The Pre-Launch Checklist


Away we go. A well earned summer of sailing is fast upon us. If your boat isn’t already in the water, it will be soon. Amid all the excitement of launch day—your desire to be back in the water, and the boatyard’s eagerness to make room for another client (cha-ching)— there’s a chance something might get missed. A pre-launch checklist can help avoid spoiling the big day.


Now is the time to check that the yard (or you) didn’t overlook anything.

1. Do a walk around. Check that your zincs, through hulls, prop shaft, prop, and all underwater hardware and fittings are all set.

2. Take photos clearly showing keel, strut, prop, transducers and any underwater fittings. This will be handy for future haulouts.

3. Check battery level and starter circuit. Recharge battery as needed.

4. Prepare sails, running rigging, anchor, fenders, dock lines, boat hooks, and deck gear for getting underway.

5. Lay out the parts and tools needed for final rig reassembly (if needed).

6. Make sure the big wrenches required for adjusting the packing gland are close at hand.

7. Check bilge pump operation.

8. Exercise seacocks, making sure you can open and close them. Close them all. (Forgetful types can choose to open the engine seacock now and skip Step 3, below.)

9. Check engine oil, gearbox oil, coolant reservoir, hoses and belts. If you winterized your boat, you’ll want to recommission the engine cooling system, as well as purge any antifreeze from your potable water plumbing.

10. Check rudder and steering system.

11. If the drive train has been serviced, check the prop-shaft coupling (see Step 6, below).

12. Check in with the lift operator regarding launch procedures.


These checks often take place with the Travelift on stand-by with slings slack —and well clear of the propellor—or when the boat is warped to an adjacent check-out slip.

1. Check shaft packing gland (see PS February 2019, “Stuffing Box Care”). If it is dripping excessively, tighten just until it stops. Even dripless prop shaft seals should be checked.

2. Check all through hulls. This includes through-hull transducers and rudder shaft seal.

3. Open the engine intake seacock.

4. Start engine. Check for cooling water being expelled in the exhaust. Inspect the engine for fuel, exhaust, or water pump leaks.

5. Secure the boat to check engine in forward and reverse gear. Re-check stuffing box for leaks while in gear. A regular 3-4 drips every minute is usually fine. Check that the locknut for the packing compression nut is holding fast.

6. If you’ve pulled the propeller shaft or worked on the shaft coupling, observe the coupling in reverse gear under moderate load. If the shaft set screw is not properly set, the shaft can pull out in reverse (don’t ask how I know this).

7. Monitor engine temperature and operation.

8. Give the Travel-lift operator the all-clear.

Most yards have a dockside slip available so you can again go through some of the above steps and make any additional checks. Use this time to double-check all the underwater components and the engine operation.

Every boat is a little different so you will likely have your own routine. Boats with more sophisticated systems like watermakers and generators will have additional checks, although many of these can be carried out in your slip, mooring, or at anchor. Feel free to share your own launch list or add to mine.

Happy splash-day!

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him at


  1. If you open the cooling water seacock before starting the engine in many cases it won’t draw water; the intake hose needs to be primed with water with seacock closed. Once in the water, as soon as the engine is started open the seacock and check that water is coming out the exhaust. It may take a few seconds for water to start coming out.