Recreational Boating Safety – Boater’s Pre-Departure Checklist

By Bob Currie, Vessel Examiner
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 081-06-08
How many times have you loaded up your boat, launched, and headed out to your favorite spot only to realize you have forgotten your bait/fishing rod/tackle box/life jacket/drinking water, or any other important item required to make the trip successful? You need to know your vessel, plan the trip, and avoid inconvenience and potential danger by taking a few minutes to ensure that you have what you need. The best way to do that is to have a pre-departure checklist. The best start to creating your list is to review the items that are both required and recommended on the Coast Guard Vessel Safety Check.

Flotilla 081-06-08 is based at Coast Guard Station Galveston. The Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed civilian component of the US Coast Guard and supports the Coast Guard in nearly all mission areas. The Auxiliary was created by Congress in 1939. For more information, please visit

Vessel Safety Check
The best way to ensure that you have what you need is to undergo a free Coast Guard Vessel Safety Check (VSC), but even if you haven’t done this, you can take advantage of the safety check by adding the required and recommended items to your own list. You may also access the Coast Guard app and select the “Review Safety Equipment” icon.

Coast Guard Required Items
Boater’s Pre-Departure Checklist

  1. State Registration (Certificate of Number)- available onboard
  2. State Numbering- properly spaced on both sides (TX 1234 AA or TX-1234-AA)
  3. Life Jackets- Coast Guard approved; one for each person onboard
  4. Throwable Type IV Device- immediately available when underway
  5. Visual Distress Signals- Coast Guard approved day and night signals
  6. Fire Extinguisher- Coast Guard approved; not expired; fully charged
  7. Proper Ventilation- check operation (inboard and inboard/outboard engines)
  8. Backfire Flame Control- tightly fitting (inboard and inboard/outboard engines)
  9. Sound Producing Device- horn or whistle (mother-in-laws are not approved)
  10. Navigation Lights- make sure they work
  11. Oil Pollution Placard- (boats 26 feet and longer)
  12. Garbage Placard- (boats 26 feet and longer)
  13. Marine Sanitation Device- required for boats with installed toilets
  14. Copy of Navigation Rules- (boats 39.4 feet and longer) may be electronic copy
  15. Any Additional State Requirements- (use your Coast Guard app to review)

Coast Guard Recommended Items
Boater’s Pre-Departure Checklist

  1. VHF-FM Marine Radio- make sure it operates when turned on
  2. Personal Locator Beacon (EPIRB or PLB)- for offshore trips
  3. Anchor and Line- check for deterioration
  4. Charts of the Area and Navigation Tools- Sonar/GPS operates when turned on
  5. Magnetic Compass- backup if GPS fails
  6. Fenders and Boat Hook- rough water can make approaching the dock hazardous
  7. Mooring Lines and Heaving Line- coiled and stored
  8. Manual Bilge Pump or Bailing Device- in case you lose all power
  9. Tool Kit- basic tools to make simple repairs
  10. Spare Parts- fuses, spark plugs, belts, etc.
  11. Spare Battery- fully charged; trolling motor battery works in an emergency
  12. Spare Propeller/Shear or Cotter Pins- things happen; be prepared
  13. Extra Fuel and Oil- remember the 1/3 tank out- 2/3 tank to get back in rule
  14. Alternate Propulsion- paddle or oar; if you lose power: anchor immediately
  15. Flashlight and Batteries- even though you are making a daylight trip
  16. Search Light- same reason as above
  17. First Aid Kit- be able to stop bleeding if necessary; things happen out there
  18. Sunscreen (SPF 30+)- Sunburn can lead to more severe heat-related conditions
  19. Mirror- used for signaling in an emergency
  20. Food and Water- a day on the water can dehydrate you and sap your energy
  21. Binoculars- not just for looking for the birds working; can save your life

Safety Checks and Tests
Boater’s Pre-Departure Checklist

  1. Test VHF Marine Radio- call a nearby friend on a non-emergency channel
  2. Test Navigation and Anchor Lights
  3. Test Steering for free movement
  4. Test Tilt/Trim
  5. Test Bilge Pump
  6. Check for Excessive Water in Bilges- once boat is in the water
  7. Check Fuel System for Leaks- rubber hoses deteriorate in salt air
  8. Check Engine Fluids- low oil can cause overheating
  9. Ensure Boat Plug is properly installed- easy to forget
  10. Check Electrical System- any corrosion on the battery posts can strand you
  11. Check Fuel Amount- can you get back home?
  12. Ensure Anchor is Ready for Use- attached to cleat and properly stowed
  13. Check Load of Vessel and Secure Gear
  14. Ensure Passengers Know Emergency Procedures and Equipment Location
  15. Check that all Life Jackets Fit Properly
  16. Check the Weather Forecast
  17. File a Float Plan with Relative or Friend

You can also download a Pre-Departure Checklist from the Coast Guard website at . Your Coast Guard app can help you with your checklist. You can tailor the checklist to your boat and save it within the app.

Boater’s Pre-Departure Checklist

For more information on boating safety, please visit the Official Website of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division at Questions about the US Coast Guard Auxiliary or our free Vessel Safety Check program may be directed to me at I am available to perform free Vessel Safety Checks, and I will come to your location to perform them. SAFE BOATING!


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