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VOL. 11 NO. 4
Take a class

Casting off

10 things to do before you head out on the water

Casting off

Before launching your boat, you should take the following important steps.

  1. Check the weather forecast. A favorable forecast indicates low to moderate predicted winds, good visibility and the absence of dangerous squalls. Get marine forecasts, which predict wave heights and winds, on NOAA weather radio on your VHF. If a marine forecast isn’t available, listen to a regular forecast for wind conditions and visibility.
  2. Check water conditions. Wind strength, area and duration all contribute to wave height. Breaking waves produce a white foam. What sea conditions are acceptable depend on what conditions your boat was designed to handle and the crew’s experience.
  3. File a float plan. Someone responsible needs to know your plans, including where you are going and when you intend to return.
  4. Double-check your equipment. Before you leave, make sure you have the necessary equipment onboard and that it’s in good working condition.
  5. Passenger communication. You’re the captain. Don’t be afraid to issue instructions. Make sure your passengers and crew know what’s expected of them and where they can find needed equipment. The skipper is obligated to educate everyone on board about matters of safety.
  6. Load your boat properly. Your boat should sit level at the waterline when fully loaded. Load passengers and equipment alternately to achieve proper trim. Pack gear to balance the load, and don’t overload. Your boat may have a label identifying its capacity.
  7. Wear your life jackets. Children under 13 must wear life jackets when underway on a recreational boat unless they’re in an enclosed cabin or belowdecks or unless a more stringent state regulation applies. You’re required to have life jackets for everyone on board, and everyone should wear one.
  8. Check engine compartment, and run blowers. Always check your engine compartment for fuel, fuel vapor and water, and run your blower for four minutes to clear the air before running the engines or using electrical devices. Blowers are specially sealed to prevent ignition of fuel vapors. Smell the bilge blower outlet to verify the absence of gas fumes.
  9. Start and warm the engine. Cold engines can stall. Start your engine, and let it run until it’s running smoothly before leaving the dock and while you still have the boat under control with lines.
  10. Designate an alternate skipper. Appoint someone to take over should you become incapacitated.
To learn more, take America’s Boating Course.
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