I had some pretty wild good luck on my way down the coast, and suddenly when I was due to take off again every test sail I went on had problems. Nothing major, but enough to let me know I needed to go back to the dock to fix something. I started looking into pre-departure checklists as some of this stuff could have been caught before I left the dock had I made it a habit to inspect it. Below is what I’ve come up with for prepping for a safe passage. I have made this into an actual checklist and put it into my binder titled “Everything Coconut” so it is easy to reference. (To note, this is everything besides the obvious items like topping off water, fuel, provisions, laundry, lifejackets, etc.) I couldn’t find any pre-made detailed checklists so I made my own!
Have a Float Plan
I wasn’t sure what this was, but upon seeing some examples like this one from the Coast Guard, I definitely need one of these. I have a couple of friends I regularly let know I am leaving and the city where I am headed to. They do not know the details of my boat, the Documentation Number, type of engine, type of sailboat, marina or anchorage I plan on staying in, etc. I am not always good at letting them know I got in either, which I definitely need to get better about. Even though my passages are around 70 miles each, at least giving my friends a copy of this to hold on to is a good idea should anything go wrong.
Engine Pre-Departure Checklist
I’ve learned a lot about maintaining a diesel engine, but at the same time I am still learning the more I work with it. For example, checking the oil and coolant level is easy. However, I am not good about inspecting the sea strainer, the tension on the belts, or checking for leaks.
- Check oil level and color (if black, time to change it)
- Check coolant level
- Check Alternator Belt and Water Pump Belt tension, inspect for black dust
- Check for cracked hoses, oil leaks, loose hose clamps
- Empty water from bilge compartment
- Clear out Sea Water Strainer
- Check water flow exiting the boat
- Check Gear Shifter to ensure bolt fastened properly
Check Steering System
Check hydraulic steering for leaks from the pump at the wheel all the way down to the ram at the rudder. Check for loose hose clamps, leaks, and missing cotter pins.
Check Standing and Running Rigging
On my first failed sail, I turned around because the lower shrouds on both port and starboard were loose and shaking. It was very windy, so the side opposite of the wind direction was the one flailing a bit too much for comfort. I don’t have the money for a Loos Tensioning Gauge, but decided to tighten the offending shrouds more than what I thought necessary. I’ve already lubed them, so I probably should have marked the spot where the turnbuckles were before removing them. Lastly, make sure everything’s got a cotter pin and that it is properly bent and covered so it doesn’t catch on anything!
For running rigging, check for chafe. If you can see what the line is chafing on, see about covering that area with white electrical tape. My roller furling line always gets caught on the cotter pins where the rigging is attached to the chainplate. I used to stuff an old washcloth between here, but this only allows dirt and dog hair to collect and not go through the deck scuppers.
I also check the spare lines I have on the stern pulpit. I drape them over the pulpit and it always comes in handy if I need to throw a line to someone. Make sure the lines are secured tightly and will not fall off or foul in the prop.
Secure the Anchor
If the anchor is not secured, it can possibly jump off the gibsea and puncture a hole in the hull. No bueno! I’ve simply attached a line through the end of the anchor to an eye bolt on the toe rail.
I’ve got a handheld GPS and InReach with satellite GPS. Both of these seem to receive updates maybe 2x a year, so it is always good to connect those to the internet and make sure everything is up to date.
Make sure all navigation lights are working. Another failed sail of mine the front red and green nav lights on the pulpit were mysteriously dark. Turn on all equipment and ensure function, even if you don’t need it at that time. The depth sounder, AutoPilot, VHF/AIS radio, etc.
Check the Weather
When I was hopping down the coast I would leave as long as there was no wind. This was very helpful in getting me comfortable with single handing, and when a line got snagged on something the sail or jib sheet was fairly easy to un-foul. Even though there was “no wind” predicted, there is always at least enough wind to keep the main up.
Upon reading more about this, one site (can’t remember which) recommended to start keeping track of the weather in a journal. This will help you see patterns, and start to understand weather in general. I thought this was a great idea. I was gifted a PDF of reading the weather, which I plan to familiarize myself with.
It can also be good to keep track as I am not yet familiar with what conditions are favorable and unfavorable (mostly wave height). I know 20-30 knots will be a more cumbersome sail, but I tend to forget about wave height and tides/currents since I am no longer in San Francisco (which has notoriously strong currents). NOAA has good and reliable information for this.
Sounds silly, but I am bad at this. Having a shop means I tend to toss tools back in the shop without making sure it’s secure or in the right spot. When I had pulled into a marina to tighten the alternator belt I couldn’t find the right sized socket and of course I couldn’t get a box wrench in the space. I knew I had it on board, but it set me back just trying to find it.
I’ve gone through my shop and gotten rid of things I hadn’t used in a while (like my 5 gallon vacuum) and moved things that didn’t need to be in there. I also found some treasures I forgot I had! Zita was hiding from a big bad scary fly in the first picture, but the shop now has a floor! And their bike trailer is secured! And so is the net! And last but not least I finally put the door handle back on. The handles are all pretty corroded and ugly looking, so I took them off. (Four years ago.) I was going to spray paint them and never did until a few days ago. Not crazy about the chunky clear coat finish, I will have to buy a matte finish before finishing the rest of them! At least I know where my tools are, they are more secure than before, and I should be able to access them quickly should I need to.