The Ultimate Pre-Sail Checklist (37 Essential Steps)

Getting on a sailboat and cruising the open waters with your close family and friends is one of the greatest feelings of knowing how to sail. However, making sure your sailboat is in a safe state to do so is of the utmost importance when ensuring the safety of everyone on board. That’s why going through a thorough pre-sail checklist before setting sail can have a huge impact.

So what’s included in the pre-sail checklist? Ensuring your sailboat is safe in terms of having a healthy hull, well-maintained engine, functioning safety equipment, the proper housekeeping items, an operational dinghy, and spare parts will help out you and your crew tremendously before setting sail.

All in all, you want to know that everything on your sailboat is in good order and working properly. It’s also a good time to check the location of all your essential sailing equipment, learn about the differences between of your sailboat and others’, know where the safety equipment is located for you and the crew, and familiarize your crew with your sailboat in general.

Hull Checks

The health of your sailboat’s hull is incredibly important before setting out to sail and is on the top of the pre-sail checklist. Essentially, the hull ensures that your sailboat stays afloat and does not let water in. Ensuring your sailboat has a healthy hull means you’re likely to be ready for a great sailing adventure!

1. Location and Condition of Thru-Hull Fittings

Knowing where and under which conditions are the sailboat’s hull fittings is important since these are the likely locations where water can find it’s way into the sailboat. Hull fittings are used to pass items, like electrical cables and sewage, through the hull.

2. Thru-Hulls and Seacocks Operate Properly

The thru-hulls and seacocks of your sailboat must operate easily since this is where water will flow through your hull. It’s important to make sure the hoses connected to the seacocks are in good condition and the hose clamps are well-fitted.

3. Spare Hose Clamps Should Be Carried

Every sailboat should have spare hose clamps so that, in case of an emergency where they break, you’ll have backups ready to go. Ideally, your sailboat should have two or three of each size needed on your sailboat.

4. Thru-Hull Plugs Attached to Each Seacock

All of your sailboat’s seacocks should have plugs attached to them in case they need to be plugged in an emergency. Removing the chances of excess water getting into your sailboat is very important.

5. Bilges Are Clean and Dry

An essential item on your pre-sail checklist is to check if the bilges are clean and dry. The water that doesn’t drain off the side of the deck or through a thru-hull will typically end up in the bilge.

6. Bilge Pumps Are Operational

It’s common for a sailboat to collect some water in the bilge and it’s important that you’re able to properly remove that water. A well-functioning bilge pump will ensure excess water in the bilge is removed from your sailboat.

7. Grab Rails, Life-Lines in Good Condition

The grab rails and lifelines surrounding your sailboat should be securely fastened and in good condition. When the moment occurs when someone’s got to grab onto something while on deck, they’ll likely be grabbing and holding on to these to avoid going overboard.

Engine Checks

An essential set of checks that you’ll want to go through are those involving your sailboat’s engine. Even though you’re on a sailboat, you’ll be using your engine guaranteed so you’ll want it to be in good condition. That’s why it’s included in the pre-sail checklist.

8. Engine Warning Lights and Alarms Working

Making sure the engine warning lights and alarms are working is important so that you’re alerted promptly and accurately when an issue arises with your sailboat’s engine.

9. Emergency Stopping of a Runaway Engine

If there’s ever the case when you need to kill your engine right away, you’ll need to be able to cut it off immediately. Ensure your sailboat’s engine kill switch or fuel cut off is working properly before setting sail.

10. Steering and Shift Mechanisms in Good Condition

Taking a look at the functionality of your sailboat’s steering and shifting abilities is an important item for any pre-sail checklist since you’ll be using these quite often while out on the water.

11. Sufficient Amount of Fuel

Having a decent amount of fuel for your sailboat is important because you will be using your engine when sailing. A reasonable margin of safety is approximately one-third (1/3) of a tank, but that depends on the size of your sailboat.

12. Fuel System Free of Leaks

If you have enough fuel in your sailboat, you’ll want to make sure you aren’t leaking any of it. Before taking your sailboat out on the water, check to see if there are any leaks in the fuel lines.

13. Engine Oil and Transmission Fluid Levels Correct

One of the most important engine checks is taking a look at the oil and transmission fluid levels. At the very least they should be looking clean and well above the minimum capacity.

14. Cooling Water Full

Keeping your engine cool is essential when chugging along, so you’ll need to ensure that the cooling water for your sailboat is full. Some sailboats take in raw water from the seawater and some are a closed loop system, so check this out before setting sail.

15. Belt Tension Correct and in Good Condition

A very important pre-sail checklist item is to make sure the belt tension on your engine is snug and it’s in good condition. If you can tell that it’s old, damaged, and worn out, you want to replace this ASAP.

Safety Equipment

Any pre-sail checklist wouldn’t be complete without a proper and thorough check of all your sailboat’s essential safety equipment. From fire extinguishers to flashlights to first aid kits to VHF radio, everything needs to be working properly in case of an unfortunate emergency. Here’s what to look at before setting sail.

16. Safety Equipment Has Not Expired

All of the safety equipment on board your sailboat must be in-date and, thus, not passed the expiry date. Anything that’s getting close or has already passed should be replaced immediately before setting sail.

17. Fire Extinguishers Are In-Date

This is already a part of the previous step, but it’s so important that it needs its own part of the checklist. Be absolutely 100% sure your fire extinguishers are in date and not expired. You might be surrounded by water, but that doesn’t mean your sailboat can’t catch fire.

18. Signal Flares and Other Signaling Devices

Ensuring your signal flares and other signaling devices are useable and in-date is extremely important. In the case that you need to alert passerby sailboats, ships, or planes, these will be essential when doing just that.

19. Life Jacket Suitable for Each Person on Board

One of the most important items to have on a pre-sail checklist is making sure you have enough life jackets of varying sizes on your sailboat. These life jackets should be readily available and in good condition. In many places around the world, it’s illegal not to have enough life jackets on board.

20. MOB Equipment and Throwable Flotation

Having man overboard (MOB) equipment and throwable flotation devices readily available on your sailboat is incredibly important in case one of your crew members goes overboard. Man overboard drills require these equipment items, so having them is an absolute must.

21. Flashlight with Extra Batteries

Keeping a few flashlights handy on board your sailboat can be useful for many reasons especially when cruising during the evenings and sleeping on your sailboat. I like to bring an LED headlamp with me whenever I go overnight sailing for midnight head (toilet) run.

22. Horn Working

Just like in a car, there might be a situation when you’ll need to use your sailboat’s horn. If you need to communicate with other vessels, signaling back and forth via sound is common especially under poor visibility and potentially malfunctioning VHF equipment.

23. First Aid Kit

An essential part of the pre-sail checklist is to ensure you have a first aid kit filled with the proper supplies. Some of those supplies include sunscreen, pain relievers, special medication for the crew, sea sickness medicine, and potentially other items.

24. VHF Working

Whenever you’re sailing out on the water, you’ll need to make sure your VHF is working properly and in good condition. Being able to communicate with other boats is essential for ensuring the safety of your crew, boat, and neighboring sailors.

Housekeeping Items

Having a few housekeeping items will help increase the probability of having a safe voyage when out on the water sailing. These pre-sail checklist items are essential and should be inspected every time you set off on your sailboat.

25. Water Tanks Full

A full water tank means you’ll have enough fresh water for you and the rest of your crew. In case you run out, you’ll want to also make sure to bring on board some extra bottled water for emergencies.

26. Propane Gas

Having enough propane on board your sailboat is an important item on your checklist since you’ll need it for cooking and heating on your sailboat. Propane tanks should be stored outside in a locker that has a drain.

27. Taps or Faucets Working

The taps and faucets in your sailboat should be working properly so that you have fresh water coming out of them. If you have tanks full of fresh water but no access to them, that’s a big problem and should be avoided.

28. Heads Flushing or Pumping

No one wants to see what you’ve been up to in the bathroom, so making sure your heads are flushing or pumping properly is an essential pre-sail checklist item.

29. Ample Food and Water

You never know what’s waiting for you on your next sailing adventure, which means you should have plenty of food and water stored away. Having a mix of food that needs to be cooked or not is a good idea as well as having a good amount that isn’t perishable.

Dinghy

A dinghy is great to have on board a sailboat for a number of reasons. Maybe you’ll need it in an emergency. Maybe you’ll need it to take you on shore when anchoring out. Or maybe you’ll want it to just go out and explore the area. Either way, you’ll need to make sure your dinghy’s in good shape before taking it out, which is why it’s a part of the pre-sail checklist.

30. Stowed Properly

You don’t want your dinghy to fall off of your sailboat for whatever reason resulting in you having to chase it. To avoid this, make sure your dingy is properly stored.

31. If Inflatable, Ensure It’s in Working Order

If your dinghy is inflatable, you’ll want to make sure there aren’t any leaks and that it’s working properly. It’s not uncommon for leaks to pop up in inflatable dinghies, so this is an important item for your pre-sail checklist.

32. Paddles or Oars

In case your dinghy dies on you while you’re cruising around on it, you definitely will want some paddles or oars to get your back to your sailboat. Outboard motors can suddenly stop working meaning you’ll need another form of energy to get back.

33. Outboard Motor Maintained and Stowed Properly

The outboard motor on your dinghy is how you’ll be scooting around in it, so ensuring it’s well-maintained and stowed properly is important. Giving it a proper check from time to time would also be ideal.

34. Safety Equipment for Dinghy

Having safety equipment on your dinghy is important and should be available to everyone easily. First aid kit, life jackets, and more can make huge differences when you need them.

35. Sufficient Fuel

Before setting out sailing, you’ll want to make sure your dingy has enough gasoline (or petrol) so it doesn’t suddenly die on you when scooting around. I’ve seen this happen too many times!

36. Bailing Device

There’s no question you’ll be getting a bit of water inside your dinghy when you take it out, so you always want to make sure that you have the necessary bailing devices to get that water out. Pumps and/or buckets should do just fine.

General Considerations

37. Keep Spares

There are a number of spare parts your sailboat should have on board to increase the chances of having a well-prepared response to any issues while out on the water. Some spare parts to keep handy include:

  • Oil filters
  • Belts
  • Water impellers
  • Lubrication oil
  • Transmission fluids
  • Hose clamps
  • Engine hoses
  • Flexible fuel line
  • Air filters
  • Engine drain plugs
  • Spark plugs
  • Fuses
  • Lightbulbs or LEDs
  • Shackles
  • Blocks
  • Heads
  • Electrical tape
  • Screws, nuts, and bolts
  • Two-part epoxy
  • Wooden plugs
  • Silicon sealant
  • Electrical connectors
  • WD-40 or slick lube