Who is Responsible for Performing the Pre-Departure Check of a Recreational Boat?

Proper preparation and safety checks guarantee you a safe boat trip. You need to take safety precautions seriously so that you don’t fall overboard as well.

A pre-departure check is therefore paramount to confirm the condition of the boat. But who is responsible for performing the pre-departure check of a recreational boat?

We promise to answer your question satisfactorily through our elaborate write-up. See the answer below.

Who’s Responsible for Performing the Pre-Departure Check of a Recreational Boat?

A boat captain conducts a pre-departure check of a recreational boat to ensure the safety of the passengers and the vessel during the trip.

The boat operator plans departure and docking time of the boat.

The skipper must be competent enough to address any boat emergencies. They are charged with passengers’ safety.

The captain must ensure that your boat has the right pieces of equipment for a safe cruise.

If the boat is in good working condition, the captain proceeds with the other pre-departure checks.

What is Included on a Boat’s Pre-Departure Checklist?

a Float Plan

A float plan is a document the boater prepares, which indicates the details of the trip. 

You should leave a copy of a float plan with a friend or relative before you go for a boat trip.

The float plan helps the water authorities to trace your boat in case of an emergency.

It shows:

  •  The number of passengers aboard the boat
  •  The type of the vessel
  •  Departure time and the expected return time.
  • The desired destination

Life Jackets

 A personal floatation device should be placed strategically for the passengers to see and access easily in case of an emergency.

The passengers should put on their float jackets before the boat sets off.

The following are the qualities of a good lifejacket (PFD):

  • The life jackets must have a US Coast Guard-approved label.
  • The life-saving equipment should be free from tears, rips, or rust on the zippers.
  • The PFDs should be enough for every passenger or pet boarding the boat. They should be of different sizes to fit passengers with different body sizes and weights.
  • Recreational boats should have at least two PFDs.
  • The PFD should have a whistle attached to them.
  • The boat should also have a 16 feet long detachable floatation device should a passenger fall off the board.

Air Horns and Whistles

The captain must ensure that there is a sound device in the vessel.

The whistle should be loud enough to alert other boaters who are approximately 0.5 miles away.

The sound should last at least 4 seconds. It should be tried before the journey to confirm its blowable.

 Distress Signals and Flares

The boat operator should ensure their vessel’s distress signals and flares are strategically placed for the passengers to see when need calls.

Flares are used to locate a boat in case it misses the intended direction.

The skipper should inform his passengers how and when to use the signals.

Fire Extinguishers

The number of fire extinguishers on the boat varies depending on the size of the boat.

The skipper should ensure that their boat is equipped with enough fire extinguishers.

The fire equipment should be in good working condition and placed strategically for the passengers to access in case of a fire emergency.

A First Aid Kit

A boat should have a complete first aid kit with the following items:

  • Painkillers like ibuprofen
  • Anti-biotics
  • First aid cream
  • Adhesive bandages
  • Scissors
  • Antiseptic wipes      
  • Gauze pads

Boat Tools and Essential Spare Parts

A boat should possess a well-equipped marine toolbox in case of an emergency repair.

Examples of tools and spare parts that every boat should have include:

  •  Flashlight
  •  Fuses
  •  Bulbs
  •     Fuel filters

Battery Checks

Every vessel should have extra batteries to charge its power accessories (navigation systems and radios).

The batteries should be fully recharged before the onset of the boat trip.

Fuel and Oil Checks

The skipper should ensure that their vessel has sufficient oil for the entire journey and unplanned detours. You should have extra oil in the reserve tank for reserve and emergency detours.

The cooling and propulsion systems should be checked and the water and oil filters changed.

You must drain any water in the engine compartment else it will add to the weight of your boat.

Navigation Lights and Instruments

A boat captain shall ensure that the navigation lights and the instruments at the captain’s console are in proper working condition.


The captain shall always put an extra defender.

All the dock lines should be free from damage.


A boat operator should look out for any gas leakages and fix them before they start the boat.

Every boat should have a carbon monoxide detector to detect the slightest gas smells especially if it’s gas-powered.

Weather Checks

A boat must have an updated weather forecast for the entire duration they will be out.

A radio signal also receives weather updates.

How Often Should a Captain Conduct the Pre-Departure Check?

A thorough boat inspection should be done before every boat trip to ensure the vessel is fit for the trip and that all the safety equipment is accessible in case of marine emergencies. 

You might postpone a pre-departure check if you are out on a short trip or if you had previously done the pre-departure provided:

  • There are no breakages, wear or tear on the vessel’s body.
  •  The engine oil and coolant levels are enough to sustain the entire trip.
  •  All the safety equipment is in proper working condition.
  •   The navigation lights are functional.

How Does a Pre-Departure Check Help You?

A pre-departure checklist is important because:

  • It prepares you to address any eventualities that you may encounter during the trip to avoid extreme cases such as accidents and death.
  • A checklist contains the details of the itinerary and emergency contacts should the need arise.
  • It helps you to avoid unnecessary delays during the journey.
  • A pre-departure check saves you unnecessary time-consuming hassles while cruising.
  • It ensures the overall safety of the watercraft during the adventure.
  • It helps you to pack all the items you might need to make your trip comfortable and enjoyable.
  • The check helps you to observe the requirements of marine safety regulations.

What Are The Consequences of Not Doing a Pre-Departure Check?

Failure to conduct a thorough pre-departure check could cause the following severe consequences:


The following boat accidents will most likely result in death:

  • Gas leakages and explosions can suffocate passengers to death.
  • If a passenger falls from the boat without a floatation device they are likely to drown especially if they are not good swimmers.
  • Fire break-outs in the boat are likely to cause serious burns and fatalities if they are not put out on time.
  • Passengers with health histories can succumb if proper first aid is not administered.

Engine Failure

This results from failure to change the engine oil and coolants.

You will get stranded in the middle of the sea in case your boat engine fails therefore regular service and maintenance are recommended.


A boat is likely to capsize under the following circumstances:

  • If the captain ignored the weather updates and pursued raging storms.
  • If the boat’s body had been previously damaged and has holes that allow water into the boat. The water will make the boat sink.
  • Overloading the boat too can make it sink. Make sure you carry the right number of passengers and load as indicated on the vessel’s capacity plate.
  • Overpowering the boat’s engine too will affect the speed and make the boat overturn in case it hits an object.
  • A faulty bilge pump too can cause a vessel to capsize.

Navigation Challenges

Harsh weather conditions like fog and strong winds could jeopardize the boat trip.

The captain and his passengers could miss their intended direction and get lost in the Dead Sea.

The boat operator must check the electrical and lighting systems of his vessel before he sets off for a trip.

Navigation problems could lead to detours and you risk running out of fuel.

Check the steering and speed controls of your vessel while on the shore.

Wrap Up

The boat operator conducts the pre-departure check to ensure the boat arrives at the next dock safely.

A pre-departure check confirms that the vessel is in proper working condition for the safety of its passengers.

A pre-departure check entails checking things like the engine, marine toolbox, weather checklists, fire extinguishers, and floatation devices.

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