I was 11 when I learnt to sail between Brittany and England where big tides, strong currents, heavy traffic, and fog are a common part of sailing.
Now, 30 years later, I have logged in many nautical miles crossed the ocean and sailed in various places. One thing I’ve always kept in mind is the importance of preparation. If you know you are not well prepared, but you still go and things get messy, guilt will prevent you from thinking straight, and find the best solution.
So yes, it’s always wiser to be prepared but it’s so easy to miss a thing. In order to help you before you go, I’m sharing my check-list with you. Please, don’t hesitate in commenting at the end of the post.
1- Hull and Underwater Gear
Before launching the boat, make sure the propeller is secured, the shaft is clean and, the anodes are in good condition. Inspect the hull, rudder, keel, look for any scaling paint or bubble that could indicate that some extra work is needed. Make sure the thru-hull are sealed and don’t move. Once the hull is clean apply a new coat of antifouling.
2- Engine and batteries
Change your oil and diesel filters as recommended by your engine manual. Check and empty the water separator. Verify you have fuel in the tank. Replace the impeller in the water pump and open the water seacock for the cooling of the engine once in the water as you may start the engine straight away to exit the launching area. What sort of batteries do you use, Led-Acid, AGM, Gel… Test them. Keep them fully charged. When you start the diesel, let it warm up a bit, have a look at the exhaust fumes, check for leaks before you retrieve your lines.
3- Mooring and Docking equipment
Get 4 long enough lines on the desired cleats, to be thrown. Secure your fenders to the toe rails, ready to be kicked overboard when needed. I personally always make sure my windlass is working and the anchor is ready to go down, just in case. As you leave, the engine can fail and the current will take you in other boats, shallow spots or where ever you don’t want to be.
4- Seacocks, Dripless…
Before launching, locate and verify they do open/close. Once afloat, check every single one for leaks. Keep them closed until you need them. Don’t forget to make sure the shaft doesn’t leak.
Inspect the chainplates, stays and shrouds’ condition. The connecting elements and the tightness of the rigging need checking to. Don’t delay replacing if you have any doubt as it’s going to be cheaper than changing the mast. You might have to loosen the backstay in order to be launched, don’t forget to make a mark to tighten it once in the water.
6- Safety equipment and legal requirements
Make sure your vessel complies with your flag requirement and carry the safety equipment you need according to your type of sailing and the journeys planned.
If sewing is needed, do it or have it done as it’s only going to get worse and more expensive. Sails don’t have to be brand new to be in good condition but you will see they tend to lose their shape and therefore performance with usage. Don’t discard the storm jib or underestimate reef points on the main. Make sure all the sheets, blocks and tackle are moving freely. (Make sure you rinse them off from the salt and dust with fresh water every so often and put them away from any moisture.)
Take them all apart and grease them yearly. Watch to not lose any bits. Do you know where the winch handles are located?
The less you have, the less expensive and the less problem to expect. All those instruments are extra sensitive to heat, water, salt, power surge… That said, I wouldn’t sail without a Depth sounder, a GPS, a VHF, electronic Charts and an Autopilot (especially when motoring is needed). Make sure they are well protected from the elements and are secured to the boat.
10- Water system
It might feel normal to open the tap and watch the water gushing out as you can do at home but don’t forget you now need to manage your water. You need to fill up and store the precious liquid, which takes room and leak-proof containers or tanks. In some places, you’ll have to pay for it, or you might have to carry it or even both. One way to control your consumption, and limit your guests from emptying your tanks in a day, is to use manual pumps, ideally foot pumps to free your hands. You will not only save on water but also on electricity and noise.
It’s always a good idea to have several sources of energy in case one fails. For example, the engine’s alternator can be nicely paired with solar panels, a wind generator, both using renewable energy and way less noisy than a generator.
12- Provision and put away
Propane or stove fuel. Food for the journey. Water. Diesel. Petrol and oil for the dinghy…
Your dinghy is your only way to get to and from the boat to shore and you will certainly use it several times a day. Don’t be greedy, get a sturdy, sun and scratch proof big enough one or you will regret it every day.
Whatever its size, a boat is a small space that tends to get even smaller very quickly and easily. You don’t need your wardrobe. I guess a good standard is “what fits in a carry on”. Sailing you’ll need a variety not “a lot” of clothes.
Remember a boat moves and unsecured items will soon be covering the floor.
Also, Murphy’s law will apply to you too. The more you have that can fail, the more problems to expect. I guess it also depends on your tolerance to deal with constant maintenance and fixing. Whatever you do, always carry spares.
My tip, keep it Simple in order to sail far.