Safety & Security

Boating Safety Guide: Your Complete Pre-Departure Checklist

Life Jackets

  1. At least two life jackets are required for every boat. Have one for each passenger
  2. Ensure that all life jackets are compliant with Coast Guard standard regulations.
  3. Have a throwable flotation device ready onboard in case of emergency rescues. It should be attached to the vessel by a rope measuring over 16 feet in length.
  4. Educate all the crew and passengers about the proper use of life jackets.

Weather Forecast

  1. Check weather forecasts before you proceed with your trip.
  2. Always monitor weather updates via an onboard radio receiver.

Food and Water

  1. Make sure to have more than enough food and water than what you expect to consume during the voyage.
  2. Be sure to stock them securely in a waterproof container.

Extra Clothing

  1. Dress appropriately when heading out to longer cruises.
  2. Make sure to pack extra clothing for any type of weather.

Docking and Anchoring

  1. Prepare at least one set of anchoring gear for your boat.
  2. Inspect all lines for signs of wear and chaffing.
  3. Check if fenders are secure and not deflated. You must have at least 2 onboard for towing and docking.
  4. Have spare lines for special situations on docking.

Distress Signals

  1. Have at least one emergency beacon, flares, day signals, and others to call for help.
  2. Make sure to store them securely in a dry place.
  3. Educate the passengers and crew on their proper use and other safety rules covering the use of such devices.

Sound Producing Devices

  1. Have sound producing devices like whistles, horns, and others ready for emergency use. They should be audible within a half-mile radius at the very least.
  2. If you plan to use a portable air horn, make sure to have a spare handy or an alternative device you can use in another situation.
  3. Ideally, every life jacket should also have one whistle each in case of a personal emergency.

Fire Extinguishers

  1. Have at least one fire extinguisher handy in case of an onboard fire. Check with the Coast Guard about the minimum required number of such equipment to comply with their regulations.
  2. Put fire extinguishers in secure a mounting place that is easily accessible.
  3. Ensure that the fire extinguishers are in good working condition.
  4. Let all the crew and passengers know about the location and proper use of the device.

Lights and Shapes

  1. Make sure that your boat has all the required navigational lights before sailing.
  2. Check if they are in good working order.
  3. Recreational boaters should use different shapes during the day to let other watercraft know their activities.
  4. Have flashlights onboard. Be sure to have spare batteries in case it runs out.

Licenses, Registration, and Permits

  1. Check if you have all necessary registration, licenses, and permits on-hand before heading out.
  2. Make sure that these papers are safely tucked in a waterproof container to prevent damage.

Passage Plan

  1. Have a passage plan— a visualization of the path you intend to take— on-board in case your assistant skipper needs to steer your vessel back home when he or she is forced to take over.

Tools and Spares

  1. Have a set of basic tools onboard before heading out to the waters.
  2. Spare parts should also be brought in case you need to conduct repairs while sailing. This should include fuel filter, through-hull plugs, light bulbs, and head parts among others.
  3. Have a first-aid kit ready for emergencies.

Fuel and Oil

  1. Fill up the tank.
  2. Check your reserves to ensure that you have more than enough fuel and oil before heading out.
  3. Determine if you have enough coolant and other chemicals needed for the vessel.


  1. If you intend to do some cooking aboard, make sure that the gas is well-ventilated.
  2. Check for possible gas leaks before your departure. If fuel odors are detected, run the blowers for a couple of minutes before departure.
  3. Switch off the engine if the odor persists. Seek the source of the scent.
  4. Fully or semi-enclosed spaces should have a minimum of one working carbon monoxide detector.


  1. Bilge pumps should be working properly before you head out. Ensure that this part of the boat is reasonably dry.
  2. Clean waste or spilled oil if needed to avoid discharges.


  1. Determine if switches for powerboat batteries are in their correct positions.
  2. Ensure that you have spare batteries or chargers for torches, handheld radios, and GPS in case they run out.
  3. Make sure that the engine and other devices are powered up the entire vessel before the trip.

Have your own copy of this complete pre-departure checklist first before heading out to the water. Download the printable version here.

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