So you have decided to take a few days off and head out on a long boat trip.  As you picture your upcoming vacation, scenes unfold in your head like a film. By making some smart choices before you leave the dock, you can ensure that it has a happy ending.  Here is checklist to consider that will make your trip more like Love Boat and less like Titanic.

Planning Before You Go

Perhaps you have a destination in mind, but you need to do some research to know what events are taking place during the dates that you will be visiting.  If you want a lot of room to cruise, you want to ensure that you are not arriving on the day of a fishing derby, for example. If there is an event that you would like to attend, be certain that there is enough moorage or anchorage room so that you will have a place to rest.

Sleeping at Marinas or Anchoring

If you plan on staying at several marinas, call ahead and ensure that you have reservations.  If you have a flexible time frame, make sure that your dream destination is not completely booked during your dates of travel.  Mooring buoys are usually first-come, first-served, but often have a 72-hour limit.  Planning to hook up on the third night of a holiday weekend or on a weekday is a smart way to ensure you will find an open buoy.  If you plan to anchor out, make sure to know your currents, and the tidal exchange of the area in order to avoid any nasty surprises. Whatever your sleeping arrangements, be sure to have a backup plan.

Stops for Fueling  

When planning your stops for fuel, consider the typical mileage that your boat gets under average conditions and cruising speed, and calculate the distance that it would take to use 70% of your tank.  Planning fill-ups in these areas will allow you the extra expenditures needed for bad weather, high winds, or spontaneous side trips without cutting it too close.  If a fueling station is not available within this range, choose a station that is closer, instead of further, to keep your margin of safety.

Nautical Chart and Float Plan

Before you leave, take some time to chart your journey and create a float plan.  Even if you have the best electronics that money can buy, it is a smart choice to have a paper chart of your route.  Make sure the chart (and your electronics) is the latest version, so that it reflects changes in navigational hazards; newly discovered rocks, shipwrecks, and channel changes due to dredging, erosion and landslides, or construction.  Get to know your route and pay special attention to shipping lanes, unexpected shallow areas, and areas known for strange currents.

Boat Maintenance and Tune-Ups 

Smart boaters do a spring tune-up and a fall winterizing to their boat to keep it ready to use at a moment’s notice.  If you have neglected this, then it is definitely important to complete a tune-up before starting a multi-day journey. In addition, here are some tips to keep your boat running smoothly.

Don’t Ignore the Weird Things

Is something just a little funny, but you can not put your finger on it? One engine is running a little hot, maybe there is a shimmy that is not usually there, you smell something funny... The place to discover the issue is at home, not 50 miles from the nearest Sea-Tow. 

Double Check Before You Head Out

Make sure your bilges, your fluids, and your batteries are at the correct levels.  Top off fluids, or bail them out, before leaving. If anything is unexpectedly low or too high, troubleshoot before you go.

Inspect Your Dinghy  

Dinghies are your way on and off a moored site. They are also your emergency escape if something goes incredibly wrong.  Before you head out, double check the integrity of your hull, the function of your motor (the presence of your oars or paddle), and the security of your attachment system. Though it is rare, catching the right freighter wake will definitely test how well your dinghy is fixed to your boat.

Stocking Up on Essentials

Of course, ensuring that you leave home with the right items is equally important in planning a successful boating trip.  Though many essentials are available at marina stores, we all have an experience of dealing with a forgotten item. These anecdotes make for cute tales after the fact, but are not always as entertaining when we are in the middle of a minor crisis.

Life Jackets

If you are planning on inviting guests for day cruises but do not have the correct number of life vests on board you will be in violation of boating safety laws, and risking the safety of your party. Make sure you have enough for everyone, even if they will only be on board for an evening excursion.

Check all Tanks on Board

Before you leave, be sure to take care of your tanks.  Make sure your fuel tank is full (unless you’ve planned otherwise), top off your water tank, and make sure you’ve thoroughly pumped out your waste tank. Though this should be a no-brainer, overlooking the little things in the rush to get going can have unpleasant consequences.  

Flares and First Aid Kit

You were certain to purchase the best safety kits when you bought the boat, but how long has it been since you checked the expiration dates on the items inside?  Flares and medications in first aid kits expire, and of the items that should be replaced regularly, are some of the most commonly overlooked.  If you have used any of the items in your kit, take time before your trip to restock.

Keep Spare Fluids

Spare fluids come in small bottles, and are life-savers if you ever run low. Oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, and any other fluid (except gasoline which can be dangerous to keep aboard) that you put in your engine or motor is a good idea to have on hand.  Also, if you use canisters of cooking fuel for your barbecue or cook-top, keep a few extras on board to ensure you have enough.

Bring Along a Spare Anchor

One of the worst things to lose on a boat trip is an anchor.  Worn rope, rusted clamps or chain, or bad luck can all lead to leaving your anchor on the sea or lake bottom.  If you typically use two anchors for your boat, do not count one as a spare; instead bring two.  Always bring one more anchor than you use on a typical trip.  

Bring Enough Food

Plan your meals well, and make sure you have enough food to compensate if your trip runs unexpectedly long.  It is a good idea to always have an extra day’s worth of healthy meals. If you are going on a long-term trip, do not worry about stocking up for the entire trip before you go.  You can always plane to re-stock in marinas and fuel docks that are close to town.

Clothing for Various Weather Conditions

Be certain to have what you need for typical weather at sea.  In addition, be prepared for changes in inclement weather, particularly in larger bodies of water.  Bring extra layers for coolness, a good windbreaker and a raincoat. Even if the weather report says it is going to be chilly, if you are travelling in the summer, be sure to bring enough warm-weather clothing to be comfortable if the weather is surprisingly hot.  Also, be sure to have appropriate clothing to get in the water if you need or want to, whether it is a bikini or wetsuit. 

Have Fun

If your checklist is completed, and it is time to go, do not forget the reason you are going in the first place.  Have a great time, make wonderful memories, and be sure to create great stories to tell when you get home.  Unfortunately, if you are thoroughly prepared, these stories will not involve the things you forgot and the time you broke down or lost an anchor.  You will just have to get creative.