Pre-underway Checklist

I have been asked about what specifically needs to be done in order to get a boat underway in order to maximize safety, minimize issues and help the crew enjoy the day.  Unfortunately the answer to this question is as diverse as the number of boats on the water but I will start with a general list for sailboats mainly because most of the recent questions came from new sailboat owners.

This list is a work in progress and will be updated periodically.

Things you should keep in order at all times:

  • Charts of the area to be navigated, navigation gear and knowledge
  • Vessel registration and all safety gear (PFD’s, fire extinguishers, flares, horn, etc)
  • Inspect your anchor rode for wear and make sure the stainless siezing wire holding the shackle is in good order.
  • A means to recover crew from the water (lifesling, boarding ladder, etc)
  • Test bilge pumps
  • Navigations lights in working order
  • Boat hook
  • First aid kit
  • Engine gauges are in good working order, depth sounder functioning
  • Tools appropriate for anything you might need to work on while underway
  • Sunscreen, hat, polarized sunglasses
  • Appropriate clothing to keep warm (it is often quite a bit cooler out on the Puget Sound than in town)
  • Binoculars
  • Drinking water


  • Float plan – Let someone who cares about you know where you are going, when to expect you, what communications devices you have and what to do if you don’t report in.
  • Check weather report
  • Inspect running and standing rigging, remove sailcovers and inspect sails
  • Open raw water seacock
  • Open fuel supply valve
  • Inspect engine belts, hoses, evidence of new leaks
  • Check engine oil each time before starting, check marine gear oil and fuel injection pump oil about every 2nd or 3rd time starting the motor.  Check belt tension.  Verify coolant levels and top off as needed.
  • Turn off shorepower switch inside boat and at the dock and disconnect shore power cord.
  • Turn battery switch to the appropriate setting for starting
  • Turn on engine instruments if this is on a seperate switch
  • Activate any appropriate fuel lift pumps as required for your boat
  • Preheat engine as required by manufacturer
  • After engine starts check for raw water flow at exhaust, stop engine if no flow and repair as needed.  Then check gauges and inspect motor now with motor running to verify that all looks normal.
  • While motor is warming up you can spend some time bringing online the VHF radio, autopilot breaker, stow the shorepower cord, unlock the helm, remove instrument covers, unlock hatches and lockers, verify manual bilge pump lever location, brief crew on the plan, do a dockside marine transmission test.
  • Always remember to check up and down the marina fairway for other boats before casting off lines.