Boat Trip Checklist: 8 Things You Need on a Boat

Most savvy boaters have a pre-departure checklist of one sort or another, and if they trailer their boats, they hopefully have a trailering checklist as well. Others people may have a checklist they refer to just once a year for spring commissioning, or one for sea trials on unfamiliar boats that they only focus on when they’re boat shopping. But shouldn’t everyone also have a checklist of the things they need to bring aboard, each and every time they pull of the dock? You bet.

No matter what type of boating you do, you'll always need these 8 critical items on board a boat:

  1. Safety gear (including U.S. Coast Guard required equipment)
  2. Proper documentation & registration
  3. Provisions for the day
  4. Extra lines
  5. First-aid kit
  6. An anchor & rode
  7. VHF Radio & your cell phone
  8. Emergency repair items


1. Safety Gear

Safety gear is obviously number one on our list and should be at the very top of yours, too. This includes both Coast Guard mandated gear as well as other items you should have close at hand no matter where or when you go boating. For a full accounting, see our boat safety checklist.

Boat Safety Checklist & Safety Equipment


2. Proper Documentation

In most states, you’re required to carry the proper documentation for both your boat and yourself. Check your specific state’s requirements, but in most cases this will include things like the boat registration, your boater education card, and personal identification such as a driver’s license.

State Boating Laws, Rules & Requirements Map


3. Provisions for the Day

what to bring on a boat

There’s no doubt that food and drink are already something you think about bringing on every outing, but when you go boating there are also some additional provisions you should carry.

  • Extra water is always important to have on hand because it’s easy to becomes dehydrated on hot summer days.
  • It’s also good to have some fresh watermelon, yogurt, or oranges aboard, all of which both hydrate and provide a blast of energy.
  • Other important provisions include suntan lotion and bug repellent, both of which can greatly increase your comfort level aboard a boat.


4. Extra Lines

Extra lines can come in handy when you least expect it. You may decide to raft up with a friend or go to a waterfront restaurant that has a pier but no lines. And line can also come in handy for lashing things down.

How to Tie Up a Boat: Mooring Guide


5. First-Aid Kit

Scrapes, bruises, and other potential injuries, whether minor or severe, that might require a first-aid kit are good to be prepared for. It's always a good idea to keep a basic first-aid kit onboard—with the hope that you won't need to use it. Better safe, then sorry.

Make sure your first-aid kit is stocked appropriately for the number of passengers you expect to have onboard. Always check your kit at least once a year to restock on common used items or replace any items that may have expired.

Wondering what you should have in your marine first-aid kit? Read our list.

Marine First-Aid Kits & Onboard Safety Guide


anchoring a boat

6. An Anchor and Rode

Some people don’t carry an anchor and rode (the chain and line) because they never plan to anchor out. But this isn’t a wise move, because an anchor and rode are not only handy for having lunch “on the hook” or anchoring in Party Cove.

They should also be considered as safety gear. If you break down and need to call for a tow, being able to anchor will maintain your position and make it easier for the tow boat to find you. It will also ensure that you don’t drift into a busy channel or a rocky shoreline.

How to Anchor a Boat


7. A VHF Radio & Your Cell Phone

We highly recommend having a VHF radio onboard in case of an emergency. Unlike cell phones, VHF radios can operate without a network, so it can be a great tool to have if you need to call for help or on-water assistance.

Of course, one of the great things about being on a boat is that it allows you to un-plug from the rest of the world, and enjoy nature and the great outdoors without having to answer every ring and ping of the cell phone. So we think that you should feel free to turn that cell phone off and stow it away, or at least set it to mute. You should still, however, bring it aboard.

fun boat accessories

While in some cases you may be able to use your cell phone to call for assistance, it can also come in handy as a navigational device, a weather monitor, or even a fishing tool.

Check out Best Boating Apps: Navigation, Fishing, Weather, and More, to discover all the different ways your cell phone can make boating a better experience above and beyond serving as a communications device.

How to Use a VHF Radio


8. Emergency Repair Items

Most boaters are a lot more interested in having fun on the water than in swinging a wrench or performing on-the-water repairs. So if you’re not a do-it-yourselfer you probably won’t want to haul a fully stocked toolbox and spare parts. That said, there are a number of emergency repairs that can be performed quickly and easily to get you home and/or prevent additional damage to your boat and its gear.

The short-list of repair items that belong aboard every boat includes:

  • Duct tape, for securing things that may swing or flap when broken or ripped.
  • A screw driver with regular and Phillips heads, for tightening screws that vibrate loose.
  • An adjustable crescent wrench, for tightening bolts that vibrate loose.
  • A portable jumper pack, in case of a dead battery.
  • A knife, in the chance you need to untangle lines or debris from your propeller.
  • Electrical tape, for mending broken wires.
  • A flashlight, for illuminating enclosed compartments and/or in case you inadvertently end up staying on the water after dark.

Packing Your Boat Tool Kit


Bonus Items: Cool Accessories

This list of must-haves is not, of course, going to cover each and every thing you personally will want to have aboard depending on what activities you like to enjoy while afloat.

  • Watersports lovers will want to add tow-toys and PFDs designed for their specific sport;
  • Anglers will have fishing gear foremost in mind;
  • Sailors have their own list or items they need;
  • And those who love cooking out aboard the boat will have an entirely different checklist to make.

Visit our Boating Accessories pages, to get some ideas of the different goodies you may want to add to your own list of the things you need to bring aboard your boat, to make a great day on the water even greater.

Read Next: 8 Cool Things to Have on a Boat

You Might Also Like:

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in July 2020 and updated in August 2021.