The Essential Boat Pre-departure Checklist
Before embarking on your boating journey, inspecting and preparing your boat for a safe and enjoyable experience is essential. By performing a systematic pre-departure checklist, you can help prevent dangerous situations or mechanical failures before leaving the dock.
This article covers everything you need to include in your pre-departure checklist, from checking the boat’s condition and safety equipment to weather forecasts and nighttime travel considerations.
We’ll discuss the importance of WOBBLE checks, steering and gear shifting inspections, route and waypoint setup, VHF channel programming, safety equipment selection, and additional specialized considerations for night-time travel. We will also give you tips on what to look for during each inspection.
How does Having a Pre-departure Checklist Help You?
Before setting sail, you’ll want to ensure you’ve taken the necessary precautions for a safe and successful trip. A pre-departure checklist helps minimize the risk of breakdowns and accidents by ensuring your boat is in good working order, all essential safety equipment is on board, and you have thoroughly prepared for your voyage, including checking the weather and planning your route.
Boat Pre-departure Checklist
The WOBBLE acronym outlines the necessary checks every boater should perform whenever they go out. WOBBLE stands for WATER, OIL, BELTS, BATTERIES, LEAKS, and EXHAUST.
- Inspect the cooling system and coolant levels. Check that the sea strainers are debris-free and water is pumped through. Check the outside of the boat to see if water is flowing out of the exhausts or tell tale if you are using an outboard.
- Check the coolant level and top up if necessary (if applicable). Look for any leaks of coolant.
- Check engine oil and transmission fluid levels, and look for signs of leaks or contamination. Use the dipsticks to confirm the amount of oil in the engines.
- Inspect belts for wear, fraying, or cracks, and check pulley alignment. Check tension by pressing down on the belt midway between pulleys. You should be able to press down on it(usually about 1/2 inch), but it should not feel loose or overly tight. Consult your engine manual for specific recommendations.
- Battery: verify that the battery is fully charged and adequately secured, check connections, and that the switch is on. Visually check that the battery is free from corrosion and tightly secured in place.
- Leaks: examine the engine compartment, bilge, and hull for any signs of leaks or water intrusion
- Exhaust: inspect the exhaust system, including hoses, clamps, and mufflers, for damage or leaks and ensure proper ventilation and function.
Steering and Gear Shifting
While securely tied up at the dock, test the steering system for smooth and responsive operation by turning the helm using full lock in each direction.
Click the throttle very slightly forward and then reverse to check the gears engage correctly and that there is no unusual grinding noise.
Inspect the steering mechanism, cables, throttle, and gear shift controls for any signs of wear or damage that could cause a problem while out and about.
Route and Waypoints
Power on your chartplotter, update your charts if they are outdated, enter your desired waypoints, create your route, and confirm its accuracy. Double-check the planned route for any hazards or obstacles and adjust as necessary. Check to make sure the chartplotter has a good satellite signal.
Turn on your VHF radio and switch it to dual-watch mode. You can always perform a radio check if you are unsure if your radio is working. Brief the passengers on proper communication procedures and the use of DSC (digital selective calling) should a problem arise. If you have a handheld radio, make sure it is accessible and fully charged with spare batteries.
Remind yourself of the list of VHF channels and their specific purposes, including channels for distress calls to the coast guard, weather information, and communication with marinas or harbors.
Ensure there are enough life jackets or personal flotation devices (PFDs) on board for all passengers and crew, that they are in good condition, and that they know where to find them in an emergency.
Check that all other safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers, whistles, flares for distress signals, and sound producing devices, such as a horn, is in working order and easily accessible.
Check the fuel level and calculate the range based on your engine’s fuel consumption rate to ensure you have enough fuel for your trip. Make sure you leave at least 25% capacity as a contingency. Inspect fuel lines, connections, and tanks for signs of leaks or damage. Check for any water in the system if you have fuel water separators.
Before starting the engine, ventilate interior spaces and run the blowers for several minutes before starting to ensure no fuel smells. This is especially important for petrol or gas boats.
Mooring Lines, Fenders, and Anchoring System
Ensure that mooring lines are in good condition and have adequate fenders to protect your boat during docking.
Check the anchor is securely attached to the anchor rode and locked in place to prevent it from bouncing around underway. If you have a windlass, check it is in good working order.
Ensure you have enough anchor rode for the expected water depth and anchoring conditions. Ensure you have at least one anchor and it is in good working order. Ideally, you should also carry a kedge anchor (second anchor).
Finally, ensure all lines and painters are away from the propeller when you start the engines.
Weather Forecast and Tides
Always check the weather forecast before departure, and familiarize yourself with the tide tables, ensuring plenty of water along your planned route. Remember to keep an eye on the weather throughout your trip.
Develop and discuss an emergency plan with your crew and passengers. Explain how to control the boat, where to find fire extinguishers, life rafts, etc., and how to use the radio and plans for handling a man overboard situation, should the worst happen.
If you plan on traveling at night, ensure that all navigation lights are functional and visible, interior and deck lighting is adequate, and radar, night vision equipment, and other electronics are switched to night mode. Provide reflective and high-visibility gear for crew and passengers. It is also useful to have a flashlight available.
Float Plan and Local Knowledge
Before setting out, leave a float plan with someone onshore detailing your intended route and expected return time. Acquire local knowledge about the areas you intend to cruise, including potential hazards, regulations, and navigational considerations.
Ensure that you carry carbon monoxide detectors and they are fully functional – this is especially important on enclosed, semi-enclosed boats or boats with LPG cooking or heat sources. Finally, it’s essential to have basic tools and spare parts on board to address any surprises on the water.
In conclusion, running a pre-departure check and preparing your boat before setting off is essential to any boating experience. You can follow the WOBBLE acronym to ensure you’re checking all the necessary components for a safe and enjoyable voyage.
Don’t forget other considerations such as steering and gear shifting, route and waypoint setup, VHF channel programming, safety equipment selection, fuel system checks, and emergency planning.
Check weather forecasts, tides, and local knowledge to prepare you for all potential risks while out on the water. Above all else, ensure that you have a great boating trip each time!