The boating checklist—what to pack before you set sail [+ printable]

boating checklist
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Are you and your sailboat setting off into the sunset soon? Well, here's a list of what you need to pack before you set sail. There's a lot to remember when embarking on a sailing trip. From the must-haves to the don't-forgets, deciding what to bring can feel a little stressful, but don't fret. We're here to help! It's important to prioritize what to pack? Think: safety, function, fun—in that order.

Need a printable checklist? Download it for free—available at the end of the article. 

 

Safety first—it may not be the most fun part, but it's undoubtedly the most crucial part of your packing list.

First things first, it's vital to ensure you and your fellow passengers will be safe on your voyage. We highly suggest investing the most time and attention in this part of your packing list. Yes, a cute sarong may make for the ultimate Insta-worthy snap, but it's not going to count for much in an emergency.

Making sure your boat has the required safety gear—and knowing how to use it—paves the way for a safe boating experience. While this list may not be applicable to every boat and boating experience, the concept of being prepared is universal. Please check local maritime boards and local boat clubs to prepare yourself according to the upheld standards in your area.

The list below covers all the must-haves for all boats:

• First aid kit—including supplies for burns, allergic reactions, and seasickness - Make sure to check the contents of your first aid kit before setting off to guarantee nothing is missing.

• Cellphone and a VHF radio to call for help or to check weather - Staying connected is the key here. You don't want to sail into any unpleasant surprises and not be able to get in contact with authorities.

• Life jackets and throwable flotation devices - Have plenty of life jackets available. If there are any children joining, have smaller sizes available as well. Keep the life jackets in a place where they are readily accessible.

• Oars or paddles if you're stuck without wind or a working engine - Always make sure you have a back-up plan. If, in the unlucky event of an engine breakdown or no wind, you should still be able to get moving.

• Heavy duty flashlight and back up batteries - It can get a lot darker on open waters, so a good quality flashlight and extra batteries are important.

• Signaling flags like a diver down flag - Knowing the right signaling flags, and when to use them, can save lives. Have all the flags ready for use and fly them accordingly.

• Visual and sound signals, like a flare and horn - Having a high-quality flare and horn to signal you're in potential danger is an essential tool you should pack before setting sail.

• Bailing device (or bucket to dewater) in the event you're taking on water - In the unfortunate event of getting a hole in your hull, you should be able to know how to solve this and to take the right steps to prevent a disaster.

• Snorkel mask in case you need to inspect the hull underwater - Although snorkel masks are often used for looking at the beauties underwater, they are also useful for inspecting the hull.

• Knife to cut a line in case it gets stuck in the propeller - A good and sharp knife is always useful when it comes to boating.

• Anchor with line - After finally reaching the spot you were looking for it would be a shame if you couldn't stop your boat from drifting away. Make sure the anchor and its line is at the place its supposed to be.

• Fire extinguisher - When you're working with engines or simply cooking on a boat, there's always a fire hazard. Although you might think you're surrounded by plenty of water, it's always easier to get a proper fire extinguisher ready for use.

• Basic tools to repair issues - All boats should be packed with a basic tool box for unforeseen issues.

Every trip requires its own special attention. Be sure to check for boat-specific, trip-specific, and area-specific needs and be aware of family members or other boat guests with special health requirements like oxygen gear or allergy medications.

Documents and registration

In case you haven't thought of these:

• Passports - Always a necessity, no matter where you go.

Medical IDs and any important allergies, illnesses, etc. - Be aware of your surroundings, the guests you'll take on your trip, and plants or insects that could be a potential hazard where you'll be going.

• Visas and additional documentation - If you're crossing borders, don't forget to check if you need visas or additional documentation for the passengers or the boat.

Next, plot the logistics and pack all the functional things you'll need—keep in mind everything is at risk of getting wet.

Now that you're prepared for all scenarios including unlikely emergencies, it's time to start considering your other functional needs. I know, I know, that doesn't scream "fun!", but there's pleasure in the detail. We recommend outlining the logistics: how many days is your trip, will you make landfall at any point to refill, do you have climate-controlled storage, how many people will be on-board, is there anyone with diet restrictions etc.

This will help you determine how much food, clothing, and supplies you'll need to bring. Once you have a better idea of what you're working with, constraints and luxuries alike, you can start to actually pick what you're bringing. Yes, including your favorite treats! Be sure to think about:

Food and drinks

Make sure to bring extras so you're always prepared for unforeseen events

Enough hydration - Not packing enough water or other fluids is a rookie mistake we don't want you to make.

Plan for meals and snacks - Depending on the time you'll be on the water, you will have to plan plenty of meals. This will be easier if you plan to make landfall, or plan on fishing for your food on the way.

• How will you prepare it - Some boats have their own galleys (kitchens), some might not. Be sure to bring tools to prepare your food. A portable BBQ could be a solution.

How will you store it fresh - You might need some cool boxes, or fridges and ice to keep your food cool. The last thing you want is for your food to go bad.

• How will you store your waste - With food comes a lot of waste. You don't want to pollute the waters you're sailing in, so you need to think of ways to store your waste.

Clothing

Store these dry and safe, to prevent them from getting wet

• Protective headwear and eyewear - The sun can be harsh on the open water, so protect yourself as well as possible. Bring a backup in case you lose one in the sea.

• Rubber-soled shoes - So you don't slip or scuff the boat, we suggest something closed-toe or with a slingback strap so it won't come off in the water or slip on a wet deck.

Comfortable clothing - Preferably clothing that allows you to move freely but isn't at risk of getting caught on sailing equipment.

• Breathable and fast-drying fabrics - since you'll spend a lot of time in and around the water, your clothes will likely get wet.

• Extra pairs of undies and socks - Always good to pack extra undies and socks to keep yourself clean in the outdoor environment.

• Sleeping and loungewear - Ensure comfort for those cozy nights on the open water.

• Swimwear and easy coverups - To dive in the water when you've anchored.

Sun-protective clothing - When you're planning not get wet, bring sun-protective and breathable clothing.

Supplies

Some unmissable supplies that you don't want to forget

• Sun protection - High protection sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection, a hat, layers, and a good pair of sunglasses.

• Toiletries and towels - As you don't want these to get wet, make sure to bring extra.

• Extra blankets and sweaters - In case it gets wet or unexpectedly cold

We know space is often limited on a boat, so we recommend packing in a soft collapsible bag, like a weekender, so you can roll it up and stow it away easily without taking up too much space.

Alright, alright! Now you can load up on all the toys. Here's what we recommend packing to make your trip extra fun and memorable.

Finally—here are the extras you should bring along to capitalize on the fun:

• Portable, waterproof speakers - For afternoons in the sea, on the beach, or for karaoke nights on the boat.

• Water toys - Skies, rafts and inner tubes, water guns and diving toys.

• Fishing gear - How else are you expecting to get dinner?

• Board games and card games - Prepare for evenings or rainy days by packing plenty of indoor games.

• Snorkeling or diving gear - To explore the ocean's treasures.

• Champagne for sunset cheers - Celebrate the good times with your friends or family. Remember to drink responsibly on a boat!

• GoPro or drone - To capture your memories on the water—don't forget their protective, waterproof case!

• Hammock - Every skipper needs their rests, take your day off on your hammock and relax.

In this article we offer you a packing list for your boat trip. We understand this packing list does not cover every trip and location. That's why we ask you to be mindful of your destination and your guests. Besides giving an indication of what to bring for your boat trip, this article is meant to remind you of the importance of safety preparation, as this will be crucial for your next trip.

Once you have organized all the essentials, it is up to you to make the most of the trip. Our lakes, rivers, and oceans are a great way to make lasting memories with friends and family. It's a dazzling way to become part of something bigger—those meaningful moments that shape our lives and futures. Stay safe and bon voyage!

 

Download the checklist

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