For many boaters, an enjoyable facet of cruising is the planning process. The holidays are over. It’s the middle of winter, and the thought of a summer cruise tends to brighten those gray and damp Pacific Northwest days.

Planning a successful summer cruise can not only brighten the winter months, but it also takes the anxiety out of the summer cruise. Even experienced skippers can feel a little apprehensive when they venture into unknown waters. A management plan will identify and assess risks, note critical navigation aids, and create a list of needed materials, guidebooks and charts, which can really make a difference.

Here are ways to begin planning next summer’s cruise:

  • Attend boat shows
  • Mine the information highway
  • Review and purchase boating guidebooks
  • Review charts and plotting
  • Create a detailed float plan

Information is Knowledge

Once you decide the area you would like to visit or want to explore, begin gathering the information that will be useful for a safe and successful voyage, including tide and current data; navigation hazards, marinas, anchorages and parks along the route; and what each location has to offer.

Boat Shows

The boat shows in January and February are a great place to begin your data mining. Show exhibitors are a wealth of information. Marinas and parks departments often have booths, and they are happy to share. You’ll also find both U.S. Customs and Canada Border Services booths full of information. Boat Show University, at the Seattle Boat Show has instructional classes and destination oriented classes.

Mining the Information Highway

Armed with the collected information from the boat shows, the next step is to begin surfing the internet. Today, almost every seaside village, marina, and state, provincial and national parks have a website packed with information.

The Guides

Cruising guides are a great source of information. These publications are created by boaters for boaters and are filled with information and tips you won’t find on a website. The Waggoner Cruising Guide also runs annual seminars on cruising the Inside Passage, Desolation Sound, and the Broughtons.

A word of caution: Things do change over time, and if the guide has not been updated in the last year or two, there may be inaccuracies.

Begin Planning Next Summer’s Cruise

Chart Review and Plotting

Another step in the pre-cruise planning process is a review of the charts. A few of our favorite anchorages are not in a guide, but they looked promising on the chart. Some have been real gems and others not so good, but hey, nothing ventured nothing gained. A review of the charts will also reveal any hazards to avoid.

Once you have decided which marinas, parks, and anchorages you want to visit – and armed with the tide and current data and location of hazards – it’s time to plot your course and establish a float plan. Most boats have chart plotters, but nothing beats a good set of current charts onboard. We have lost the GPS signal a few times, and the paper charts have paid dividends.

Finally, the course is laid out, and it’s carefully examined for hazards, conspicuous objects, and critical navigation aids, noting them in the cruise plan. Chartplotters are useful for plotting routes and establishing both time and distance, which will also help when determining fuel and provisioning requirements.

Float Plans

After plotting the course, build a detailed float plan, which notes the distance between locations and total distance to travel. It also includes a comments section where information such as hazards, important navigation aids, what is available at the location and anything else that might be useful. The plan is then printed, and each page is placed in a glassine, for protection and filed in a one-inch three-ring binder. When completed package looks much like an airline pilot’s flight plan with all the information at your fingertips. Now the only thing left to do is execute the plan.