Planning Your Boat Trip: All You Need to Know

When you are boating in unknown territory it is a sensible idea to use a local skipper, but if you don’t have that option, you will need to rely solely on a chart and your boat electronics to plot out your route. The cost of not preparing adequately for the trip could mean that you end up grounding the boat, breaking the law, violating speed restrictions, getting lost, or running out of fuel. But, if you prepare properly, and equip yourself with local knowledge and a solid plan on how you will navigate from A to B, you can afford to relax on the boat. Your pre-trip tasks include:

boat prepping for the trip
Prep for your trip before getting underway, and you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the journey. Photo via Lenny Rudow.

Check The Weather Conditions 

Before you do anything else, check what the expected weather conditions are for that day. While you can use local weather websites, we also recommend using weather and tidal apps designed specifically for boaters. See Best Weather Apps for Boating, to check out some of the options.

Download Marine Weather Forecast Pro

Even though you’ve checked the weather, make sure you have downloaded the NOAA Marine Weather app so you can get the most up-to-date weather info even after pushing off the dock. It has real-time buoy data, six-hour historical wave trend reports, an hourly wave watch model, hourly tide forecasts, NOAA weather map overlays, and severe weather reports.

Ebb and Flow: Check the Tidal Charts 

Tides can have a big affect on where you may or may not want to go, depending on where you do your boating and what your boat’s draft is. You can get an almanac or tide charts, though these days, most people simply do a quick web search for the area they’ll be boating in. Either way, if the area you’re heading for has significant tidal swings it’s important to be aware of what the tides will be doing while you’re out.

boat in current
In many areas tides and current will have a significant impact on where and when you’ll want to take your boat. Photo via Lenny Rudow.

Similarly, currents have an impact, too. Particularly for sailors or those on relatively slow powerboats, a couple of knots of current can have an impact on your arrival time at a destination and how long it takes to get home. In a few areas that see raging currents, it can even be a matter of safety to be sure you transit when the currents are slow.

Navigate Your Journey 

Navigating on the water is a must, but whenever entering unfamiliar waters you should also navigate ahead of time by plotting out your course before the trip. You can do this the old-fashioned way on a chart with dividers and parallel rules. But these days, of course, most people will use digital means.

You can plan your route out using a chart and measure your distance, bearing, and waypoints. Image credit: Unsplash

Even though your chartplotter is mounted on tyour boat, there are plenty of options for pre-plotting a course at home. You can do it on your phone or a tablet using an app like Navionics or the C-Map app, which in many cases allows you to upload your route to your chartplotter at a later date. (Either by using a data card or via WiFi or Bluetooth). And if your chartplotter doesn’t have that capability, you can still record the coordinates and channel markers along the route and quickly put them in the chartplotter before your journey.

While charts are of course still valuable for navigation, these days, most boaters utilize chartplotters and other digital means to figure out the best way to get from Point A to Point B. Photo via Lenny Rudow.

Another option is to use NOAA online nautical charts at home on your computer. These digital charts are interactive and allow you to measure distances, see depths and contours, determine slow speed zones, and get GPS coordinates – all with a click of the mouse. You can also print them out, then take the paper copies to your boat.

Download The US Coast Guard Mobile App

The U.S. Coast Guard app will provide you with 24/7 access to the most necessary and commonly requested resources for recreational boating. You can identify boating safety laws, requirements, and resources available in your home state, as well as request a vessel safety check from the US Coast Guard Auxiliary. In addition, the app will help you determine what safety equipment you must carry by law and recommend additional safety measures based on your boat size and type. 

Okay: with all this planning, we’ll bet your trip is a smashing success. Gather your gear – and get ready to have some serious fun on the water.