Boat owner performing seasonal cleaning and maintenance on the hull

The Ultimate Boating Checklist for Storage, Safety, and Fun Boating Trips

Whether you’re new to boat ownership or you’ve been in the boating game for decades, there is a lot to remember. Your boat needs different types of care throughout the seasons. Also, keeping up with maintenance requirements, safety gear, and tasks to complete each season can be a challenge without certain reminders in place. This comprehensive guide provides a boating checklist for each of the most common boating needs:

Boating Equipment Checklist

Children in life vests jumping from a boat into the water

Owning a boat comes with a list of responsibilities that keep you, your passengers, and those around you safe from harm. Certain types of equipment make this possible. Additional equipment to tow, use, and store your boat also helps keep it in good working order and enhance your boating experience. Boating equipment falls into various categories; some things are required, while others are optional.

Federal Requirements

Just like there are regulations that dictate the rules of driving your car, there are certain federal and state regulations surrounding boating activities. U.S. federal boating requirements dictate the minimum equipment you’re required to have for a safe boating experience. Use this federal requirements checklist to make sure you comply with federal laws each time you use your boat.

  • Vessel registration: All boats with a motor must be registered with the state of primary use. You must carry the certificate of number issued at registration with you when you’re using the boat.
  • Display of numbers: Your boat must display the numbers assigned at registration and your state validation sticker.
  • Life jackets: All recreational boats must carry one wearable life jacket for all members on board. Life jackets must be U.S. Coast Guard-approved, the right size, and in good condition.
  • Throwable floatation device: Any boat 16 feet or longer (besides canoes or kayaks) must have at least one throwable floatation device on board.
  • Visual distress signals: Distress signals exist for both day and night use. They may include flares, orange smoke signals, electric distress lights, and orange distress flags. These devices may not be required under certain circumstances, but they always make a good addition to your emergency supplies.
  • Fire extinguishers: U.S. Coast Guard-approved fire extinguishers are required on boats where a fire hazard could be expected from the engine or fuel system (all boats with motors). Fire extinguishers must be mobile and properly mounted. Fire extinguishers for marine use should be labeled Marine Type USCG, Type B (size I or II). Boats over 40 feet in length must carry two fire extinguishers.
  • Sound-producing devices: Sound signals are required during certain situations while boating. Approved devices include a whistle, bell, gong, or air horn.
  • Navigation lights: Recreational vessels must display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility (fog, rain, haze, etc.)

Pro Tip for Your Boating Checklist

Besides following federal safety requirements, you’ll need to check up on regulations for your state, as well as local regulations in the area you’ll be using your boat.

Safety Equipment Checklist

Federal law requires some types of equipment for the safety of all passengers aboard your boat. However, you may wish to include additional safety gear that surpasses the minimum requirements. Use this safety equipment and boating checklist to ensure you have items on hand to keep your passengers safe.

Safety Gear

  • Life vests: One wearable life vest is required for all passengers. They must be stored in an accessible manner. Children under 13 are required to wear life vests while the boat is in motion, so consider taking your child along while shopping to find a comfortable vest.
  • Distress signal devices: Visual and sound-producing devices are mandatory under certain circumstances. These devices are useful in an emergency and should be part of the gear that’s always on your boat.
  • Throwable flotation device: You only have to have one. But many boat experts recommend having multiple flotation devices on board. Some of these devices include an attached rope for pulling an individual back to the boat.
  • First aid kit: This isn’t legally required. But it’s a good idea to have a fully stocked first aid kit on your boat for minor injuries, motion sickness, or insect bites and stings.
  • Anchor: An anchor isn’t a coast guard requirement, but having an attached anchor is simply a good idea any time you need to keep your boat from drifting.
  • Bailing device: You might always assume your boat won’t take on water. Unfortunately, emergencies arise. When they occur, a bucket might be the most valuable item onboard.

Additional Equipment

  • Oars or paddles: It only takes a small malfunction to put your engine out of business. But oars or paddles on board will get you safely back to shore.
  • Mobile phone: This is useful for any emergency.
  • VHF radio: While not required for boats under 65 feet long, a VHF radio allows instant communication with other boats, nearby marinas, and the U.S. Coast Guard.
  • Snorkel mask: Useful when you need to see underwater to check damage to the bottom or exterior of the boat
  • Flashlight: Even if you don’t intend to have your boat out after dark, it’s a good idea to have a flashlight on hand.
  • Knife: Useful in a variety of situations and essential if debris gets tangled in the propeller, a pocket knife can be easily stowed in your boat’s glove box.
  • Sunscreen: The sun’s rays are more powerful while you’re out on the water. Always pack sunscreen.
  • Drinking water: It’s easy to become dehydrated quickly on a sunny day out in the water. So bring plenty of water.

Basic Equipment Checklist

A day of boating isn’t all about safety. Adding additional items to your boating checklist can make being out on the water more fun. The following items are nice to have in your boat.

  • Binoculars: These are nice for sightseeing. You can also use them if something falls overboard.
  • Tool kit: A small kit with essential tools can save the day in the event of an engine malfunction.
  • Towline: You or a fellow boater may need a helping hand, and towing is a lot easier than paddling.
  • Extra hull plug and spare keys: It’s easy to lose essentials from a boat trailer or while out on the water.
  • Snacks and drinks: Whether you’re stranded or simply spending more time out than expected, it’s always a good idea to have food available.
  • Rafts, tubes, water skis, or water toys: Make your day out on the water a real vacation, and take lots of pictures.
  • Engine oil: Whether you spring a leak or forget to check your levels, this could be essential.
  • Bug repellent: Repel swarms of mosquitoes and other nuisance bugs.
  • Trash bags: Snack wrappers, paper towels, water bottles, and miscellaneous items quickly add up.
  • Towels: Make these available because almost everyone will jump in the water at some point.
  • Camera: If your phone dies, you can still capture the day.
  • Phone charger: Prepare for emergencies by having backup power for your phone.

Your Complete Boat Storage Checklist

While you might wish you could spend all your time on the water, it’s simply not feasible. Your boat needs to be in a safe spot that will help minimize weather damage and keep it in excellent shape. Finding the right storage spot and preparing your boat for storage can become a challenge. Use this checklist to find the best possible boat storage option and ensure your boat is stored properly.

Finding Boat Storage

If you’re a new boat owner or you’re seeking a new storage option, then it can be difficult to figure out the best option that won’t deplete your budget. Use this handy list to make sure you find everything you need when searching for your boat storage solution.

Types of Boat Storage

The type of storage you choose has a major impact on your boat during harsh weather. However, some types of storage can be expensive, difficult to find, or not suitable for larger vessels. Determine which type of storage works best for your boat, lifestyle, and budget.

  • Outdoor boat storage includes wet slip storage, lift slip storage, boatyard storage, driveways, and parking lots. It is the most affordable type of storage but provides the least protection.
  • Indoor boat storage includes garage storage, roll-up door boat storage, and high and dry storage. It is the most expensive type of boat storage, and consequently, provides the most effective protection.
  • Covered boat storage includes covered outdoor storage and carport storage. With considerably more protection from the elements than outdoor storage, the cost falls between indoor and outdoor storage.

The Size of Your Boat

Finding a variety of storage options for small boats isn’t difficult. However, finding storage for a yacht is usually a more challenging experience. When choosing a storage space for your boat, it’s essential to know the size of your vessel and the amount of space you need for storage. Use this quick guide to estimate your storage unit size needs.

  • Jet ski storage: 15’x20′ (also suitable for skiffs and small drifters)
  • Kayak and canoe storage: 15’x20′
  • Speed boat storage: 15’x30′ to 15’x35′
  • Pontoon storage: 15’x25′ to 20’x40′
  • Houseboat storage: 20’x40′ for small houseboats. Height is a consideration when storing houseboats.
  • Yacht storage: Yacht length can vary from 30 feet to 100 feet or more. When seeking storage options, take careful measurements, and remember to take your boat’s height into consideration.

Boat Storage Options

There are several factors that make boat storage more complicated than storing other items. You need a storage space large enough to keep your boat and any accessories you’d like to store with the boat. Accessibility is key since a day on the water often starts early, and weekends are ideal boating days. You’ll also need a storage option that provides the security you need along with the space required to hook your trailer to your tow vehicle. These are some of the options available for boat storage:

  • Marina storage: While it can be expensive and is only available in some areas, marina storage allows you to get your boat out in the water quickly.
  • Driveway or garage storage: If you have space around your home, driveway or garage storage allows you to store your boat without fees. However, it can create navigation issues for your family, and some neighborhoods don’t allow outdoor boat storage.
  • Open fields and parking lots: This is a more affordable option, but it leaves your boat vulnerable to weather conditions and provides little to no security features.
  • Traditional storage facilities: Roll-up storage units are large enough to store some boats. If you choose this option, ensure you have the accessibility options you need and room for proper hook-up and navigation.
  • Storage with Neighbor: Available in both rural and urban areas and includes rental insurance, Neighbor provides boat owners with a variety of options for storage that are up to half off of the cost of traditional storage facilities.

Prepare Your Boat for Storage

Before your boat goes into storage, there are many tasks to complete. Winterizing your boat is an essential part of boat care. Use this boating checklist to make sure you don’t skip any important steps.

  • Inspect the hull. Clean it and make necessary surface repairs.
  • Clean and waterproof the canvas.
  • Remove electronics and electrical systems to avoid corrosion.
  • Winterize the plumbing system.
  • Add stabilizer to the fuel.
  • Fog the carburetor and engine cylinders.
  • Drain water from the engine.
  • Change the oil.
  • Flush the engine and apply anti-corrosive chemicals.
  • Pump out the holding tanks.
  • Remove the drain plugs.
  • Charge and remove the battery.
  • Cover the boat for storage,

Boating Departure Checklist

Two brothers lowering a boat into the water

Towing your boat on the highway can be a challenge and comes with a variety of responsibilities to ensure adequate safety. Before you tow your boat to your favorite destination, it’s essential to follow a guide so one mistake doesn’t lead to disaster. Use this departure checklist to ensure your vehicle and trailer are properly prepared and that you have everything you need for traveling safely while towing a boat.

Departure Supply List

While you may not have a list of legal requirements for towing your boat, having certain items on hand can help ensure your trip goes smoothly. Use this checklist to ensure you, your vehicle, and your trailer are prepared for the road.

  • A spare tire and jack that fits your trailer
  • Side mirrors with a wide view
  • A small toolbox equipped with emergency tools for your vehicle and trailer
  • Mobile phone and charger

Departure Task Checklist

Before you leave for your trip, there are a series of steps you should take to ensure your boat and trailer will remain firmly where they belong. Additionally, your crew should be prepared for emergencies on the water before they arise. Use this checklist to avoid missing any crucial safe departure steps.

Before You Start Driving

  • If you’re not accustomed to towing a trailer, practice a few times locally to get the hang of backing up and making wide turns.
  • Inspect your vehicle and trailer for road preparedness and complete maintenance chores.
  • Check the brakes on your vehicle and trailer to ensure both are working correctly.
  • Make sure the lug nuts on your vehicle and trailer are tightened to the correct torque.
  • Ensure your gear and crew weight complies with your boat’s capacity weight requirements.
  • Make sure your loaded boat and motor comply with trailer capacity limits.
  • Check the weather report for the area where you’ll launch the boat.
  • Tell a relative or friend about your float plan for the day and when you’ll return.
  • Check the air pressure in the tires on your vehicle and trailer.
  • Lower the hitch onto the ball, close the latch, and secure the safety pin.
  • Secure and double-check the safety chains.
  • Attach the brake safety line to your vehicle.
  • Plug in the trailer lights and check to ensure proper working order.
  • Ensure the trailer jack, tongue support, and stabilizers are raised and locked in place.
  • Check beneath the vehicle and trailer to ensure no wires touch the road.
  • Look at your ratchet straps and ensure the boat is properly secured to the trailer.
  • Check that the weight on the truck and boat is evenly distributed.
  • Tie down any loose items in the boat and truck bed.
  • Check the traffic report for your intended travel route to ensure there are no road closures, detours, or delays.
  • Perform a walkaround inspection to ensure everything is secure and all the tires are properly inflated.
  • Review a safety list of road rules while towing.

Before Launch

  • Check your hubs and tires to ensure they’re not hot when you reach your destination.
  • Take care of boat preparedness tasks before approaching the dock.
  • Move your equipment from the truck to the boat.
  • Allow all passengers to exit the vehicle before launch, and open the vehicle’s windows to provide an escape route if the vehicle goes into the water.
  • Apply sunscreen.
  • Ensure the hull plug is secure.
  • Ensure all required documents and safety gear are on board.
  • Identify non-swimmers in your group and designate life vests.
  • Acquaint all boaters with safety gear and where each item is located.
  • Demonstrate the engine shutdown process for your crew.
  • Inspect the bilges.
  • Double-check that you have all essential documents and safety gear on board.

Boat Maintenance Checklist

Maintenance is a very important part of owning a boat. Every time you take your boat out on the water, it’s exposed to a variety of elements that can cause it to deteriorate. Keeping up with a stringent boat maintenance schedule will help keep your boat’s interior, exterior, and engine in top shape. Proper maintenance can even extend your boat’s lifespan.

Boat Maintenance Schedule

While some maintenance is required each time you use your boat, there are some tasks you can get away with performing less frequently. Following this schedule will ensure you’re performing the necessary maintenance tasks on time:

  • Yearly: Each year, follow a complete boating checklist and winterize your boat for storage. Complete pre-season boat maintenance each year before taking the boat out for the first time after storage.
  • Quarterly: Your quarterly maintenance should be performed every three months or as seasons change. Tasks include tightening bolts, oil changes, engine mount inspections, and waxing the exterior,
  • Monthly: Each month while your boat is in use, treat the fuel, clean the bilge pump, check its fluids, lubricate grease points, treat the fuel with a decarbonizer, clean the interior and exterior, and pump the waste tank.
  • Routine: Follow a routine maintenance checklist each time you take out your boat. This will include an engine, hose, and fluid check with replacement tasks as necessary. Check the propeller after each use. Follow a comprehensive boating checklist for complete interior and exterior checkups and routine cleaning.

Your Routine Boating Checklist

Your boat requires a certain amount of care each time you take it out on the water to ensure it’s safe and the motor is in top running condition. This routine maintenance checklist outlines the tasks you should perform every time you use your boat.

  • Inspect the engine for wear or damage and replace parts as needed.
  • Check the fluids.
  • Inspect the fuel for the presence of water.
  • Check the propeller for damage or debris.
  • Flush the engine after use in saltwater.
  • Clean the interior and exterior.
  • Check the bilges for moisture.
  • Inspect electrical wires for fraying or damage.
  • Check the battery.

Pro Tip for Your Boating Checklist

Read our Ultimate Guide to Boat Maintenance to find complete details for boat maintenance for each season. We’ve even included specialty tips for various types of boats.

There are a lot of responsibilities that go along with boat ownership. As you learn more about your boat and become accustomed to the included tasks, boating and the associated regulations will become a habit. But no matter how long you’ve owned a boat, it’s easy to forget essential items. Using a boating checklist for every trip ensures you’ll always be ready for a great day on the water.

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