Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing

Several sailing students have asked if I use a pre-sail checklist. I do – and although it changes a bit boat-by-boat, this is the general check through I conduct every single day before I head out for a sail.

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing

Windlass and Anchor

Opening the anchor locker, I remind myself the exact steps I must take from the helm to having the anchor on the bottom. If there is a pin in the anchor that must be removed before opening the locker so I don’t try to stand in the hole. How to open the locker, how to open and secure the hatch. If there is a winch handle there in case of windlass failure, and if the “Up” and “Down” buttons are operational. Also if this boat requires the engine running to operate windlass.

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing

Roller Furling Main Switch

All of ours have labels too small to read from the cockpit – so – Port and Home are to the Port side, and I want to roll it in when I’m heading back to my home port, so, if it’s on the left; it’s on the ratchet setting. To the right facing forward – aka starboard – it’s on freewheel out, I set it to “free.”

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing


Sound Producing Device

In the cupholder, so I can operate throttle and gears while reaching for it.

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing

Type IV Throwable

Secured – usually in the bungy cord that holds the cockpit table from jiggling; it’s in arm’s reach of the person at the helm, as well as all the crew.

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing

Boat Hook

Every boat, every owner is different – we usually keep all of ours to port, inside the main furling line, or somewhere in that area. Same on every boat so you don’t have to think hard.

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing

Electrical Panels

Just about everything off for now, but turn on instruments, radio, gps.

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing
This is a tank indicator panel.

Water Off at Panel

Don’t want the water pump to run endlessly while the engine is running, so, it’s a bit inconvenient to turn it on when you need the head or basin, but less inconvenient than replacing a burned-out pump.

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing

VHF Radio – Below

This one gets turned on and tested daily with Rescue-21. How To Test A VHF Radio Using Rescue 21- Sea Tow System No Longer Available (Sea Tow’s Automated Radio Check System is no long available as of October 2, 2020. Previously, it was on VHF Channels 24 and 28 in over 130 locations.)

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing

Navigation Lights

Running lights and steaming light turned on if departing in low visibility or between sunset and sunrise.

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing

PFD’s – Personal Flotation Devices

Good and serviceable condition, readily accessible, US Coast Guard approved, and intended size for the user. I make sure if we have 13 and under year-olds, they wear them offshore, and six and under wear them all the time, except in the cabin.

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing
Osprey backpack information below.

Signal Flares

Good and serviceable condition, readily accessible, and not expired. Check expiration – if it’s a boat you sail often; go ahead and put the expiry date minus one month in your cell phone calendar reminder so you can plan ahead to replace them.

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing

Fire Extinguishers

Good and serviceable condition, readily accessible, and not expired or “in the red.” Again, enter expiry date minus one month in your cell phone; date is chipped out like on a car battery; extinguisher needs service every 12 months.

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing

Bilges and Bilge Pump

Quick test and visual inspection – are they working, is there an unusual amount of water in the bilge?

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing

Oil and Cooling Water, Belts, Hoses, Floor of Engine

Check oil daily, cooling water too, inspect belts and hoses for wear, look for fluids or debris that looks like potting soil under the engine – sign of belt wear. Check belt tension, 1/4 turn is about right; not too tight or loose.

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing

Shore Power Cord

First, turn off at pedestal. I prefer to disconnect it – that way, I can see from anywhere if it is or is not “live” to the boat. If it’s lying on the dock – it’s definitely not live. Then, head to stern to disconnect – and on the way, remove any dock lines that are not load bearing at this point.

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing

Under Stern: Lines, Water Hoses, Manatees

While you are at the stern disconnecting the “dead” power cord and cable tv (hie hie hie), look around for manatees, divers, docks lines, and garden hoses near your propeller.

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing

Start Engine

Check lights, check idiot alarms, check fuel level.

What did I forget? Anything? Is there anything additional you check before you head off the dock?

Next article: Five things to check before backing out of your slip!

Or: What I safety equipment review with passengers before every sail.

What to read next: How to Pick up a Mooring Ball

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing

That Awesome Backpack

You’ll see this backpack in most of my sailing articles. That’s because it’s my everyday carry for sailing days. The pack is from Osprey, which has some of the best backpacks around. It’s full of pockets and pouches and sections.

This model is the Revo, which is most similar to the currently-offered Porter Travel Pack 46, or the Atmos AG65, or the Aether AG 70. The features are simply fantastic. I’ve been carrying my Revo about ten years with no signs of wear and tear. I love the side pockets and all the interior zippered areas for separating my tools from my equipment from my sunscreen.

Updated May 15, 2020.

Updated January 4, 2011.

Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing, Pre-Sail Checklist for Sailing

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