Chapter 4: Preparing for your Trip Getting Underway
Being a pleasure boat operator is a big responsibility. As a skipper, you are responsible for your boat, the lives of the people on board and your actions on the water. That responsibility continues until your boat is secured to the dock and your guests are safely ashore.
There are simple things you can do to prepare for your trip.
These can be developed into a predeparture checklist that should be followed each trip.
- Ensure there is adequate fuel on board. Running out of fuel is the number one cause of boater distress.
The rule of thumb is to use one third of your fuel on the way out, one third on the way back and have one third left for emergency.
The first leg of your trip should be upwind and against the current. If possible, save the downbound passage for last.
- Check that the electrical system works; lights, radios, horns, and so on.
- Ensure the safety lanyard is attached on the PWC.
- Ensure safety gear is stowed, conveniently located and in working condition.
- Check water conditions; is it too rough to be out?
- Be aware of special local conditions: Waves can build up in large or shallow lakes. Low head dams, violent storms, runoff, rapids, currents, white water, overhead wires, underwater cables, and bridges will affect where, and how, you boat.
- Water and air temperature and wind conditions are a crucial concern because of the danger of hypothermia.
- If you boat in a tidal area, check the latest tide tables.
- Ensure you have spare parts and your emergency kit.
- Ensure you know the latest weather forecast: You should make a decision about whether or not to go boating based on the weather forecast for the duration of your planned trip.
Weather forecasts are available from many sources; personal observations, newspapers, radio, television, marine radio, and Environment Canada.
Weather is important for boaters. We discuss weather in more detail later.
- Before starting the engine, check for gas fumes and operate the blower for at least four minutes. This is the law.
A Pre-Departure Checklist
Use this checklist prior to leaving the dock as a final review of important safety items.
- Ensure you have adequate fuel for your planned trip. The rule is one-third out, one-third back and one-third for safety.
- Check all fluid levels; water, antifreeze, battery, oil and transmission. Add to your list any fluid levels for other needed equipment, such as cooking or generator.
- Ensure you have an engine maintenance manual on board and are familiar with it.
- Ensure your batteries are fully charged. If they aren't, ensure you find out why before you leave the dock.
- Check your supplies of spare parts and tools. Be especially mindful of what you can bring to plug leaks and repair your propulsion system.
- Check the marine weather forecast beyond the planned duration of your trip.
- Ensure your bilge pumps, both manual and electric, are working.
- Ensure your mandatory safety equipment is on board and is in working condition. Ensure your guests know where the lifejackets are and how to use them.
- Ensure your emergency kit is on board containing such items as a first aid kit, dry clothes, signalling equipment and dried food. Ensure your guests know where it is.
- Ensure your navigation lights are functioning. This should involve operating them for 30 minutes.
- File a Trip Plan with the marina or another responsible person.
- Ensure your VHF radio is working, if you have an operator's license.