Safety Briefing Checklist for Skippers: First-Time Sailboat Passengers

Safety Briefing Checklist for Skippers: First-Time Sailboat Passengers

Some suggested topics to discuss as part of a Skipper's safety briefing, especially for a day-sail with first-time sailboat passengers. These suggestions are in addition to communicating to your passengers in-advance to prepare for a day sail

  1. General Safety Overview
  • Welcome and Introductions: Introduce yourself and crew, and outline the purpose and duration of the sail.
  • Emergency Contact: Explain how to call for help and show where emergency contact numbers are posted. VHF radio channel 16.
  • Roles: Skipper, First Mate, Navigator, Sail Trimmer, Lookout.
  • Instructions / Commands: If the Skipper needs to give instructions or interrupt a conversation to communicate something that's urgent, please don't get offended but sometimes things need to be done at a specific moment in time and in a timely manner.

  1. Life Jackets
  • Location: Show where life jackets are stored.
  • Usage: Demonstrate how to wear and secure a life jacket.
  • Requirement: Ensure everyone wears a life jacket or knows when it must be worn (e.g., during rough weather, docking).
  • Children: Emphasize that those 14 and under must wear a life jacket at all times.

  1. Emergency Equipment
  •  Fire Extinguishers: Locate and demonstrate usage.
  • Flares: Show where flares are stored and explain when and how to use them.
  • First Aid Kit: Identify the location and contents of the first aid kit.
  • Emergency Tiller: Provides a means by which your boat can be steered in the event of a wheel steering system failure. 

  1. Boat Orientation
  • Introduction to the Boat: Give a brief overview of the sailboat's layout, pointing out key areas such as the cockpit, bow (front), stern (back), and where to sit or stand safely. 
  • Deck Safety: Explain walking around the deck safely, avoiding standing on ropes or leaning on lifelines.
  • Seacocks and Bilge Pumps: Point out seacocks (valves for the sea inlets) and bilge pumps (manual and automatic) and explain their use.
  • Master Battery Switch: Show the master battery switch location and its importance for electrical safety.


  1. Emergency Procedures
  • Man Overboard: Demonstrate how to alert the crew, use a throwable flotation device, and actions to take. If you are the person in the water, stay calm. The PFD Cushion IV will be thrown to you. You might see the boat sail away from you, but it will have to circle around to maneuver back to you. Others on board, stay calm. At least one person needs to keep their eyes on the person in the water and pointing at their location, at all times.
  • Fire: Show how to handle different types of fires, especially around the galley and engine.

  1. Basic Boat Operations
  • Basic Sailing Terminology: Introduce essential sailing terms like "port" (left side of the boat facing forward), "starboard" (right side), "windward" (direction from which the wind is coming), "leeward" (opposite of windward), tack (turn with the wind crossing over the bow), and jibe (with the wind crossing over the stern). “Ready about” as a command to prepare for a Tack, crew response is “Ready”. “Ready to jibe” as a command to prepare for a Jibe, crew response is “Ready”
  • Winches and Lines: Describe the purpose of winches and lines, and caution against handling without gloves or training. The jibe sheet line becoming tangled around the winch (called an override) can be very dangerous. 
  • Reefing the Sails: Reefing a sail is a technique that reduces the size of a sail to help a sailing vessel maintain stability in strong winds.
  • Boat Hook: A boat hook is part of boating equipment. Its most common use is as a docking and undocking aid. It may be similar to a pike pole, however it commonly has a blunt tip, for pushing during undocking, with a hook for docking.
  • Stove and Fuel Shutoff: Identify the stove and its fuel shutoff valve, and explain how to operate it safely.
  • Heads (Toilets): Explain the operation of marine toilets, including the importance of using only marine-safe products.

  1. Engine Operation
  • Starting the Engine: Demonstrate how to start and stop the engine, and discuss the engine blower if gasoline-powered.
  • Neutral Gear & Throttle: Ensure everyone knows the gear lever should be in neutral before starting.

  1. Weather and Sea Conditions
  • Forecast: Share the weather forecast and discuss expected sea conditions.
  • Changes in Weather: Explain how sudden weather changes may require everyone’s cooperation.
  • Comfort and Seasickness: Offer tips on staying comfortable on the water and managing seasickness, like focusing on the horizon and staying hydrated.

  1. Passenger Roles and Responsibilities
  • Stay Seated: Advise passengers to stay seated while underway, especially during maneuvers.
  • Holding On: Encourage holding onto stable parts of the boat, not ropes or lines, when moving about.
  • Assigned Duties: Assign simple tasks if appropriate, like lookout duties or helping with lines under supervision. Such as: Skipper, First Mate, Navigator, Trimmer, Lookout.
  • Companion Way into the Cabin: Steps are a ladder, not a staircase. Use the steps facing towards the steps, same as when using a ladder.
  • Responsibilities on Board: Assign simple tasks to new sailors, such as keeping lookout, handling lines, or helping with sail adjustments under supervision.
  • Comfort and Seasickness: Offer tips on staying comfortable on the water and managing seasickness if applicable, like focusing on the horizon and staying hydrated. Stay in the cockpit, going below into the cabin can make the seasickness worse. Inform the Skipper or First Mate if you are feeling seasickness.

  1. Communication
  • Signals: Explain basic hand signals or verbal commands for emergency situations.
  • Radio: Show how to use the VHF radio and demonstrate a simple distress call.
  • Emergency Broadcasts: If there is a broadcast on the VHF radio from the US Coast Guard, a mayday call, a pan-pan call, or a securite call, ask passengers to pause their conversations to listen to the broadcast.

  1. Navigation Plan
  • Route: Discuss the planned route, potential hazards, and any restricted areas.

  1. Safety Rules
  • Movement: Remind everyone to move carefully around the boat, especially when underway, and to hold onto handrails when moving on deck.
  • Engine and Fuel: Explain how to operate the engine and where the fuel shut-off valve is located.
  • Waste Management: Explain how to properly dispose of trash and manage human waste according to regulations. Emphasize that only waste that was chewed should go down the toilet; other waste should go in the waste bag.

  1. Disembarking
  • Sail cover & sail ties: Remove the sail cover before leaving the dock. Leave the sail ties on the main sail until ready to hoist the sail with the main halyard.
  • Docking Safety: Explain the procedure for docking and disembarking, including not jumping onto the dock and stepping off carefully.
  • Hands and Fingers: Warn about keeping hands and fingers clear of moving parts and between the boat and dock.
  • Remain seated: If not assigned a role for disembarking or when returning to the dock, please remain seated.

  1. Contact Information
  • Float Plan: A float plan is a detailed itinerary that outlines your sailing route, destination, and expected return time
  • Emergency Services: Provide contact details for emergency services and any relevant marina or port authorities (e.g., US Coast Guard, San Diego Harbor police, Harbor Island Yacht Club).

  1. Final Reminders
  • Stay Calm: Stress the importance of staying calm in all situations and following crew instructions.
  • Questions: Invite any questions and encourage passengers to ask if they are unsure about anything.


Always ensure that everyone understands and can ask questions if needed before setting sail. Prioritize safety while making the experience enjoyable.

Are there other topics you include in your safety briefings? Add a comment.

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