Why You Need a Float Plan

Ian Fortey by Ian Fortey Updated on July 25, 2021. In Boats

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When making plans to head out on a boat we often put a lot of effort into thinking what’s going to come with us. The important things that you need to have on your boat. You need to make sure the radio works. Also that you’ve got extra fuel, you have life jackets, all your fishing gear, that sort of thing. But what about what stays behind? You need a float plan.

What is the most important things you should do before heading out on a boat is create a float plan. This is what’s going to stay behind with a family member or friends in case of an emergency. A float plan details all the important information that anyone is going to need to know about you. This includes details about your boat and where you are headed should an emergency pop up.

So what kind of emergency would require someone at home to have a float plan? Any experienced boater can tell you that you need to expect the unexpected. Suppose your battery dies while you’re out on the water. Maybe your motor suffered some kind of mechanical failure. All your electronics are out and you’ve got no way to head back to shore.

It’s possible that you could run aground on a coral reef and start taking on water. Or a bad storm could pick up and cause serious damage that leaves you stranded. It doesn’t matter exactly what the nature of the emergency is. You need to file a float plan in case one does happen.

What you need to include in a float plan

Before you head out, leave the float plan with your closest contact person. The person who is most likely to notice if you don’t return when you plan on it. They’ll be able to give this information to the US Coast Guard. That will help them figure out what happened to you if you end up in an emergency situation.

Personal Info:

  • Name of boat owner
  • Phone number
  • Address
  • Names of additional people on the boat
  • Contact info for additional people on board
  • Medical info or concerns for anyone on board

Vessel Info: Float plans should always include a detail description of the boat so authorities or search and rescue teams can identify it.

  • Boat name
  • Registration number
  • Type of vessel
  • Make a vessel
  • Length of vessel
  • Color of vessel
  • Trim color
  • Engine type
    • Outboard
    • Outboard Gas
    • I/O
    • Inboard
    • Single screw
    • Twin screw gas
    • Diesel
  • Fuel supply in days
  • Food supply in days
  • Water supply in days
  • Type of radio on board
  • Radio frequencies monitored
  • Safety equipment on board
    • Flares
    • Smoke signals
    • Life jackets
    • Emergency first aid kits
    • Emergency position-indicating radiobeacon or EPIRB
    • GPS
    • Paddles
    • Anchor

Excursion Info:

  • Purpose of trip
    • Fishing
    • Sightseeing
    • Pleasure Cruise
    • Other
  • Time of departure
  • Place of departure
  • Expected time of return
  • Expected place of return
  • Destination
  • Route

Why File a Float Plan?

As you can see, a float plan contains an extensive amount of information. The boat information will likely remain the same every time so that’s easy enough to fill out. But you should update this adequately before every trip. Authorities need an up to date description in float plans. Consider it another aspect of boating safety.

Even with modern technology at our disposal, every year boaters go missing. In Florida alone, two boaters per year vanish without a trace. In 2019 the Coast Guard responded to over 4,000 boating accidents in over 600 boater deaths.

A thorough and proper float plan can help minimize the loss of boaters on the water. Consider this example.

You head out on the water and tell your family that you’re going out fishing. Nothing else is explained. You plan to come home around 5. Instead, you suffer a massive electronics failure. Everything on your boat stops working.

You can’t get a radio signal, your engine won’t start, your cell phone isn’t getting any bars. You are stranded in the middle of nowhere. Five o’clock comes and goes and you’re floating hoping that someone is going to come by your field of vision soon.

Around nightfall your family realizes something is very wrong. They call the Coast Guard to report that you’re missing. The Coast Guard starts asking important questions so they’re going to need to know about how to find you.

They’ll ask about your name and the boat and your family can answer those questions easily. Then they’ll ask where you were going. What marina you left from. What route you were going to take. And none of those questions can be answered without a float plan.

The ocean is a big place. People need to know where you launched the boat from. Also where you planned to go. Otherwise their search window has to expand dramatically. That’s going to add more manpower and more hours to try to figure out where you are. The less information they have about you, the harder they are going to have to work to track you down.

Imagine if it was you stuck at home and one of your loved ones disappeared. Wouldn’t you like to know exactly where they had been last ? Where they were going ? And the time that they were doing everything? Think of it that way and make sure you leave a concise and detailed float plan before you head out. Search and rescue boats need this.


Sample Float Plan


Name of vessel’s operator:
Telephone Number:
Name of Vessel:
Registration No.:
Description of Vessel:

Color of Hull:
Color of Trim:

Most distinguishing identifiable feature:

Rafts/Dinghies: Number:________ Size:_______ Color:_______
Radio: Type: __________________ Frequencies Monitored: _______________
Number of persons onboard:
Name: Age: Address & Telephone:
Note: List additional passengers on back.
Engine Type:___________ H.P.:_______ Normal Fuel Supply (days):_______
Survival equipment on board: (check as appropriate)


Life Jackets Flares Smoke Signals
Medical Kit EPIRB Paddles
Anchor Loran/Gps _________________


Food for ________ days – Water for ________ days
Date & Time of Departure:
Departure From:
Departure To:
Expected to arrive by:____________ In no case later than:_____________
Additional information:


The Bottom Line

The US Coast Guard has a website setup with a handy template form you can download. You can fill it out if you don’t want to write up your own float plan. Consider it part of your safety equipment to ensure that your trip goes off without a hitch.

Remember to routinely check out your safety equipment to make sure it’s up to snuff. Things like flares have a limited lifespan, so make sure they haven’t expired and replace them when you need to. Keep yourself safe and you’ll be enjoying your boat for years to come.

About Ian

My grandfather first took me fishing when I was too young to actually hold up a rod on my own. As an avid camper, hiker, and nature enthusiast I'm always looking for a new adventure.

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