Sailing Preparation Checklist
A sailing preparation checklist is an absolute necessity for anyone looking to take an extended ocean voyage. Sailing on the open ocean can be breathtaking, fascinating, and exceptionally peaceful but there is always the awareness in the back of your mind that something could go horribly wrong. Such is the nature of any adventure. That is why I will heavily stress a yachting plan checklist.
It has been many years since the journey, but sailing from a small dock in San Pedro, California to the southern tip of Florida via the Panama Canal is very likely one of the most ambitious undertakings I've ever been privy to, and without going over my sailing preparation checklist multiple times, I'm sure that we would not have made it home.
A skilled sailor needs to stay aware of the dangers that come with floating on the big blue, and be prepared to overcome any difficulty that might arise. Something as simple as breaking a winch handle (or dropping it overboard) can put the life of your entire crew at risk. Trimming your sails without a handle isn't totally impossible, but it certainly isn't much fun.
Instead of riding a wave of panic into port and praying they have a nearby ship chandler that can provide a replacement, you'll be in much better shape if you have the wherewithal to bring a spare or who of your own along. Obviously your ace-in-the-hole when it comes to being fully prepared for the dangers of ocean passage is a thorough sailing preparation checklist, and we are here to help you along in ensuring your trip goes as smoothly and safely as possible. If you do most of your worrying ashore, you'll be safer and have much more time to simply enjoy yourself while cruising the open waters.
Inspecting the Rigging
Before you start tossing foodstuffs into the galley, the first thing to be inspected at the very top of your sailing preparation checklist should be your rigging. The running and standing rig of your boat is without a doubt the most crucial piece of equipment that you have. Without your sails it is extremely doubtful that you'll make it to any port.
If you don't feel confident in your own inspection don't hesitate to hire a professional rigger to assist you, as the money will be well worth it. Anything that is showing signs of aging should likely be replaced, as at this point it's much better to be safe than sorry. You wouldn't take your car on a cross-county trip without getting the go-ahead from a trusted mechanic, right? Ocean passage is similar, excluding the fact that if you do end up stuck the nearest repair shop might as well be on the moon.
Spend less time radioing for assistance or working around/replacing a broken halyard by ensuring every piece of your rigging is ready for an extended time at sea. This includes taping up any chafing points, since your sails will likely be up for days at a time. You can obviously bring spares, but probably not for everything.
Turnbuckles, sheaves, blocks, sheets, shrouds, and halyards; check them all twice and then check them again. Leave nothing to chance when it comes to your rigging, I cannot stress this enough. I'd write this five times at the very top of the sailing preparation checklist if I wasn't so terrified of redundancy. You should also leave yourself at least two options to climb the mast.
During calm weather you might prefer a pleasant bosun's chair with pockets for any necessary gear. Maybe a nice drink holder as well. That last bit is a joke. Please spend as little time up the mast as possible. If the weather starts to kick off, you will probably need a harness kit in order to climb the mast. Again, don't forgo the pockets, especially during rough weather. Maybe add a helmet to your harness kit as well. That part is not a joke.
Ensuring Deck Readiness
So I think I've stressed enough how important your rigging is to inspect and maintain before ever leaving port. The next thing on our sailing preparation checklist that we have to think about is where all this rigging is connected.
That's right; winches, sheaves, and blocks! These obviously won't wear as quickly, but you'll want to be sure to inspect them and have replacement parts prepared in case of emergency. After these I'd suggest checking that the lifelines/jacklines around your boat are decently taut, including all stanchions and shackles.
This will ensure that crew can clip themselves to the lines and in the event they are swept overboard, you can simply haul them back onto the deck and have a laugh about the peril they were in moments ago. A loose stanchion can spell tragedy for a crew member who did absolutely everything right. Don't be that captain, and give as much attention to your deck-based equipment as you did to everything on the mast.
Securing Below Deck
Since we've been going top to bottom on our sailing preparation checklist for ocean-ready inspection, the next stop is below deck. While a fall here might not be as life-threatening as a tumble on deck, it can certainly spell an end to the good times if proper care is not taken to ensure all safety precautions have been checked.
Ensure that handholds are available at all points while below deck, and that all equipment is stowed securely. Nobody wants to take a spill only to be pummeled by huge loose cans of corned beef. Accidents do happen though, and you will want a fully-stocked first aid kit readily accessible.
The sailing preparation checklist recommends adding a fair amount of things to the basic kit that is generally offered as well. Don't skimp on painkillers, antibiotics, or medication for seasickness. In addition, you'll want to check that anyone with required medications bring some extra and stow it in the first aid kit. You definitely don't want to be hundreds of miles out to sea only to discover that Uncle Melville is running low on his insulin.
Clothes and Equipment to Pack
Within that same line of thought, when you are packing for your extended voyage, pack smart. Apart from inspection and repair, this makes up a large chunk of the sailing preparation checklist.
Even in the Caribbean, the nights can get cold. Bring a set of foul-weather gear and a nice pair of thick thermals. Your foul-weather gear should include gloves, but don't forget a separate set of gloves specifically for line-handling.
Packing properly can mean the difference between endless enjoyment and abject misery. Bring a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen for sunny weather, boots for offshore excursions, sneakers for sailing, and of course some nice waterproof socks.
On top of what you'll be wearing the sailing preparation checklist dictates that you will also need to pack some gear; a sharp knife, flashlights, batteries, and a multi-tool at a bare minimum. Toss in a personal strobe light and EPIRB and you'll truly be prepared for whatever comes.
Finishing in the Under Deck
Finally, secure all floorboards and shipboard batteries. Ensure you have an extra impeller or two for raw water intake. You'll also want to ensure that the ships through-hull fittings are accessible and have rubber bungs lashed nearby just in case of a failure that might allow water into the hull.
In addition, the sailing preparation checklist states it would also behoove you to chart out all of the through-hull fittings and post it in a place that the entire crew can find. You never want to be the only one who knows, just in case the worst happens and you're occupied or indisposed.
We are now discussing the underside of the boat, and while you're down there be sure to check the rudder and steering. Tighten and lubricate any chains, wires, or gears and (if you haven't already) familiarize yourself with the workings. Knowing how to fix your steering system if it breaks is of utmost importance, almost on par with the repair and maintenance of your rigging.
You also can't go anywhere without first checking the autopilot. The sailing preparation checklist encourages you to ensure that all levels that need to be monitored are able to be kept track of easily, and keep your batteries charged at all times. No electricity means no autopilot, no lights, no monitoring equipment, and flying blind through the ocean is not just mortifying, but also exceptionally dangerous.
Electronic Equipment and Emergencies
Speaking of electronic equipment, do yourself a favor and check your VHF radio, radar, chart-plotter, and GPS systems. These are your key items and if any of them is malfunctioning you can quickly find yourself in too deep.
In addition to these essentials you might also invest in a satellite phone, hand held GPS system, and an Automatic Identification for Ships (AIS) system. AIS is relatively inexpensive and will not only keep you out of harm's way, but can also be used to contact other ships quickly.
Hand held GPS can undoubtedly save lives if you are forced off of your vessel. Keep it in a watertight container with the batteries. Don't stick the batteries into the GPS until you're sure you'll need it.
If you are abandoning the vessel, you should be prepared for that above all else. You need to have a smaller version of the sailing preparation checklist in mind. Ensure that you have a life raft that has room for all members on board. A dinghy simply won't do the job.
Stowed right next to the life raft should be a bug-out bag along with a couple jugs of fresh water. Recommended items for your bug-out bag include: that handheld GPS, an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), flares, VHF, secondary first-aid kit, and anything else you might deem necessary.
Don't wait until it's too late to put in some heavy thought.
Flares are absolutely necessary. Don't get stranded!
While a list this long might put one off from extended voyages, I certainly hope that is not the case. Our sailing preparation checklist ensures that you are prepared. The ocean can be uncaring and will certainly test your limits at times, but she is also more beautiful than words can describe.
This isn't a theme park ride, and lives have surely been lost at sea. True adventure is not something to be taken lightly, but the rewards are boundless. Sailing from California to Florida might seem impossible, but I'm here to tell you now that it is 100% doable as long as the journey is approached with the caution and reverence that it truly deserves.
Imagine yourself sailing into harbor after a journeying thousands of miles, knowing that you have seen endless wonders that the less bold can only ever dream about experiencing. I could surely tell you some of what I've seen, but nothing can compare to experiencing it for yourself.
If your thirst for adventure is as unquenchable as mine, I hope that you won't hesitate to take the leap. After this much care and preparation you can leave the harbor confidently, and know that you have all that is required to make it back to port safely.
Inspect the rigging:
Repair, replace, bring extras if needed. (At least a couple halyards.)
Ensure deck readiness:
Repair, replace, brings extras if needed.
- Handholds readily available
- Secure loose items and gear
- Stock First Aid Kit:
- Extra painkillers
- Extra antibiotics
- Extra seasickness medications
- Ask about any additional needed medication
- Secure floorboards
- Secure ship batteries
- Inspect through-hull fittings
- Ensure rubber bungs accompany all through-hull fittings
- Chart out all through-hull fittings
- Bring at least 1 extra impeller for raw water intake
- Ensure monitoring equipment can be seen easily
- Keep batteries charged at all times
- VHF radio
- GPS System
- AIS System
- Thermal Top
- Thermal Bottoms
- Line-handling work gloves
- Waterproof socks
- Wide-brim hat
- Hiking boots
- Deck sneakers
- Sharp knife
- Personal strobe
Emergency Bug-Out Bag:
- Life raft
- Fresh water jugs
- Air Horn
- Fishing pole
- VHF radio
- Hand held GPS