Whenever you go boating, it’s a good idea to let people know where you are going and when you expect to return. Accidents do happen on the water. Whether on an inland lake, or a blue water passage, having a float plan should be an essential part of your boat day.

What to Include in a Float Plan

A float plan is a written summary of your boating itinerary that is given to a responsible party who is not going with you. Usually a family member or a close friend. Maybe a staff person at your marina. If your time on the water is less than a day, just telling someone you trust where you will be boating, and your expected return time may suffice. For overnight and longer outings, a written float plan is preferable.

The U.S. Guard does not require a float plan but creating one is highly recommended. Do not file your float plan with the Coast Guard. That is not their job. They do, however, provide this useful float plan template that you can fill out to provide to someone.

Below are listed some of the items you should provide in your Float Plan to make sure your vessel can be found and everyone is accounted for in the event of a boating emergency. Note that there is no standard form for a float plan, but identifying information should be provided so the Marine Police or Coast Guard will be better prepared to respond in the event of a boating emergency.

  • Name of the vessel, type, size, registration, or documentation number
  • Boat color
  • Body of water on which you’ll be boating
  • Departure day, date, and time. Expected day, date, and time of return
  • Departing from location and returning to the location
  • Name of passengers on board, or crew list
  • Safety gear on the boat
  • Communication gear on board
  • Navigation and electronics onboard
  • Emergency contact info for each person on board
  • Passenger/Crew medical issues that may need to be addressed

Sounds like a lot of detail to provide — but it's always better to be safe than sorry. And leaving a contact with highly detailed information could be a significant help should any incidents occur.

With new technology comes enhanced safety and communication. Particularly when making an extended open water passage. In addition to personal EPIRBs and other USCG-approved personnel and vessel locators, Spot, LLC, offers their “Spot Tracker” line of personal locators. From their site: “Spot Tracker offers peace of mind by allowing you to notify friends and family of your GPS position and status, mark waypoints, track your progress on Google Maps or notify rescue officials in a critical emergency.”

Again, Spot Tracker is not a replacement for USCG personal beacons, but a reasonably priced addition to letting people know where you are.

A float plan can be as simple as telling your spouse that you are going fishing on Lake Norman with your kids, and you will be back around 4 pm. Or, they can be much more detailed for a blue water passage from, say, Norfolk, Virginia to Cape Canaveral, Florida, with all your intended stops and other details included.

Either way, a float plan that tells your family and close friends where you are, where you’re going, and when you will return. It's a simple step to take to have a safer boat day and to have a support system in case things go wrong on the water.