Guides

Your Essential Boat Departure Checklist

In General

Make sure you have a thorough understanding of the marine weather conditions that you’re heading out into, so you know what to expect and to help you be fully prepared. If you are sailing in a tidal area, make sure you have a good understanding of what the tide is going to do while you are out.

Let someone know your plans

Even if you’re doing a short day sail, make sure someone on shore knows what your plan is, and when you’re aiming to be back. It’s good practice so someone can raise the alarm if you’re not heard from within a reasonable time.

Below Deck

Close all the hatches

Go through the boat, front to back, and make sure each and every hatch is closed. Check them all, even the ones which look closed as they may just be pushed shut or secured partially open to let in a cool breeze in. A breeze whilst stationary is lovely, a bucket load of salty water on your bunk from a wave whilst underway is definitely not lovely.

Secure everything that moves

Stow everything which could move around whilst underway, or obstruct your crew when they’re down below. Cutlery and kitchenware in draws, clothes and shoes in lockers, pilot books in the chart table, mobile phones and electronics in a safe place. It’s not only annoying to hear things clattering around, but it’s also undesirable in bigger seas to have to send someone down below to tidy up.

Radio check

Make sure your VHF is working by doing a radio check. Usually the marina will help you with that. Make a call on their local channel and someone should reply to say they can hear you loud and clear.

Make everyone aware of where safety gear is stored

You’ll be carrying lifejackets and lifelines for every one of your crew, and even if they’re not using their safety gear when you cast off, make sure everyone knows where it can be found.

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Engine check

Check your engine before every outing. The essentials to check, which can easily be remembered by the acronym WOBBLE:

  • (W) Water: Check your strainer for debris, and make sure the water intake seacock is open before starting the engine
  • (O) Oil: Is there enough? Top up if needed.
  • (B) Belts: You should be able to turn them a quarter by hand, and if you see evidence of black dust this may indicate an issue which needs investigating.
  • (B) Bilges: Hopefully it’s nice and dry, but check for excess water or oil.
  • (L) Look: Have a general look over the engine to see that all hoses and wires are where they should be.
  • (E) Exhaust: Once you’ve completed all the other checks it’s time to start the engine. Check that (after a few moments) there’s a nice stream of water coming from the exhaust. If after about 30/60 seconds there’s no sign, turn it off and start troubleshooting.

On Deck

Stow moveables

As with down below, make sure everything is nicely stowed away and secured. You don’t want anyone tripping and ending up injured (or even in the water!!) before you’ve left the marina.

Check your navigation lights are working

Although you may not intend to do any night sailing, you never know when your trip might be unexpectedly extended. Check all your navigation lights are in good working order.

Check the rudder

Turn the helm all the way to port, then all the way to starboard. It should feel free and unobstructed.

Check you have propulsion

There’s nothing worse than starting your exit maneuver only to realise you’ve got no power! With the lines still secure, pop the engine in neutral and give it some revs. You should hear the engine revving up.

Prepare your sails

If your boat has traditional slab reefing then remove or unzip the sail cover and connect your halyard so you’re ready to hoist the main in an instant if required. There’s nothing worse than needing to get out of a sticky situation, for instance if your engine fails, and then having to spend valuable minutes faffing around with your main!

Transition dock lines to slips, and remove spring lines

If you’ve been in a marina for a while, you may have tied bowlines around the pontoon cleats or have springs attached to counteract swell from passing boats. Turn these into slips so you can easily cast off from the boat. Even if helpful bystanders offer to untie lines, politely decline. You need to be in full control from the boat. Spring lines (those which prevent the boat from moving backwards and forwards) can also be removed, but a word of caution though. Do check where the wind is coming from, and how your boat might behave in the absence of those lines. Last thing you want is to end up sitting uncomfortably close to the pontoon.

Have a getaway plan

Leaving sounds easier than coming into a berth, but often it’s just as challenging. You need to plan ahead and consider what the boat will do as you start to loosen off your dock lines. The wind conditions will dictate which lines can go first, and which need to wait until last. Brief your crew on your plan, give each person a job and make sure everyone understands what to do and when. As you set off remember that you’ll have very little steerage until you’ve picked up a bit speed and you’ve got water running over the rudder. Always think through what you’ll do if things don’t quite go to plan, to help you cope if things go a little awry.

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After departure

Use a reliable app for marine chart plotting like savvy navvy where you can plot routes with real-time wind, chart and tidal data, all in one place. You can also find great anchorage and marina information with their latest Navily integration.

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