Pre-Trip Checklists are Important
With all the excitement and urgency to get out on the water, it would be easy to forget something that’s important for your crew’s safety and enjoyment. All boaters, regardless of experience level, can benefit from having a pre-trip checklist. So whether you are going out for a quick sunset cruise or are heading to the Bahamas, make sure not to let something important slip through the cracks.
Things to do before leaving the house
Check the weather
Always check the weather forecast before heading out and confirm it periodically throughout the day. Invest in an inexpensive app like NOAA Radar US ($1.99), which gives you an animated radar map centered around your location. If you are heading offshore, download an app like the free Marine Weather Forecast Pro that predicts things like wave height and duration, keeping in mind if it calls for 2-4 footers, at some point during the day you will likely encounter an 8-footer.
Let someone know where you are going
Always let someone you trust know where you are going and when you’ll return home. Cell phones often have the ability to track your movements if you use apps like Apple's Find My Friends but they only work if they are enabled and are used where there is a cell phone signal. It’s cheap insurance to carry a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), which continually broadcasts your position to satellites almost anywhere on the globe.
Make sure your boat’s drain plug is installed
This should be the first and last items on your printed checklist…highlighted in red…in all CAPS!
Inspect Your Trailer
Look for obvious items like tires that look low on air or show signs of extreme wear. After plugging the electric plug to your tow vehicle, check to make sure turn signal and brake lights are operational. Double check the connection between trailer and trailer hitch ball and make sure the safety chain is crossed and attached properly. Inspect tie-down straps and transom-saver bar on your boat’s lower unit. When the vehicle is moving, try the brakes to make sure they are functional. If there is a gravel parking lot nearby, stop hard and look for skid marks to ensure each brake is working. If your drive to the ramp is lengthy, stop after 20 minutes and place your hand near the hub to detect excessive heat, which can indicate bearing failure.
Make sure you have the following U.S. Coast Guard-required items for vessels 16 feet and longer:
Life jackets are required for each passenger that are either being worn or are easily accessible. The U.S. Coast Guard recommends boaters should wear a life jacket when underway. They should fit each passenger well and be in good repair.
Always have a throwable floatation device that’s kept within easy reach for emergency use should someone fall overboard.
Carry a sound-producing device such as an air horn that can produce a four-second blast that can be heard for ½ a mile. Also, attach a whistle to each life jacket.
Fire extinguishers that have a B-I or B-II classification are required.
Although not required on all bodies of water, carry a visual distress signal such as flares, flags (daytime) or high-powered lights (nighttime).
Things to check off before shoving off
If your boat is a sterndrive or inboard or has a generator, run the blower for five minutes before starting the engine. Repeat this every time you start your boat throughout the day.
Check the boat’s oil level before leaving the dock. To make sure your boat has enough fuel, follow the 1/3 rule when cruising. Only expend 1/3 of your fuel heading to your destination. This will leave you 1/3 to return home with a 1/3 in reserve. It’s always a good idea to carry more fuel
than you think you will need because no boater has ever said the words, “I wish I didn’t have all this fuel onboard.” If you don’t boat as often as you would like, make sure to treat your fuel with a stabilizer since gas with ethanol can go bad after a couple of months and can severely damage your engine.
Conduct a safety briefing for your passengers, letting them know where all safety gear is located and demonstrate how to operate the boat in case you become incapacitated.
Always carry plenty of water, even if just going out for a short run and don’t forget the sunscreen.
The driver should attach the “kill” switch lanyard that will stop the boat’s engine in an emergency.
The last checklist item
Having a checklist is a great way to make sure you’ve taken care of all the basics, which will help your family relax and enjoy a stress-free day on the water while making some memories that will last forever. The last entry on your list should be: Have Fun!