What to include in a pre-departure boat trip checklist

What to include in a pre-departure boat trip checklist

Photo credit Ken Schultz

I made my first pre-departure boating checklist a few years ago after towing my boat to a local launch pad and discovering that I had pulled a 25 foot electrical extension cord nearly 10 miles down the street.

The cord was plugged into an onboard charger and plugged into an external power outlet in my house. I forgot to unplug it from the charger.

I don’t know why I didn’t create a pre-departure checklist for boats beforehand. It’s not like in decades of boating and towing boats and trailers I haven’t forgotten about other things: PFDs, fishing rods, the drain plug, hooking up trailer lights, and so on.

So I checked every aspect of my pre and post boating and fishing routine and created several checklists. I double-printed these on individual sheets and laminated the papers for long life. I pinned one checklist for boats in my tow truck and another on the garage wall.

The following is what I check every time I go out and that you can adjust it to suit your own needs.


For the BOAT before leaving the house

• Mirror connector
• Engine high and safe
• Strap on the stern
• Motor support on
• Charger off
• Power cable off
• Bolt closed
• Loose objects secured

For the TRAILER before leaving the house

• Lights connected
• Safety chains connected
• Coupler locked
• Wheel lift high
• Bow winch strap ON
• Bow safety chain ON
• Stern boat strap / hold-down device ON
• Spare wheel secured
• Wheel chocks in the towing vehicle

For TRAILER & BOAT At Boat Launch / Dock

• Lights not connected
• Plug in the rear connector
• Stern boat strap (s) / cable ties OFF
• Engine up
• Motor support OFF
• Bow winch strap OFF
• Bow safety chain OFF
• Wheel chocks set for tow vehicles


For boating and fishing

• poles
• Tackle boxes
• PFDs & Throwing Ring
• Silicone fishing net
• Sonar
• Diagrams
• Push the rod or paddle
• Electric motor and battery
• Arch line
• Dock connecting lines
• Anchor and rope
• Sunglasses, sun block, and personal repellants
• fishing bait
• Cooler and ice
• Torches and pipes, fire extinguishers
• Bailer
• Tools, rags / towels
• To eat and drink
• Camera, rainwear, boat boots, waterproof bag
• Boat registration
• Fishing license

I also have a pre-departure boating checklist for general kayaking and kayak fishing. In addition to many of the items in the previous lists, it also includes essential items such as paddles, pipes, pack bags, bow lines, anchor stakes, and kayak navigation lights.

Before you step away from the dock, make sure that your engine is on, that the navigation lights are working (if you are boating at night), that the horn and bilge pump are working, and that you have the appropriate PFDs for each passenger and that you have the have other necessary safety precautions for the boat.