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How To Give An Awesome Safety Brief

Thoroughly prepping your crew before you leave the dock is beneficial for them – and you

Senior male at the wheel of a vessel speaking with four females while out at in open waters.

Photo: Stacey Nedrow-Wigmore 


Visit to download a handy safety brief checklist.

Descargar una práctica lista de verificación de seguridad en la navegación.

Think back to the first time you stepped aboard an unfamiliar boat. You didn’t know where the fire extinguishers were located or what that beeping noise from the navigation station meant. These are the mysteries your guests will be facing when they step aboard your boat.

Conducting a predeparture safety brief (lista de verificación de seguridad en la navegación) is always a good idea, regardless of whether you’re leaving the dock for an afternoon on the water or a multiday trip. You have a responsibility as captain to ensure passengers are familiar with the basics of your vessel, from the location of safety equipment to what they should do in an emergency. Here’s how to ensure your guests are safe, comfortable, and able to assist should the need arise.

Why it’s important

While you may be intimately familiar with the layout and location of equipment aboard your vessel, don’t assume that’s the case with your guests. Plan your safety brief to cover the basic questions that a novice would ask, but without overwhelming them with information. If a guest is more experienced or expresses an interest in learning more, you can always speak with them individually once underway, possibly even allowing them to assist in operating the vessel or in the event of an emergency.

Always conduct a safety brief prior to leaving the dock, no matter how nice the weather or off schedule you may be. If you’re tempted to wait until later while underway, it may be too late should a problem arise and immediate action is required.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst

A good safety brief will cover the basics (such as the location of all safety equipment), but don’t hesitate to think outside the box and include additional topics. Good examples would be showing guests how to use the VHF radio or briefly describing specific procedures to be followed in the event of an emergency (someone falling overboard, for example).

Remember that, as captain, you may be involved in the emergency and unable to give instructions at that time. If it’s you who falls overboard or becomes incapacitated, would your guests know how to rescue you or call for assistance?

Visuals are always good, so posting a diagram of the vessel that shows where everything is, from seacocks to fire extinguishers, is a great idea. This also allows guests to review the diagram at their leisure anytime during the trip. Two good locations for posting this valuable visual? The navigation station and inside the head compartment where it can easily be seen while sitting on the toilet.

What to cover

While you’ll want to develop a predeparture brief that’s tailored to your specific vessel, here are a few basic topics that should be part of any safety brief.


Don’t simply point and tell where they are. Get them out, and make sure everyone has a life jacket that fits, knows how to don it, and either wears it or knows where it’s located if stowed. Explain how inflatable life jackets work, as well as how to orally inflate or manually activate them. Show guests where the throwables (life rings, flotation cushions) are located and how to use them in the event of a man-overboard situation (more on this later).


Go over their locations and use. Take one down and pass it around so guests can hold it in their hands while you explain the basics of how to activate and use it.


Cover the types, where they’re located, and potential dangers of using flares. You could also discuss basic operation, a particularly good idea for longer cruises.


Show the location of each on board. Many boats will have a basic first-aid kit for daily use and a separate, more complex kit for serious injuries. Show guests where both are stowed, and let them know it’s OK to access the basic kit for minor stuff like bandages and aspirin, but to inform you of any injuries, regardless of how small. This is also a good time to ask if anyone has medical issues you should be aware of, as well as medications, to address them (e.g., EpiPen, inhalers). Tell guests they can come to you after the brief to discuss in private, if they prefer.

More good knowledge to share

  • HEADS: Show guests where they’re located and how to use them. Include little tricks you may take for granted but a novice probably doesn’t know, like pumping long enough to make sure the lines are flushed clear, never running an electric head dry, and so on.
  • HATCHES: How to open and close them safely to avoid banged heads or pinched fingers. Also cover when they can be opened and when they must be kept closed—such as at night while underway or when someone is working on deck.
  • TRASH: Hopefully everyone knows you can’t simply throw it overboard, but don’t assume it. Point out where they can dispose of trash, as well as any separation requirements for items like recyclables or food waste.
  • HOW TO BOARD AND DISEMBARK THE BOAT SAFELY when docked, using the dinghy, or during any other situation you anticipate.
  • DOCKING PROCEDURES: For inexperienced guests who will be helping out when docking, assign tasks and explain the procedure when leaving and approaching the dock. Demonstrate the proper use of fenders when docking, while highlighting the dangers of fending off with hands or feet. — F.L.


If you go overboard, can your passengers at least stop the boat? There should always be someone aboard other than the captain who can operate the boat. At a minimum, make sure everyone can bring the boat to a stop. If sailing, show passengers how to release the mainsheet and jib to dump the sails. If motoring, show them how to place the engine in neutral and shut it down should the need arise. The latter is particularly important in a man-overboard situation, as you don’t want to chance someone coming into contact with a spinning prop while trying to reboard.


Make sure everyone knows to throw the life ring, spare life jackets, cushions, and so on, toward the person in the water, even if that person is wearing a life jacket. These additional items not only provide additional buoyancy for the person in the water to grab, but also make it easier to find them if you have to turn around. Assign one or more people to be spotters – maintain visual contact with the person in the water and point toward them until they’re recovered. Discuss other MOB considerations as warranted, such as preventing the MOB from being struck by the boat or contacting propellers.


Show everyone where the VHF radio is located as well as basic operation, such as how to turn it on, select channel 16, transmit, receive, and operate the red DSC distress feature. Go the extra step and show guests how to find and give the location of the vessel in the event of an emergency. Don’t forget to include younger crew members as well – teaching a 10-year-old how to operate the VHF radio and make a distress call instills confidence and just may save your life!


Location, along with a brief description of what it is, how it works, and how to operate it. At a minimum, show guests how to remove the EPIRB from the stowage bracket and turn it on if directed by you in the event of an emergency.


Where it’s located and how it works. Make sure everyone knows that this is a piece of safety gear, only used during an abandon-ship scenario.


Take a moment to point out things to guests that could hurt them. These include slip and trip hazards (wet spots, deck cleats), the dangers of grabbing lines or rigging rather than solid handholds, hatches they could fall down, and the like. Explain how things that move while underway (a sailboat’s boom for example) can cause injury, while the boat itself can be hazardous to move about in during rough seas or stormy weather.

This is also a good time to point out safe places for guests to sit while sailing or during evolutions such as docking and anchoring.

Finally …

Encourage guests to ask questions during and after the brief and hold an informal debrief at the end of the day or trip. This not only provides valuable feedback to fine-tune your brief but also helps ensure the next trip will be an even greater success!

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Frank Lanier

Contributing Editor, BoatUS Magazine

Capt. Frank Lanier is a SAMS Accredited Marine Surveyor with more than 40 years of experience in the marine and diving industries. He’s also an author, public speaker, and multiple award-winning journalist whose articles on boat maintenance, repair, and seamanship appear regularly in numerous marine publications worldwide. He can be reached via his YouTube channel “Everything Boats with Capt. Frank Lanier” and website