February 1, 2003 Issue
PS Advisor: 02/01/03
I will be skippering a strange boat (strange to me, anyway) in a few weeks. We will be chartering out of La Paz, Baja California, on a 41' Beneteau from the Moorings. We picked the Moorings because of their reputation and years of experience. Yes, I know they will give me a briefing on the boat and the cruising grounds prior to departure. So yes, I am probably being way overcautious. Yet, when I've been on the water, overcaution has (so far, anyway) always proven to be a trusty friend. And, of course, once we leave port, the safety of the boat and of the passengers/crew and are my responsibility. I want to make sure that everything is in good working order. Also, I know enough about myself to know that in the excitement and anticipation involved I'm liable to forget damn near anything, so a checklist is a must. Do you know where I can get information on pre-cruise checklists?
Lucky guy! We sailed a Moorings boat (on assignment for one of those magazines that has color photos—those were the days!) in the Sea of Cortez about 12 years ago, when their fleet was based in Puerto Escondito, up the coast from La Paz. It was a mighty nice week.
Of course, there really are ways to be overcautious, and it always seems that the confusion of urgencies diminishes by about half when you just let go of the land and get out there. And the Moorings is a very experienced, systematic company when it comes to making sure things are good to go. Even so, any time you're called upon to run an unfamiliar boat, whether you're chartering it, delivering it, or borrowing it, it's only seamanlike to go over the items that will keep you alive, then work your way through the items of comfort and convenience. You can make a simple checklist that moves down the scale from things of critical importance to things that would be welcome if they worked. People might assign different priorities to items in the list, and virtually everything we talk about here will be (or should be) covering in your briefing, but how about this:
Water paths. Locate all through-hulls. Check seacocks for operation, double clamps, supple hose. Check stuffing box for leaks. Check bilge for water, oil, general condition. Manually check bilge pump floats. Pumps turn on OK?
Steering system. Check for smooth steering, any slack or friction in cables, quadrant, hydraulics, etc. Rudder OK from stop to stop? Rudder bearings and stuffing box OK? Wheel lock OK? Location of emergency tiller and set-up procedure.
Ground tackle. Main and auxiliary anchors all rigged? Rode untangled and ready to pay out? If there’s a windlass, does it work? Where's the reset button? Will you be able to let out and haul in the rode manually?
Rigging and Sails (your primary engine). Stays and shrouds set up more or less in tune? Plenty of threads visible in turnbuckle screws? Cotter pins present and not dangerous to crew? No meat hooks in wire rigging? Location of all sheets, halyards, and leads. Location and operation of reefing lines. Know how to raise, lower, furl, and reef sails.
Safety gear. Location and condition of flare kit, PFDs, and first-aid kit. Location and condition of flashlights and spare batteries. Location and contents of tool kit—got screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, a hammer, electrical tape, duct tape, rigging knife? Boathook? VHF radio check at dock, and from a few miles out.
Dinghy and Dinghy Gear. If it's an inflatable, is it fully inflated? If a solid dink, no leaks? Does the outboard start easily and pump cooling water? Fuel tank full? Pump or bailer present? Painter not too frayed or too short? Check bow eye on dinghy.
Auxiliary Engine. Check oil, coolant, and filters at the dock. Fuel tank full? Run engine, familiarize yourself with controls, gauges, and fuel shut-off. Check for cooling water from the exhaust (and check it often any time you run the engine).
Batteries and Electricity. Location and condition of batteries, terminals, electrolyte levels, state of charge. Location and operation of main battery switch and circuit breakers. Go over switch and breakers with the crew. Check nav and cabin lights.
Head. Check toilet operation with crew. Pump works easily and effectively? No leaks? No foul odor? State of holding tank, if present?
Fresh water. Check pressure-water system for operation and condition of water. Water tanks full? If they need to be switched, know how.
Refrigeration. Check icebox and components for coldness. Get information on engine charging schedules and post in galley or at breaker panel.
Miscellaneous. Enough of the following for the whole crew: food, drinking water, eating utensils, food-storage containers, snorkeling gear, toilet paper, sunscreen, towels.
Special tip. Sanford, just two more words: Ziploc bags. Fair chartering!