Pre-Launch Checklist For Boat Launching

Boat Prelaunch Checklist

I used to forget my personal belongings nearly everywhere I went. From leaving my book bag on the school bus to losing my buddy’s borrowed car keys at a restaurant 100 miles away (and subsequently stranding both of us), it became a running joke among my friends. I finally got my act together when I began to recite a mental checklist every time I walked out the door. Short and sweet, it became my mantra: “cell phone, wallet, keys…cell phone, wallet, keys”. Simple but effective, checklists can be life savers, literally.

Afterall, there’s a reason commercial airline pilots follow a strict checklist procedure on every flight: it saves lives. Considering the fact there are over 100,000 flights per day across the world, even a 99.9% safety rate would translate into an unacceptable 100 accidents per day. Clearly that wouldn’t “fly” with customers.

Boating is no different. Boat owners and captains are responsible for the safety of their passengers and the safe operation of their equipment. From trailering the boat to the ramp to maintaining onboard equipment and following all of the rules of the road, there are a lot of moving parts to keep track of. Not to mention the wrath you’ll face if you forget to bring the snacks.

Here’s a two-part pre-launch checklist to ensure a safe, fun day out on the water without any hiccups (or as few as possible anyways). We break it into a “leaving the driveway” checklist to run through before you trailer your boat onto public roads, and a “top of the ramp” checklist that is helpful to keep on your smartphone so you can run through it quickly at every outing.

“Leaving The Driveway” Checklist

  • Inspect onboard safety equipment (life vests / throwables / lifeboat)
  • Stow A Captain’s Bag onboard
  • Tow line (this is always smart to carry in a bow or stern compartment, in case the boat breaks down and you need to be towed back to the marina)
  • Check the trailer ball connection
  • Check that the trailer winch is tight and secure with safety in place
  • Check the trailer safety chains are hooked on
  • Check the air pressure in the trailer tires
  • Check the leaf springs are not broken, bent or crooked
  • Check that that the boat tie-down straps
  • Hook up the trailer lights and test blinkers and brake lights
  • Check that you have the boat’s drain plug in the boat somewhere safe (I usually leave the drain plug out while driving to drain any excess water, and prevent any unexpected rain from filling up the cockpit and putting too much weight on the trailer)
  • If possible, hook up motor muffs to a water hose and start the engine briefly to ensure it is running and spitting out water, then turn it off quickly
  • Unhook the gas while driving to prevent any spillage or accidental ignition
  • Make sure you have the boat keys with you in the car/truck

“Top Of The Ramp” Checklist

  • Install the boat drain plug
  • Count the life vests (should be one per passenger)
  • Make sure you have a throwable device onboard
  • Make sure you have an anchor and anchor line onboard (I keep two, one in the bow, one in the stern)
  • Have 3 extra dock lines onboard (bow, spring and stern)
  • Have 2-3 Fenders/bumpers (varies depending on boat size)
  • Check that the engine is raised and locked (before backing down ramp)
  • Remove the tie down straps from the boat/trailer
  • Have your boat keys ready (but not in the ignition)
  • Make sure the fuel system is hooked up and on and properly vented (removable gas canisters have vents that need to be unscrewed before running the motor)

You’re now ready to launch the boat! From here on out, the launch procedure can vary greatly depending on the size of your boat, ramp design, launch scenario and water depth. For further reading check out our tips for how to launch a boat at the boat ramp.

Happy boating out there and stay safe!

Written by: Ryan McVinney

C. Ryan McVinney is a film director, writer and producer. As an experienced boater he regularly produces and directs on-the-water video shoots for major boat manufacturers, yacht brokers and dealers, as well as independent film and media companies. He is president of the National Soho House Film Club with chapters in Miami, FL, Manhattan, NY and Los Angeles, CA and regularly contributes content to YachtWorld, boats.com and Boat Trader.

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