What You Need in a Boating Pre-Departure Checklist

Photo credit Ken Schultz

I created my first boating pre-departure checklist some years ago after towing my boat to a local launch ramp and discovering that I’d dragged a 25-foot electrical extension cord down the road for nearly 10 miles.

Connected to an onboard battery charger, the cord had been plugged into an outside electrical outlet at my house and I’d forgotten to disconnect it from the charger.

I don’t know why I didn’t make a pre-departure boat checklist before. It’s not like I hadn’t forgotten other things in decades of boating and boat-and-trailer towing: PFDs, fishing rods, the drain plug, connecting trailer lights, and so on.
So I reviewed every aspect of my routines before and after going boating and fishing, and came up with multiple checklists. I printed these in duplicate on single sheets of paper, and laminated the papers for durability. I keep one boating checklist in my tow vehicle, and another pinned to the garage wall.

Here’s what I review every time I go out now, and which you can adapt for your own needs.
 

GENERAL BOATING PRE-DEPARTURE CHECKLISTS

For the BOAT Before Leaving Home

•    Transom Plug in
•    Motor up & Secure
•    Strap(s)/tiedowns on Stern
•    Motor support on
•    Battery charger off
•    Electric cord off
•    Latches closed
•    Loose items secured

For the TRAILER Before Leaving Home

•    Lights connected
•    Ssafety chains connected
•    Coupler locked
•    Wheel jack up
•    Bow winch strap ON
•    Bow safety chain ON
•    Stern boat strap/tiedowns ON
•    Spare tire secured
•    Tire chocks in tow vehicle

For TRAILER & BOAT At Boat Launch/Dock

•    Lights disconnedted
•    Transom plug in
•    Stern boat strap(s)/tiedowns OFF
•    Motor up
•    Motor support OFF
•    Bow winch strap OFF
•    Bow safety chain OFF
•    Tow Vehicle Chocks set
 

BOATING PRE-DEPARTURE CHECKLIST

For Boating & Fishing Essentials

•    Rods
•    Tackle boxes
•    PFDs & Throw ring
•    Silicone Fishing net
•    Sonar
•    Charts
•    Push pole or paddle
•    Electric motor and battery
•    Bow Line
•    Dock tie-up lines
•    Anchor (s) and rope
•    Sunglasses, suncreen and repellent
•    Fishing bait
•    Cooler and ice
•    Flares and whistle, fire extinguisher
•    Bailer
•    Tools, Rags/towels
•    Food and drinks
•    Camera, rain gear, boat boots, waterproof bag
•    Boat registration
•    Fishing license

I also have a boating pre-departure checklist for general kayaking and kayak fishing. In addition to many of the items in the prior lists, it also includes such essentials as paddles, whistles, dry bags, bow lines, anchor stake, and kayak navigation light.

Finally, before you cast away from the dock, make sure that your motor powers on, that navigational lights are working (if you’re boating at night), that the horn and bilge pump work, that you have the appropriate PFDs for each passenger,  and that you have the other boat safety essentials that are required.

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Ken Schultz

Ken Schultz

Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of ESPNoutdoors.com. 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 nearly two decades. His author website is kenschultz.com.