How to prepare for a day on the boat: A Step-by-Step Guide for New Boaters

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How to prepare for a day on the boat: A Step-by-Step Guide for New Boaters

No experience in life is quite as exciting as taking a new boat out for the first time. But whether you’re a seasoned boat handler or an absolute novice – whether you’re headed off for a day of fishing on your runabout or a weekend outing on your family cruiser -- planning and preparation will help you and your guests have the best time possible out on the water.

Step One: Safety First!

All successful boating adventures begin with a focus on safety. Regardless of its size or your intended cruising destination, make sure your boat is equipped with these items, required by law:

  • Life jackets for everyone on board
  • Working fire extinguisher(s)
  • Fully stocked first aid kit
  • Functional flares (unexpired), visual distress signals
  • A working sound signal (horn, air horn, bullhorn, or whistle)

In addition to the items required by law, you should have these recommended items aboard, regardless of your boat’s size or your intended destination:

  • All appropriate documentation (vessel documentation, fishing license, park pass, boating safety certificate or operator’s license, as required by your state)
  • Binoculars
  • Anchor with sufficient chain or rode
  • Bailing device
  • Watersports flags (diver down or skier down)
  • Extra lines and fenders
  • Boat hook or pole


If your cruising plans will take you out into the ocean in nearshore waters, you’ll want to include:

  • Compass
  • VHF Radio
  • GPS/Chart plotter
  • Depth Finder
  • Charts
  • Tool kit


And finally, if you’ll be cruising offshore to Bimini or the Bahamas, the following recommended items are essential:.

  • EPIRB
  • Life raft
  • Man overboard recovery system
  • Searchlight
  • Radar 
  • Passport for everyone aboard

The American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) publishes a boating safety pamphlet with these recommendations and more, which you can download and print. There’s also “an app for that,” available in the iTunes store, to help you identify required safety items, suggest additional items to make your boat safer and more comfortable, and provide checklists to help you maintain and supply your boat.

Step Two: Plan Your Trip

Image 0499: Pick your destination1. Pick your destination. 

  • Are you planning a cruise down the Intercoastal? The eight-mile trip down from Pompano to Port Everglades features five bridges, canals with mega mansions and mega yachts, and the beautiful Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. Along the way you can tie up at any of the popular dockside restaurants like Chart House, 15th Street Fisheries, the Downtowner Saloon, Pier 66, or Le Tub for a cold one and a meal.
  • Is a day of fishing more your speed? Just head out the Hillsborough Inlet or Port Everglades, hang a right, and you’re in the Atlantic Ocean where you try your luck at tarpon, snook, sailfish, snapper, or mackerel.
  • If you just want a day in the sun to play in the water, anchoring at Lake Boca or Haulover Cut gives you the perfect platform for swimming, sunning, and socializing with other like-minded, fun-loving boat people.
  • Longer excursions might include trips down to the Keys, over to Bimini, or up the Intracoastal to voyage cross Florida via the Okeechobee Waterway.

2. Check the weather forecast.

There are several marine weather apps available in either the iTunes App Store or Google Play. Some of the better ones include PredictWind, MarineForecaster, and Buoyweather.   

3. Chart your course.

  • Regardless of your intended destination, get out the charts and study them. Paying attention to charted depths is essential in South Florida and running aground is not only embarrassing, it can be expensive. Plot the course on your chart plotter or paper charts. 
  • Calculate your time and distance, mileage and fuel needs.
  • If your trip is going to require overnight stays, identify public anchorages or marinas along the way, and make any reservations necessary.

4. Provision your boat.

Prepare a provisioning list with all the food, beverages, and sundries you think you’ll need for your trip.

  • A cooler full of ice is essential, both for storing food and beverages and for storing any fish you might catch.
  • While nothing beats a frosty beer on a sultry day, water is still your best friend. Bring plenty of extra water, sports drinks, and non-alcoholic beverages to keep hydrated.
  • Some of the best boating food for short day trips includes sandwiches, fruit and snacks you can keep in the cooler.
  • For longer trips, consider that no matter how spacious your boat is, there never seems to be enough storage. Plan your menu and provision for the exact number of meals and snacks you’ll be serving aboard. Simple is good. Food always tastes better when you’re on a boat.
  • Remember that the sun is always stronger out on the water, so don’t ignore sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, and coverups that provide extra sun protection. And after the sun goes down, you might be thankful for a long-sleeve shirt or sweater, especially if you’re sunburned.
  • Don’t forget to bring along any sports equipment you intend to use like fishing gear, dive gear, kayaks, inflatable toys, water skis, or floating mats.
  • Bring a change of clothing and enough towels for everyone. Bring a dry bag to store your cell phone, camera, tablet, or other personal electronic devices to keep them functional in the event of accidental spills or splashes.
  • Books, magazines, music, or games, etc!

5. Tell someone where you’re going.

Image 0498: What to bringWhether you’re just going out for the day or for an extended week-long adventure, file a “float plan” with a trusted friend, colleague, or family member. Tell them when you’re leaving, how long you expect to be gone, and when you plan to be back. When you’re back, check in with your contact person to let them know all is well. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary provides a model float plan you can download as a .pdf file.

Step Three: All Aboard!

1. Notify your marina, if required.

  • If you keep your boat in dry storage, call ahead to schedule a launch. Many dry storage marinas require as little as 30 minutes’ advance notice – others require you let them know a day in advance.
  • If your boat is in a slip, stop by the office to let them know when you’ll be leaving and arrange for any help you might need getting away from the dock. 
  • If you’re trailering your boat, make any reservations necessary at the boat ramp of your choice.


2. Stow your gear and provisions.

Organize “all hands” to help you get all your gear and provisions aboard and stowed properly.

  • Put any food and beverage requiring refrigeration immediately into the cooler or fridge.
  • Tie down any loose items on deck (kayaks, toys, gear).
  • Stow clothing and gear out of the traffic pattern and away from boat-handling areas.

3. Check your systems.

Just like an airline pilot runs through a pre-flight checklist, every responsible boat owner performs a pre-cruise check of the following to make sure everything is in good order:

  • Fuel and engine oil levels
  • Tankage levels (water, holding tank)
  • Propellers and running gear 
  • Lights/horn/pumps (including bilge pump)
  • Electronics (radio/chart plotter/depth sounder/fish finder/radar)
  • Mooring lines, fenders, anchor, ground tackle


4. Conduct a safety and housekeeping briefing with your guests.

It might seem like overkill, but it’s important to remind everyone onboard that a great trip is a safe trip. You are the captain, and everyone aboard needs to understand your ultimate responsibility is for their safety and well-being out on the water. Familiarize everyone onboard with the following:

  • How to put on a lifejacket or vest
  • Location and operation of fire extinguishers
  • Location of first aid kit
  • Docking/anchoring procedures
  • Emergency procedures
  • Garbage handling and sanitation procedures
  • Safety rules particular to your boat (no running, getting hands or feet between the boat and working lines, jumping from the upper decks, etc.)

5. Start your engines, throw off the lines and let the adventure begin!

  • Start your engines
  • Untie your lines
  • Stow your fenders; coil and stow your mooring lines

Step Four: At the End of the Day…

Your mission is accomplished. You and your guests are happy, pleasantly exhausted, and not too sunburnt. Everybody’s had a fabulous adventure. 

 You’re almost home – but your voyage isn’t quite over yet.

1. As you approach your marina or launch ramp, have your guests begin gathering their things and tidying up the boat to put it away until next time.

2. Once you’re secure at the marina or on your trailer, go through your voyage shut-down checklist:

  • Hose off the boat with fresh water to rinse away the salt and use soft towels or chamois to dry everything off.
  • Properly stow your anchor, and coil and stow your lines.
  • Check your holding tank (if you have one) and schedule a pump-out if necessary.
  • Turn off/power down/unplug your electronics, lights, and anything else that uses power and has the potential to drain the batteries. 
  • Note your fuel and engine oil levels.
  • Make sure that all food and garbage goes off the boat properly to avoid attracting unwelcome creatures.
  • Shut off your propane tank
  • Install any canvas or covers

3. Boating can be a valuable learning experience for everyone. It’s always a great idea to conduct a de-briefing with your crew, your guests, or your family to discuss what worked well and what might work better before your next outing.

4. Turn off the lights, lock the door, and congratulate yourself on a great experience.

5. Special note: If you’ve been offshore to Bimini or the Bahamas, you’ll need to clear in with U.S. Customs and Immigration. This link to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website will give you the details.

One of the best ways to learn about creating a safe and happy voyage is to participate in one of InterMarine’s Escapades. Whether it’s a day excursion at the Jupiter Sand Bar or the Pompano Fishing Rodeo – a Father’s Day weekend in Bimini – or a 10-day Grand Escapade to the Bahamas, you can join and learn from your fellow boaters while exploring new places. Click here for the current schedule of planned InterMarine Escapades.

If you’d like further information or advice about cruising on your new boat, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on the phone or in person at the location nearest you. View all InterMarine locations and contact information here