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Pic of pontoon on a lake

Check Your Checklists for Safe, Fun Boating


Anyone who's gone boating more than once knows how common it is to forget something. The results of an oversight can range from a minor annoyance ("What, no Cheetos?") to a serious inconvenience ("Where's the sun block?") to a life-threatening situation ("We're abandoning ship. One of us will have to skip the life vest").


No airplane pilot takes off without running through a checklist, and no boater should either, because the consequences can be just too serious. Every boater will modify these lists according to their personal needs, but they are a good place to start. Some of them you'll check at home when you're packing for your trip. Others you'll check on the boat before you leave the boat ramp or slip. Copy them into a spreadsheet, or print them out, but please use them.


Safety equipment

  • Life jacket: one per passenger with whistle attached (minimum two)
  • Pet PFD
  • Throwable flotation device with attached line
  • Visual distress signals
  • Horn with spare gas canister, or alternate sound device
  • Fire extinguisher/s
  • Day shapes
  • Flashlight
  • VHF and other electronic communications devices
  • Navigation gear: charts, compass, GPS
  • Spare batteries
  • Binoculars
  • First Aid kit
  • Personal medications
  • Anchor and rope
  • Dock lines, fenders



  • Tools
  • Spares (e.g., light bulbs, belts, fuel filter, through-hull plugs, engine oil)
  • Tow rope
  • Keys on float
  • Boat hook
  • Knife
  • Bucket, sponge
  • Boat and engine owner's manuals


Personal and Convenience

  • Ship's papers, permits, licenses
  • Towing service and insurance contact information
  • Cash, credit cards
  • Food, beverages, ice
  • Dishware, utensils, drinks openers, cooking gear
  • Hats, sunglasses, sun block
  • Clothing for changing conditions
  • Swimsuits
  • Water shoes
  • Towels
  • Toilet chemicals, TP
  • Camera
  • Toys: towables, fishing tackle, books, etc.


Pre-departure procedures

  • Know the state's boating laws
  • Leave a float plan with someone ashore
  • Check marine and/or weather forecast
  • Stow all gear
  • Inform passengers and crew of safety procedures and location of safety equipment
  • Top off fuel tank
  • Check fresh water tank
  • Engine check: fluid levels, belts, outboard engine securely mounted
  • Check steering, lift mechanisms
  • Check for fuel odors; run blower
  • Check bilges
  • Check that drain plug is in place
  • Check horn, navigation lights, all electrical and electronics
  • Check for obstructions