Skip Links

Spring Boating Safety Checklist

Make sure you and your crew are safe every time you're on the water, with this checklist.

Close-up photo of person clicking the black buckle of a red life jacket around their waist

Photo: Getty Images/JenDen2005


Download a copy of this checklist and laminate at your local office supply store. Use a dry erase marker to check off each item.

Preseason Preparation

  • Current registration/documentation papers (including boat trailer) and numbers/decals affixed as required. If you fish, fishing license and fishing gear aboard?
  • Review federal, state, and local boating laws and navigation rules
  • Download the free BoatUS App to check local weather and tides, and for fastest way to call a tow
  • Maintain boat and systems per manufacturer recommendations and your visual inspection
  • Check expiration dates and condition of fire extinguishers and pyrotechnic flares

Before Departure

  • Check weather forecasts, tides, currents
  • Follow safe fueling practices; make sure blower fans are in working order
  • Check operation of bilge pump, auto switch, alarms
  • Ensure you have appropriate-size life jackets in good repair, and that children wear them. Need a child-sized life jacket? Find a loaner site
  • Brief crew on locations and operation of safety equipment including: life jackets, life sling, or throwable flotation; sound-producing device; flares/visual distress signals; fire extinguishers; and a spare engine cutoff lanyard, if equipped.
  • Turn on VHF radio. Show passengers how to select Ch. 16, how to use mic, and when/how to transmit a Mayday. Brief on how/when to use and not use the DSC feature if you have it; ensure the MMSI is programmed in
  • Check operation of navigation/running lights
  • Ensure that one anchor and rode is ready for immediate use
  • Before starting a gasoline inboard engine, run blower for at least 4 minutes
  • Attach engine shutoff switch lanyard or device, if fitted

On The Water

  • Departing the harbor, store a "go home" waypoint on the GPS, if equipped
  • Know the waters you're navigating. Refer to local charts, stay within marked channels, be aware of tides, currents, and areas such as inlets with challenging seas
  • Avoid distracted driving, scan the horizon continually for other boats' movements
  • Be weather-aware (watch for wind/cloud changes, monitor weather channels)
  • While underway, no passengers on the bow, gunwales, or transom
  • Monitor fuel consumption and remaining range. Use the "Three-Thirds" rule: one-third outbound, one-third inbound, one-third reserve
  • Designate a lookout if engaging in watersports activities
  • Engines OFF if people are swimming
  • Be aware of dangerous CO gasses from engines and/or generators
  • Drink plenty of water; wear sunscreen; don't boat under the influence

Related Articles


Click to explore related articles

how to diy spring preparation


BoatUS Editors

Contributor, BoatUS Magazine

Award-winning BoatUS Magazine is the official publication of Boat Owners Association of The United States. The magazine provides boating skills, DIY maintenance, safety, news and more from top experts.