats, see our Do-it-Yourself West Advisor on Safety Equipment.

Important Downloads

Safe Boating Checklist .pdf File

A Boater's Guide to the Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats.pdf File


USCG float plan

Download this USCG Float Plan

1. Check weather report, tides and currents.

2. File a float plan with a friend or relative. 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-swimmers with life jackets that fit and that they will wear while on the water.

4. Designate second-in-command to take charge in case of skipperʼs incapacitation.

5. Acquaint crew with the location and operation of on-board Coast Guard required safety items.

  • Life jackets—should be readily accessible.
  • Lifesling or throwable flotation—should be immediately accessible.
  • Horn or sound-producing device as required.
  • Fire extinguishers: Acquaint crew with operation: Pull the pin, Aim the fire extinguisher, Squeeze the two handles together, Sweep across the base of flames (PASS).
  • Flares or other visual distress signals.
  • Check operation of navigation lights.
6. Acquaint crew with the location and use of other 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.

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

  • 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"
  • First aid kit, sunscreen, sea sickness medicine

7.Demonstrate engine shutdown technique.

8. Inspect bilges and pump dry if water is present.

9. Before starting the engine.

  • 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 is flowing.
  • Check for oil pressure.
  • Attach kill switch lanyard if fitted.

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

11. Disconnect shore power cable.

12. Upon leaving the harbor, store a “go home” waypoint on the GPS.

While on the Water

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

Log Books like this one by Weems & Plath are available in versions to suit a variety of needs.

1. Moor boat correctly with bow, stern, spring lines and fenders.

  • Ensure dock lines are protected from chafe.
  • Ensure snubbers (if so equipped) are in place.

2. Pump holding tank. Add holding tank treatment.

3. Ensure that always-on loads (automatic bilge pump, alarms, clocks) are on.

4. Ensure non-essential loads (running lights, VHF, stereo, etc.) are off.

5. Connect shore power cable and ensure it is protected from chafe.

  • Turn on the battery charger.
  • Ensure inverter is turned on or off as needed.

8. Fill out, sign and date logbook.

9. 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.