The Complete Boat Launch Checklist, from Paperwork to Equipment

The Complete Boat Launch Checklist, from Paperwork to Equipment

Are you completely ready for a fun day on the water? Or do you have that nagging feeling that you've left something behind? Check your list first!

Without a pre-launch checklist, you might forget something important. After all, who wants a forgotten item or a neglected mistake to ruin your boat outing? Be prepared and that won't happen. 

On the water, even something simple can turn into a tragedy. As my dad always said, You can never be too careful or too prepared. There's just no such thing as being too prepared, right?

So, whether you're towing your boat to the water or you're lucky enough to live right there, these checkpoints will jog your memory even on your busiest days.

With this simple pre-launch boat checklist, you won't miss something important. If you go down the list, you can prepare for all those fun get-togethers on the water with no regrets or worries. Let's get started.

The Complete Boat Launch Checklist

1. Check the Paperwork

Could you be breaking the law when you're towing or out on the water? You might be if you don't have the proper paperwork. Check the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website to see what your state requires. You need to have the following for your trailer and your boat:
  • Proper/valid title work
  • Valid registration(s)
  • Paid mandatory fees
  • Paid mandatory taxes
They're not always mandatory, but you should keep these items on hand as well:
  • Valid driver's license
  • Your boat owner's manual
  • Your trailer owner's manual
  • Safe and waterproof container for all paperwork to avoid damage

There's nothing like a ticket to ruin your day (not to mention having to cancel plans). Make sure all of these items are valid, up to date and on hand.

Having them get destroyed by water is a real risk too, so as noted above, be sure to store them in a safe, waterproof container (check price on Amazon) where you can access them easily.

Don't forget this, either: Many states require boat operators to take and pass educational boating courses. Some even require a boating license. Check here to see what your state requires.

2. Check the Emergency Kit

Before leaving, be sure you have an emergency tool kit and first aid kit. From here on out in this post, you can click on the items on the list to find them on Amazon (when available). Some items needed:
  • Life vests for each person on board - Check weight limits for each one
  • Extra floating pillows and life rings
  • Emergency ladder
  • Inflatable boat for emergencies
  • Tire inflator/pump/compressor
  • Emergency dried food items
  • Goggles

While these are just a few suggested items, it's a great idea to invest in an emergency kit that contains all the tools and first aid supplies you need.

This complete roadside emergency kit (check price on Amazon) has most of the above items and then some. Plus, you can keep it in your car while towing your boat back and forth from the dock. If you get stranded, you'll be glad to have this on hand!

You really shouldn't launch without these items or all your safety equipment (click here for a complete list of recommended items). Don't be lazy and leave off a few things. It's always better to be safe than sorry, as the saying goes. You never know what can happen on the water or during towing.

Planning ahead is a smart move. And if something happens, your family will thank you (Pat on the back, here!). There are even laws requiring some of them, so check with your state.

These items should be in good condition and good working order. Make sure you not only have them all, but inspect each one thoroughly.

3. Check the Loose Boat Items

Don't laugh at me. I've lost many nice items that flew out of our boat because they weren't secure (I was sick when my young twins' matching outfits flew out! No, we never found them). So, learn from my experience and secure your items.

Here's a list of some items you need to be sure are secured:

  • Boat cover (securely tightened or removed, folded, and stored)
  • Coolers, grills, chairs, dog bowls and beds, food, drinks
  • Floating pillows, throw cushions, life rings, life vests
  • Recreational items (skis, inner tubes, etc.)

4. Check the Trailer

Nothing like a flat tire to ruin your day, right? Avoiding that scenario is easier with a little pre-planning. With a visual check, and the Penny Test, your tires should be good to go. Check these first:
  • Visually check for any blemishes, bumps, slits or holes.
  • Perform the Penny Test. Using a penny, you can check tread depth.
  • Check inflation/pressure. Tires shouldn't be overinflated or underinflated, so check your owner's manual for the recommended pressure.
  • Check your spare tire. Don't forget, as you never know when you'll need it!
  • Check your tie-down straps.

  Boat Ratchet Straps

Check Price on Amazon - Better Boat's ratchet straps are made of stainless steel and high-density nylon for strength, reliability, and weather resistance. The ratchet design makes an effortless task of loading and unloading. 

5. Check the Boat


You can't forget the lights. And certain lights are required by law, especially after sundown. Check your state laws to be sure. Then check your lights:
  • All round light
  • Masthead
  • Sidelights
  • Stern light


Do you have all the ropes you need?  Look to make sure:
  • Towing rope(s)

Be sure to inspect each rope for frays and tears. If one looks iffy, replace it. Don't take a chance. 


  Dock Lines

 Check Price on Amazon - Better Boat's dock lines are made of durable double-braided nylon to offer shock absorbency and elasticity. They're smooth to the touch for snag and scratch resistance. 

The Hull

The hull is hugely important. If you don't know much about your hull, read this first. Then you'll understand why it's important to check it.

Here's what you need to check for:

  • Possible cracks
  • Possible holes or gauges
  • Any blemish/knots/bulges that may be concerning


Are your electrical systems safe for a day on the water? Your owner's manual is a good guide for this. It can tell you what to look for and how to check each item.

If you're still not sure, check the internet for specific instructions on your boat model and year. Make sure to check these:

  • Battery (wouldn't hurt to have an extra one!)
  • Terminals
  • Belts
  • Hoses
  • Look for any corrosion
  • Check starters
  • Check your boat engine
  • If your boat's already in the water, crank it to see if it's running properly before launching.

Word of warning: Don't be stubborn. If you're not sure how to check your electrical system, or the engine, hire an experienced boat mechanic to do it for you. You can watch and learn for next time. Even if he charges a small fee, that's better than huge repair bills.

Learn how now, so you can repeat it later. Neglecting to secure boat and/or trailer parts can cause damage and cost money. You can avoid all those headaches if you take time to check them all.

Here's a list to start with:

  • Ensure that windshields and windows are closed and/or locked
  • Secure any movable seats
  • Support/prop engine to prevent jarring
  • Secure/fold in mirrors
  • Check/secure coupler
  • Raise/check trailer tongue
  • Check lug nuts for tightness and lubrication
  • Check all latches and hooks
  • Check chains and cables


This list applies to your boat, trailer and towing vehicle.
  • Oil
  • Steering fluid
  • Hydraulic fluids
  • Brake fluid
  • Gas
  • Water levels

Be sure to have extra gas and fluids stored on the boat and in your vehicle. 

These are must-haves so you don't get stranded! I know all too well what that's like. I got stranded once, and my parents used it to teach me a valuable lesson.

While teens, a friend and I got stranded on a little island near our home all because we didn't check the gas or bring any with us. Our parents knew we were okay, so they left us there a while to teach us a lesson. And I learned one, too!

A severe sunburn added to my lesson (Yes, I forgot sunscreen, too). That burned, peeling skin was a lingering reminder that I needed a checklist next time I went out on the boat. 

Okay. There you have it. This is a long pre-launch checklist. But, like my dad said, you just can't be over-prepared. So bookmark this page, or print the list and tape it to your fridge. By following the checklist, you'll be safer out on the water.