BlogApril 2020

Use This Boat Checklist Before and After Every Outing

Use This Boat Checklist Before and After Every Outing

By Ken Schultz

Apr 10, 2020

There’s a lot to review about your boat and trailer before you get on the water and before you leave the boat ramp. This boat checklist helps you cover it all.

It’s the smart boater who has everything in order and available when he or she is ready to go boating, especially before boating season or fishing season begins. But even the most experienced boaters sometimes forget something that they must, or should, either bring or review. That’s why having a boat checklist, and referring to it prior to each outing, is an excellent idea.

I have a boat checklist for boat- and trailer-related matters, and another to make sure that I don’t forget some necessary or useful piece of fishing equipment. Focusing on the former, here are a few things that your boat checklist should include:

For Boat Safety

  • Personal flotation devices (PFDs) for each person onboard. This is mandatory. PFDs must be in good condition and of appropriate size and type for the intended user.
  • One Type IV throwable device, which is required for boats over 16 feet.
  • Visual distress signals. Typically these are flares with valid expiration dates.
  • Marine fire extinguisher. This is mandatory for certain types of boats.
  • Sound-producing devices. This is mandatory for some boats, and may be a whistle or horn.
  • Navigational lights. This is mandatory for night-time boating.

The aforementioned items are necessities that are ordinarily kept on, or are affixed to, a boat, and if they are not removed, it may not be necessary to check for them each time you go on the water during the boating season. If have different individuals accompanying you from time to time, however, make sure to review the PFDs you have for them.

For Boat Trailers Used to Get Your Boat to the Water

Before departing for the launch ramp, check to make sure:

  • Trailer lights are connected to the tow vehicle and are working properly
  • Safety chains are connected to the tow vehicle
  • The hitch-to-trailer coupler is secure and locked
  • The trailer service jack or swivel jack is up and secure
  • The bow winch strap or cable, and the bow safety chain, are securing the bow of the boat to the trailer
  • The spare tire is secure
  • Tire chocks, if used, are removed from the trailer wheels.

For Boats on a Trailer Before Leaving Home and Before Leaving the Boat Ramp

  • Make sure that the motor is tilted up
  • A motor support bar, if available, is secure
  • Stern tiedown straps are secure
  • Battery chargers and electric cords are removed
  • Latches and compartments are closed and secure
  • Loose items are removed from the boat or secured

For a Boat & Trailer Prior to Putting It in the Water

  • Disconnect trailer lights if they are of the non-submersible variety
  • Remove tiedown straps
  • Put the transom plug in
  • Make sure that the motor is tilted up and support bar is removed
  • Remove the bow safety chain (once the boat is close to the water)
  • Remove the bow winch strap or cable (once the boat is close to the water)
  • Place wheel chocks on the tow vehicle (if the launch ramp is steep)

If you make up a checklist with the aforementioned items, plus any others (such as checking on your gas, dock lines, boat fenders, anchor, etc.), print it on an 8x11 sheet of paper and then laminate that for durability. Finally, if you’re making your first trip of the season, make sure that your boat registration is still valid, and, if you’re going fishing, that you have the appropriate fishing license.


Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of He’s written and photographed nineteen books on sportfishing topics, plus an annual fishing tips calendar, and his writing has appeared on various websites for more than two decades. His author website is