Boat Departure Checklist

Your Essential Boat Departure Checklist

boat docked in a marina

General advice before departure

Even if you're not a complete sailing beginner, it can still be good to have a checklist before you head out each time. Use our guide to help ensure you are well prepared for each outing.

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 you are going boating

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.

guy plotting a route below deck

Below Deck Checklist

hatch on a yacht open

Close all the boat hatches

Go through the boat, front to back, and make sure each and every hatch is closed. and the hatch latches are secured. 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.

Brilliant navigational App clearly designed by people who understand what boaters really need. The passage planning is superb taking account of the predicted wind and tide at your proposed time of departure advising you whether wind and tide are in your favour. One navigational app that does it all.
Ross Lucas-Young - savvy navvy user

Ross Lucas-Young

Try it for free

Secure everything that moves in the boat

Stow everything which could move around whilst sailing, or obstruct your crew when they’re down below deck. 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.

marine vhf radio

Check your boat radio

Make sure your boat 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. This is definitely one of the highest priority boating safety actions on your checklist.

life jackets on boat

Make everyone aware of where boat safety kit is stored

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

boat engine

Carry out a boat engine check

It is important to your boat's 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 Checklist

Stow away anything which moves

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.

boat navigation light

Check your boat 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 boat navigation lights are in good working order.

boat propellor

Check the rudder on the boat

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 manoeuvre only to realise you’ve got no power! With the lines still secure, pop the boat's engine in neutral and give it some revs. You should hear the engine revving up.

crew standing on board yacht

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 sail!

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.

hands plotting a route on a chart

Have a sailing departure 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.

woman pulling in sheet on boat

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.

Check out these routes from savvy navvy - Cape Marina to Palm Beach or Heritage Marina to Panther Key

savvy navvy, the boating app that brings all essential marine information together in one place. Featuring global charts, wind and weather forecasts, tidal graphs, GPS Tracking, automatic weather routing, and marina and anchorage information. It’s like Google Maps for boats.

Inspired to get on the water? Start your free trial today.