This Blue Water Sailing checklist will help you to understand what you need to learn, experience and have to successfully go from land to sea. The list includes the knowledge, skills and experience you’ll want to get (if you don’t have them already), the variables to compare and contrast for finding the right blue water cruising sailboat (for YOU and your partner/family), the process of buying a blue water cruiser, preparations for sailing the seas and living the sailboat cruising life.
Whether your plans are to do coastal sailing and then expand to blue water cruising or head straight out to open sea this checklist will benefit any new boat owner that wants to get out and spend weeks, months or years on the water.
Transitioning from a land-based lifestyle to life on a boat can be overwhelming at first however the rewards are incredible.
After five years, and 30,000 nautical miles, my family and I can’t imagine moving back to our old land based lives.
We wake up every morning and look out at the deep blue sea and beautiful tropical beaches. Fresh sea air and the sent of flowers fill our noses. Our days are filled with swimming, fishing, sailing, socializing, and ultimately a sense of total freedom. It’s not utopia but it’s darn close.
But the blue water cruising life isn’t easy.
The first year will make or break you. There are so many areas where people fail to do what’s necessary and therefore fail to successfully make the dream a reality. My hope is that this blue water sailing checklist will provide you with a blueprint or a base on where to start.
Go through each section and cross off what you already know versus what you need to know. Once you have a list of all your ‘need to know’ items, or things to get your head around, make a plan to get the knowledge or experience you/your partner/your family need.
My husband, daughter and I have loads of videos, articles and guides on this website to gain knowledge.
If you’re in need of gaining experience we offer weeklong sailing experiences where you/your family join us to live the lifestyle and we have a Members Club where we communicate over the phone/email to walk you through the transition. We’re here to help 😉
BLUE WATER SAILING CHECKLIST
(If you’d like a printable version of this checklist a pop-up will open below with the offer. It might be handy to print out and scribble over!)
1. How To Keep A Boat Afloat
The list below includes all the things that you’ll eventually need to know to successfully go blue water cruising. Some things you must know/have before you leave land and others you’ll pick up along the way. The key is to get a handle on what you know, what you don’t know and most importantly what you didn’t know you needed to know!
Knowledge and EXPERIENCE on how to sail (theory and practical experience)
- Basic sailing terminology
- Rules of the sea
- Sail trim, sailing all points of sail, tacking and jibing
- Navigation and passage planning
- Weather forecasting and forecasting by eye (is that squall going to hit you?)
- Heavy weather management, squalls and how to reef sails
- Sailing at night
- Sailing long passages
Boat handling skills (other than sailing). A hot area of failure alert! The biggest reason for newbies to fail comes down to not having any or enough experience doing the following three things! Get out and start doing this NOW on any boat you can get on.
- Getting in and out the of marina and docking
- Mooring balls
- Necessary qualifications for your area of sail or the areas you will be sailing in. In most countries, there are no qualifications needed but others require licenses or permits. In the UK, you must have a VHF radio license to command a boat.
- Unnecessary, but valuable qualifications – Sailing (RYA/ASA are well worth having), First Aid, engine servicing, ancillary systems (refrigeration, watermaker, pumps, motors). The more courses you can take to build your confidence, the better. Furthermore, the more you can fix yourself, the less you’ll be paying out.
- Using the VHF (If you need the quick start guide to the VHF, make sure to get my VHF Broadcasts For Sailors guide.
- Safety equipment (jackets, harnesses, life lines, fire extinguishers, EPIRB, medical bags, life raft)
- Safety procedures (CPR, Man Overboard, Abandon Ship, MAYDAY)
- Safety Policies (Sunscreen Policy, Hydration Policy)
- Safety Checklists (Equipment expiration dates/servicing, seasonal safety checks, through-hull fitting map)
- Hurricane/Typhoon/Cyclone Preparedness (at the marina, anchor, on mooring ball)
Boat systems (Maintaining, servicing and fixing)
- Engine and propulsion
- Propellers and drive systems
- Electronics (Communications, plotters, wind instruments, etc.)
- Electrics (Batteries, generator, solar, other)
- Plumbing and fixtures
- Deck and rigging
- Antifoul, anodes and through-hull maintenance/servicing
- Auxiliary systems (dinghy, outboard, water maker, refrigeration)
Knowledge about the particular boat you own. (Tip: make it a condition of sale that the previous owner spends at least a week with you showing how to service the engine, set the sails, etc.)
Support systems. When things break where can you turn to the get help? (Your onboard book library, FB Groups, Cruiser Forums, YouTube Sailing Channels, a Sailing Mentor)
2A. Understanding What Blue Water Cruiser Is Right For You
Do you know all the options available in a blue water cruiser and what is best for you, your partner/family and the sailing grounds you plan to cover? Too many people go wrong when it comes to getting the boat. They buy the wrong boat for what they want to achieve (or what they can effectively handle).
There is no set ‘perfect’ blue water boat…there is only the ‘perfect’ blue water boat for you and what you want to do with the boat.
In most cases the largest consideration is a financial one. After that it’s a matter of what variables works best for you/your partner/the area you plan on sailing in. For example, the right boat for someone sailing extensively through the Bahamas is more likely to be a Catamaran or a Monhull with a lifting keel. A boat with a deep draft will be massively restricted due to the shallow depth of water.
Or, the right boat for a couple (no extra crew) will be less than 55’ – anything else requires an extra hand. And it’s not the sailing part that requires extra hands…on bigger boats everything is heavier, harder to maintain/service and keep in good shape. When brokers say, ‘sure – you both can handle sailing a 62’ yacht’ he or she is probably right about the sailing bit. Sailing is the easy part – taking care of the boat is what’s difficult!
Go through each of these variables and research how the variable will impact you and your plans. Find out why a skeg is important and look up what a skeg is if you don’t yet know (hint: the biggest reason for Ocean crossing cruisers to abandon ship is due to a loss of rudder).
Blue Water Cruiser Options
- New versus Used
- Monohull versus Catamaran
- Size (length, beam, waterline)
- Draft and height
- Displacement options
- Resell-ablity when you’re done
- Hull color
- Keel type
- Skeg and rudder
- Cockpit (placement, size)
- Sprayhood/Dodger and Bimini
- Deck layout
- Anchor and windless system
- Navigation equipment
- Look and feel of the inside
- Overall layout
- Berths – how many? Layout?
- LPG and Gas
- Green technology (solar, wind & water)
- Water tanks
- Fuel tanks
- Holding tanks (black and gray)
- The dinghy
- Safety equipment
- Comfort factor
- Considerations for children
- Ease of sailing experience
If you want a more comprehensive explanation of the above blue water cruiser variables, and why they may work well or not for you, consider purchasing our guide, Sailboat Buying Guide For Cruisers.
2B. Buying A Blue Water Cruiser
Buying a boat is not like buying a car or a house. There are laws that protect buyers for those big selling items. When it comes to boats, however, it truly is buyer beware…if you’re not a boat expert, you really need to be on guard. What do you need to know before you buy a boat?
- Determine which boat is the RIGHT boat for you/your family, the area you plan on sailing and works with your budget/finance (see section 2A above)
- Establish a budget for buying the boat, the refit (getting it ready to do what you want it to do) and the running costs – understand ALL the boat ownership costs
- Find a broker that works for you and not the seller (any broker selling a boat is working for the seller…not for you)
- Determine how to shortlist the boats that fit your requirements
- Use pre-viewing questions to weed out the duds before spending any time or money to book a viewing
- View boats to buy – do a personal inspection. Even if you’re not a boat expert there are key things to look for that will tip you off as to whether the boat is a lemon or not!
- How to handle negotiations and offers in the boat buying industry. Hint: You are expected to make a lower offer!
- Get an independent professional survey and ensure the surveyor has nothing to do with the seller or broker.
- Understand the contract and how the completion process works.
- Determining where the boat will live for the refit/choosing a boatyard or marina and all the variables that come with that.
- Find the right boat insurance – get many quotes. Prices and service vary greatly.
3. Preparations For Blue Water Cruising
Once you have the boat it’s all about getting it ready to instigate your dreams. Many new buyers spend far too much time in this process and often fit out the boat with all the bells and whistles only to find that few were actually required. Don’t get stuck in this phase. Find out what you truly need, get it done and then get out on the sea. Blue water boats are set up to go long distances and to remote places therefore they need a variety of items that make life a bit more self-sustainable.
Here are some considerations:
- The cost of preparing your boat for what you want to do with it (This is about getting it up to scratch. Does the rigging need to change? Do the engine(s) and overhaul? Do you need anything structurally fixed? Are all the plotters and navigation systems working? Does the boat have AIS?)
- Energy consumption (batteries, genset, solar, wind, water)
- Fresh water – holding tank size? One or two tanks (to avoid contamination)?
- Grey water tanks (some countries require them).
- Watermaker – a must-have
- Safety equipment – in addition to what’s on the boat already
- Extra sails (for downwind sailing – Atlantic/Pacific crossing)
- The proper anchor, chain and windless that make sense for the area you’re sailing in
- Communications – Satellite, mobile networks, SIM cards.
- Charts, pilot books, navigation charts, backup systems
- Washing machine. If you want a far easier life you must have a washing machine!
- Comforts – beanbags, hammock, grill…
- Spares and service kits
- Tool kits – electrical, mechanical, plumbing, etc.
- Mental preparation – how are you preparing yourself, your partner, your family for the experience?
- Books and service manuals to have on board (or in your Kindle)
- Insurances (Boat, health, critical cover, airlift, etc.)
- A schedule of cleaning, maintenance and servicing
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4. The Blue Water Cruising Life
Life on a blue water cruiser is not the same as life on land. You can’t just hop in a car and go get anything you want. You have to plan, prepare and become very organized. Below are some of the important areas to research. Find out what it’s like to provision or cook on a boat. Research different anchorages to get an idea of what they’re like. If you have children, find out how kid boats manage to find each other.
- The cost of cruising life
- Provisioning, food, cooking, grilling, galley
- Social life
- Making friends (fitting into the cruising community)
- Families, kids and pets
- Working from the boat
- Cleaning (systems, how-to, etc.)
- Mold control
- Bug control
- What kit to have/not have
- Life in a boatyard/marina versus life at anchor
- Having friends and family visit
- Systems and routines
- Choosing a home for your boat – Marina, mooring ball, at anchor and cruising
- Living with your partner 24/7
- Boat Buddies – what they are, how to find them
- Passage preparation (Meal, water prep. seasick prep, stowing…)
- Sailing destinations, routes and planning
- Fishing, fillet and cooking fish
- Dealing with seasickness
- Booking into and out of countries (website clearance, paperwork book)
- What to expect in other countries
- Getting parts in remote locations
- Taking on paid or unpaid Crew
Fast track your knowledge by buying a copy of our Sailboat Buying Guide for Cruisers now and then book yourself on a weeklong blue water cruising experience with us. We’ll help you to achieve your dream quicker, easier and with far less stress.
Click here for more information on our blue water cruiser try-before-you-buy experiences.