Ten Tips and a Guide for Creating a Sailing Checklist

Ten Tips for a Creating Sailing Checklist.

  1. Keep items short and to the point, such as “put on the main sailcover and ensure all the clips are closed.”
  2. Include confirmatory tests of systems, not just instructions to flick switches or turn seacocks. For example:
  3. Flick on the depth sounder AND check to make sure it’s accurate. 
  4. Open the cooling water seacock AND look out the stern to ensure it is spitting out the back properly. 
  5. Check coolant level in engine AND add more if needed and include the location for where it’s stored.
  6. Include the phone number for your towing service and the Coast Guard on your checklist even if you have them in your phone—another guest’s phone charge may last longer than yours, and you may need it in an emergency or in the event of a VHF radio glitch.
  7. When laminating your list in plastic, print it on paper first and then make a copy on cardstock at a local print shop. It will last longer and be more durable.
  8. Leave a plastic border around the edges. If you trim too close to the cardstock, the humidity and temperature variation will blur and waterlog your checklist.
  9. Store the checklists in the galley or another obvious place so they grab your attention right away.
  10. Revisit and update your checklists from time to time to account for new gadgets, equipment, and any other emerging safety concerns.

Laminated checklists enhance your ability to handle your sailboat.

Manifest Checklist: A Sailor's Guide

When we have guests on the dock and are about to embark on an adventure under sail, I give a standard captain’s briefing that goes something like this: “If you take a studio apartment, slam it into a fish, and stick a kite on top, you get a sailboat like the one you’re looking at. . .” Then, I reach for our checklists.

Even though I know our boat, home waters, equipment, and safety gear pretty well, we’ve found that formalizing a checklist of simple steps for embarkation and buttoning her up is a great way to get guests involved and oriented for the afternoon. 

Checklists can also enhance your ability to professionally handle your sailboat. Throw in sunburn, attending to your guests needs, a change of clothes after a swim, and just being tired and eager to get home, we tend to sometimes forget things. When buttoning her up, if you forget to close the cooling water intake or to tie a loop in the jib sheet to prevent a furled sail from opening in high winds, you may pay dearly for it later.

A checklist of simple steps is a great way to get guests involved and oriented. photo by Al Schreitmueller

It’s easy when starting out to think your spouse or sailing partner took care of unhitching that spring line or assume the cooling system is spitting out the rear properly before heating up the engine on your way out to the Bay. Unfortunately such oversights can be inconvenient, troublesome, damaging, or even catastrophic should everything not be ready for the sometimes unmerciful elements. 

Thus, creating two laminated checklists—one for heading out and one for buttoning her up—has been a big help. They show respect for our investment by ensuring a dry, safe, and well-cared-for boat will be ready for its next use and its next owner.

Experts support the creation of checklists. Surgeon and New Yorker contributor Atul Gawande’s book “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” explores complex processes such as surgery and describes research finding that adhering to lists has proven to make a big difference in health outcomes. So ensure that when your boat’s safety goes under the knife, you and your vessel have a full recovery every time.

For our embarking checklist we focus on life-preservers, dock lines, sail covers, seacocks, attaching tied-off halyards, and being patient with the glow plugs before starting the diesel engine.

For disembarking, our list includes a visual inspection from the pier to ensure that six lines are tied, hatches and seacocks are closed, the cabin is clean, and the mainsail halyard is tied off to avoid noise. 

by Steve Gibb