This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

Perhaps not everyone knows that there is an almost direct relationship between an aircraft take-off and coronary bypass surgery. A relationship that has become evident when the World Health Organization’s Patient Safety Programme has developed an initiative to improve surgery safety worldwide.

The airline industry has more than 70 years’ experience in using and developing checklists. The authors of WHO Surgical Safety Checklist have drawn on the experience of the aviation sector to create a safety tool able to support essential clinical practice.

So, WHO has benefited from the wealth of experience of the aviation sector with the aim of creating a tool able to support clinical practice without trying to replace a professional opinion with a rigid algorithm.

As you can imagine, we, as sailors, care about all this. Checks and conditions sailors may face in pleasure boating are surely less demanding than those of commercial airlines, yet it is worth knowing the genesis of a checklist and, why not, thinking about how it prevents and remedy errors in real time.

But what is a checklist? Basically, it is a formal list used to identify, plan, compare or check a group of items used as a visual or audio aid meant to overcome the limitations of short-term human memory.

Checklists are explicitly designed to promote adherence to basic standards through a procedure known as “error trapping”. Airline industry has been aware for a long time that as humans make errors, checklists allow to single them out and remedy them to prevent damage arising.

In the aviation sector checklists consist of a set of brief items – usually not longer than a page – written in a clear and professional language using a legible font and upper and lower case characters. Limited use of colours, matt lamination film to reduce reflective glare. But, above all, the items of the list shall refer to actions that can be corrected or modified to ensure safety.

Checklists used during flights are planned based on operational work flow charts, e.g. before take-off or landing, when the flight crew can confirm the critical steps have been completed while possible detected errors may still be remedied.

These are, in short, the internationally recognized air sector guidelines. And in my opinion this is something worth thinking about also for us as sailors.

Unfortunately, our sector is not at the cutting edge as for checklists. As there is still a great number of sailors who consider pre-departure checks as just bureaucratic obligations and a waste of time. Checks are too often carried out superficially and may have disastrous consequences.

Suggestions and publications are available on the web, most of them, however, focus on pre-departure checks and usually overlook checks to be performed during sailing, unmooring, leaving a port, navigation at night or day time, anchoring and staying anchored in port, entering into port and mooring.

These few lines do not have the ambition to bridge the gaps but only to offer some hints to those who – in future – will embark in drawing up a more complete list. So, let’s see in detail the checks that have to be carried out when staying in port, before setting sail and during navigation.


Anchor: make sure both winch and gypsy work properly, metres of chain and/or rope (check if they are marked every 10 metres) and their fastening on board, spare anchor and chain/rope. Check and test direct actuator and cockpit actuator, if present.

Sails: general check for wear and cuts, inspection of old repairs, battens, hoops and metal work. Check winding systems and make sure they work correctly.

Mast and boom: check their integrity as well as mast step/deck seal (through-shaft). Check condition and tension of shrouds and stays.

Lights: verify proper functioning of navigation lights, boating lights, masthead and deck light.

Sheets: check length, wear condition, presence of spare sheets.

Winch:  check proper working and rotation setting ability, greasing. Make sure at least 2 handholds are on board.

Rudder: operation test, check rudder ropes, cables and worm steering gears, check position and test spare tiller (rudder stock pin position).

Self-inflatable raft: seats available, general inspection, reading of instructions and sharing information with the crew.

Navigation instruments and electronics: fuel level gauge, echo sounder, log, wind station, GPS and mapping plotter, fixed and portable VHF. Share information with the crew about operation (use and available channels). Battery charge indicator, compass.

Mooring lines: Verify how many mooring lines are on board, their type and length.

Fenders: check number and conditions.

Wiring: check position, test adapters.

Single-lever: check condition and easy gear engagement and accelerator; check of idle throttle insertion, tie rods and couplings.

Start and stop: check start/stop sequence, control of the devices.


Ship’s and personal papers: check all required documents, master’s sailing licence, charts available on board and any other document compulsory in the area concerned.

Lifejackets: make sure you know where they are stored, check condition and number of lifejackets on board. Share information with the crew about how to use a lifejacket.

Fire extinguishers: make sure you know their location. Check condition and number of fire extinguishers on board. Verify type and use and share instructions with the crew.

Signalling devices: make sure you know where they are stored. Check condition, number, expiring date and instructions of signalling devices on board.

Charting and landfalling: compass, divider, squaring arms. Chart of the navigation area concerned and neighbouring areas, pilot’s book, list of lighthouses.

First aid kit case: check what the kit contains, expiring dates and instructions for use, if any.

Toolbox: check the content of the toolbox and spare items, if any (electrical tape, grey-tape, straps, shackles of various sizes, materials to repair sails and tenders, leak-stop wooden chocks, spare bulbs, belts for alternator and water pump, water pump impeller, oil and fuel oil filters, engine oil and heat exchanger coolant).

Engine: visual check of engine condition and operation. Check records of carried out maintenance. Check oil level, battery condition, alternator correct operation, water pump and cooling circuit, belt tensioning. Clean air filter.

Water system: check proper working of clean waste waters, fresh water pump and cooling circuit. Test WC and gate valves.

Bilge: general check to identify the origin of water inside the bilge, if any. Check electric bilge pump.

Bulb: chck bulb studs.

GPS: compare GPS data with nautical charts detailed information.

Tender: check general condition.


Rigging: check tension of rigging and stays. Check running rigging, deck fitting, sails and winding systems.

Navigation instruments: GPS data and position, VHF transmission and reception, autopilot.

Engine: periodic check of oil level. Make sure impeller works properly. Smoke control. Check fuel consumption. Check bilge is dry.

Batteries and utilities power consumption: check utilities power consumption. Test alternator with voltmeter for proper working. Check lithium batteries. Check batteries recharge phases.

In addition to all what mentioned above, a briefing before leaving should be planned. Moreover, the crew shall be constantly updated on navigation information and weather conditions, on the role of each crew member in case of emergency as well as on any element considered relevant to safe sailing.

As you can see, this is a huge theme and – in my opinion –  an opportunity to develop guidelines and publications aiming at improving the quality standards of our pleasure boating.

We will talk about that again. In the meanwhile,

Fair wind to everybody, see you at sea.

Renzo Crovo