Within this article, you’ll learn how to create checklists to avoid failure. What kind of failure?! Engine failure, passage planning mistakes, safety screw-ups, cleanliness disasters, just to name a few. Checklists will help you to become more organized, motivated to get things done, get things done quicker and more efficiently, have more clarity, delegate, save lives, and continually improve.
If you want a fuller explanation of the importance of checklists on a boat, make sure to read: How To Prevent Boat Fails.
How To Create Sailing Checklists Video
Before we get into how to create checklists for your boating lifestyle, let’s discuss the two main categories.
There are calendar-based checklists (daily, weekly) and then there are situational checklists.
A calendar checklist is a list of all the tasks you need to complete in a day or week or month. On Britican, we even have a yearly checklist – things we do once a year, every year. That list includes major cleaning and servicing items like putting borecole over the teak deck to prevent mold.
One of the daily checklists we use is systems-based. When on an anchor, and not sailing, we always check our fridge temp, freezer temp, run the Genset, run the water maker, check bilges for water, and so forth. Many new cruisers don’t realize that as the seawater warms up the fridge temps will also warm up if it’s water-cooled! And if your fridge gets too warm your food will spoil quickly.
Spoiled food isn’t the worst thing that could happen…but engine failure or taking on water isn’t fun but can be prevented if you have checks in place.
Situational checklists, however, are there to help you with specific tasks like pre-passage planning, leaving the boat for a short period in a marina, making a VHF MAYDAY call, or even something like selecting the best insurance for your boat.
Both calendar-based and situational based checklists are extremely effective on a boat. But where do you start with how to create checklists?
How To Create Checklists For Sailors Step 1: Do A Brain Dump
If you’re interested in creating a list of daily or weekly tasks, write down all your repeatable tasks as well as one-off tasks. At this stage, it’s all about getting things on paper. You can always eliminate and change them.
If you want to set up a weekly check on mission-critical systems to do every Monday it may or may not include some of the following:
- Run the bilge to make sure it’s working. Or fill the bilge enough to ensure it triggers an alarm system to see if the alarm is working. If the bilge is not working this is a mission-critical system that needs to be fixed ASAP. Without an operational bilge, you will sink if you ever start taking on water.
- Ensure that your freezer/aircon water flow is flowing freely. You do this by looking at the outflow of water coming from one side or the other out of the hull. If the water flow seems disrupted or not even, the chances are that your strainers need to be cleaned. Doing a weekly check helps to find an issue before it’s too late. If the water flow stops it’s possible for something to burst.
- Make sure that the generator/engine strainers are clean. If your generator or engine doesn’t get enough water it will overheat. Having a checklist that prompts you to check the strainers is paramount.
And here are some more ideas:
- Run the watermaker if it hasn’t been run in a week. Watermakers need to run weekly to ensure they keep performing. Sometimes, when you enter a marina or anchor in muddy waters you won’t want to run your watermaker. You either need to pickle the system or move the boat so that you can run the system.
- Check bilges for leaks. If there is ever any water in your bilge you need to know where it came from. Small leaks can turn to large leaks and before you know it you have a massive problem. Make sure you have a system in place to check your bilges weekly if not daily. Knowing how to create checklists is a huge asset!
- Inspect your anchor snubber and chaff guards or mooring lines. When at anchor for a long time it’s easy to become complacent and forget to check your ground tackle. Chaffing can happen at any point. By having a routine where you check your lines, anchor chain, anchor periodically you’ll catch a potentially big issue before it starts. No one enjoys floating away, or worse, floating into a reef!
- Dive under your boat and inspect the hull. Anodes disappear, fittings for the prop fall out, barnacles clog the water intakes. By checking your hull monthly, if not weekly, you will prevent serious issues before they start.
Step 2: Organize and prioritize tasks
How to create checklists – Start off by organizing your to-do’s in a way that makes sense. You might realize that some tasks need to be done weekly and others are probably better for a monthly list. For example, you wouldn’t want to take the time and disrupt the boat by exercising your stopcocks every week, however, it’s a must-do at the monthly level. EXPLAIN WHY
You can also organize tasks between the below deck and above deck tasks. And of course, some tasks have to be completed before others so there’s a set course of actions you run through.
For example, when preparing to sail you’ll need to do engine checks, program the passage into the plotter, stow all items, prepare food for the journey, and close all hatches. Now…closing the hatches are a high priority (and something not to miss!) but you’ll want to do that last. Otherwise, you’ll be too hot doing the other tasks!
Once your tasks are organized you can prioritize them. This ensures that the most important task is done first. In the boating community, someone is often stopping by to say hi. So it’s important to get your big jobs done in the morning and then play in the afternoon!
Step 3: Create Your Checklist
How to create checklists – using pen and paper, a spreadsheet, document with bullets, or one of those specialty checklist apps make your first draft. Don’t worry about it being perfect. Once you start to use it you’ll determine what needs to be taken off, moved to another list of items that need to be added.
We create our checklists in MS Word with boxes to tick. Then we laminate the checklists so they are waterproof and can be used over and over again with a wipe board marker. All of our checklists are kept in the top draw of our Navigation Station desk and pull them out as and when we need them.
Phone apps are great but we’re often around water or hanging over the bilge – you don’t want to drop your phone! And the normal paper will get ruined quite quickly. It probably seems odd but having a laminator on board has come in hand more times than I could have ever thought believable!
Step 4: Use Your Checklist
There’s some sort of chemical in our brains that make us happy when we tick things off our checklists so use your list and enjoy! When you come across changes, just make a note and you can update them when you have time.
The real test on how to create checklists is to give the checklist to someone else and see how they do. I once gave a guest our rigging checklist. And at least 50% of the items on the list our guest had never heard of. Considering that most of our guests are going on to buy their own boat it was a massive learning curve for them.
On my gravestone, it will say, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know,’ because I say that so much. Not until we got into sailboat cruising did I discover how much I really didn’t know! And that’s where checklists can come in hand. Ask your friends what lists they have and compare them. Check out the manufacturer of your boat. Ask if they have any maintenance or cleaning checklists you can start with. Look at your engine operating manual – there will be a checklist for servicing your engine.
Want information about how to create checklists for sailors?
- Check out all our checklist articles and videos here: Checklists
- Get 50+ Checklist Suggestions here: Suggested Checklists For Sailors
- Also, check out our shop for a variety of guides that include checklists here: Britican Shop