Whenever you go boating, it’s a good idea to let people know where you are going and when you expect to return. Accidents do happen on the water. Whether on an inland lake, or a blue water passage.

What to Include in a Float Plan

A float plan is a written summary of your boating itinerary that is given to a responsible party who is not going with you. Usually a family member or a close friend. Maybe a staff person at your marina. If your time on the water is less than a day, just telling someone you trust where you will be boating, and your expected return time may suffice. For overnight and longer outings, a written float plan is preferable.

A float plan is not required by the U.S. Guard, but is highly recommended. Do not file your float plan with the Coast Guard. That is not their job.

Below are listed some of the items you should provide  in your Float Plan to make sure your vessel can be found and everyone is accounted for in the  event of a boating  emergency. Note that there is no standard form for a float plan, but identifying information should be provided so the Marine Police or Coast Guard will be better prepared to respond in the event of a boating emergency.

  • Name of the vessel, type, size, registration or documentation number
  • Boat color
  • Body of water on which you’ll be boating
  • Departure day, date and time. Expected day, date and time of return
  • Departing from location and returning to location
  • Name of passengers on board, or crew list
  • Safety gear on the boat
  • Communication gear on board
  • Navigation and electronics on board
  • Emergency contact info for each person on board
  • Passenger/Crew medical issues that may need to be addressed

Sounds like a lot of detail to provide. But even a family Jet Ski adventure can go wrong. Forty miles an hour and a submerged log or shoal can change someone’s life in an instant. Knowing their general location ahead of time can be the difference between life, death, or a disability for life.

With new technology comes enhanced safety and communication. Particularly when making an extended open water passage. In addition to personal EPIRB’s and other USCG approved emergency personal and vessel locators, Spot, LLC, offers their “Spot Tracker” line of personal locators. From their site: “Spot Tracker offers peace of mind by allowing you to notify friends and family of your GPS position and status, mark waypoints, track your progress on Google Maps or notify rescue officials in a critical emergency.”

Again, Spot Tracker is not a replacement for USCG personal beacons, but a reasonably priced addition to let people know where you are.

A detailed USCG-recommended template for a float plan can be downloaded on this website.

Float plans can be as simple as telling your spouse that you are going fishing on Lake Norman with your kids, and you will be back around 4pm. Or, they can be much more detailed for a blue water passage from, say, Norfolk, Virginia to Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Either way, a float plan that tells your family and close friends where you are, where you’re going and when you will return is the best insurance against being that “other guy.”