Planning for Powerboat and Rib Trips


As a rib or powerboat skipper, you are responsible for the safety of your boat, your crew and other boats.

Therefore you should take into account all the following points when planning your powerboat or rib trip. This proper planning is so you have a safe passage, without encountering unexpected navigational or safety issues. The key bit of advice from Pennine Marine for powerboaters and ribsters is always our “6P” rule;

“Proper Planning Prevents Pathetically Poor Performance”.


A powerboat or rib skipper needs to make sure that they are fully familiar with all the navigational hazards they will encounter in the area during a powerboating trip.

Current and accurate charts – electronic or paper are needed - and preferably a current pilot book or almanac.

The skipper needs to plan the powerboats route taking into account and missing all known navigational hazards and obstructions. This should include underwater hazards and changes to depth caused by the tides.


Well before getting on board your rib or powerboat, the skipper needs to check the weather forecast, ideally both the local and national weather forecasts. 

Please make sure you can receive regular weather updates if you are planning to be out for any length of time - as weather forecasters have been known (just very occasionally) to change their minds at the last minute. Areas like Anglesey, the Irish Sea and the West Coast of Scotland - being on the more exposed “Atlantic” coast of the UK - can experience major changes in their weather conditions in the space of just a few short hours. The local forecast will tell you the current situation in the area. The regional or national weather forecast will give you a good idea of how and when the weather pattern will change in the near future and therefore what changes to anticipate in your local area.

Tides and Tidal Streams

Powerboat skippers need to check the tidal predictions – both the times of high and low water and tidal ranges – in the area and for the proposed trip date.The obvious issue is the depth of water. However the less obvious issue is the tidal currents and streams, acting either for or against you. Tides and currents greatly affect powerboat speeds, passenger comfort and in particular fuel consumption. All of these three issues can be a serious concern on longer powerboat and rib voyages. Please also consider winds and tides acting together – strong winds against strong tide are a remarkably unpleasant situation to be in when on board any boat. However wind against tide is especially unpleasant situation to be out in when you are on an open and exposed rib.
All in all, the powerboat or rib skipper needs to ensure that the tides and tidal streams will work for them, not against them.


This one issue is easily forgotten. However in these days of robust powerboats and ribs, reliable outboard engines and easy to use electronic navigation we often find that the first thing to go wrong on a long powerboating or rib trip is the soft biological component called the crew.

When planning a voyage, a powerboat or rib skipper must take into account the experience and physical ability of their crew. Powerboat crews suffering from cold, tiredness and seasickness won't be able to do their job properly and will become a burden on any skipper. Also good boating clothing can make a huge difference to the crew’s comfort and therefore their performance.

A good powerboat skipper considers the ability, experience and durability of their crew and plans a voyage and passage accordingly.

Contingency Plan (Your Plan B)

A powerboat or rib skipper should always have a contingency plan – even a simple one will often do. 

Well before you set out, the powerboat skipper must consider alternative safe harbours, anchorages and any other points where you can take refuge should weather conditions deteriorate, or if you suffer an incident, breakdown or even injury.

It is also very good practice to make sure you are not over reliant on your electronic plotter and so that - in the event of a complete electronics or electrical failure - you can navigate yourself to a place of safety without it.
This plan B should be put into effect should the original navigation and passage plan not be working - but before things get too bad and therefore before it all starts o go very seriously wrong.

A good powerboat skipper understands their limits and knows when it is time to implement - in good time - the alternative Plan B.

Information Left Ashore

Before leaving port, the powerboat or rib skipper should make sure that someone ashore knows your proposed plans. Please give them key information such as expected arrival destinations and times, together with contact details and numbers.

In remote areas, seriously consider signing up to the Coastguard Voluntary Safety Identification Scheme (commonly known as CG66), which is free and easy to join. The scheme aims to help the Coastguard to help you quickly should you get into trouble while on your powerboat or rib.

Assistance to Other Craft
A powerboat or rib skipper has three key obligations to other vessels and craft when out at sea;

  • Advise others of anything that is a navigation hazard, or is a collision risk
  • Respond to any distress signal that you see or hear
  • Help anyone, or any boat, in distress

Life-Saving Signals

Powerboats and ribs should have access to an illustrated table of the recognised life-saving signals, so that you can communicate with the search and rescue services or other boats if you get into trouble.  There is a good MCA leaflet - available at - or you can also find it in various nautical publications. If your powerboat or rib is not suitable for carrying a copy of the table on board (because it's small or very exposed), make sure you've studied the table before you go out boating. We recommend that larger ribs or powerboats should keep a copy on board.

Your rib or powerboat must carry the required lifesaving signals, such as flares, foghorns and radios.

It is illegal to misuse of any distress signals. All distress signals are critical to safety at sea and by misusing them you could put your or someone else's life at risk.

Navigation and Collision Avoidance

All skippers - on any vessel that proceeds to sea – are required to both safely navigate their vessel and to take all necessary collision avoidance measures.

These two longstanding and frankly common sense requirements are now legally required, having been made compulsory with the Merchant Shipping (Distress Signals & Prevention of Collisions) Regulations 1996. It is important that all powerboats and ribs at sea comply with the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea.
Please note that the latest collision avoidance and accident reporting regulations are part of Chapter V of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (Solas V).  The Solas V regulations apply to all powerboat and rib skippers - yes even the smallest privately owned powerboats and ribs. If you are involved in a boating accident and it is subsequently shown that you have not applied the basic principles of good navigation and collision avoidance, you could be prosecuted.

The powerboat or rib skipper should know the “rules of the road” and manoeuvre their powerboat or rib accordingly - and please manoeuvre in good time. This is both to avoid collisions situations and also to avoid causing a nuisance to other boats.

Navigation Lights

Navigation lights are not required in good daylight conditions. However when a powerboat or rib is operated at night and/or in poor daytime visibility conditions (i.e. in fog) they are required. Please consider that if you are running late your powerboat trip could easily extend into the early evening or night time.

The regulations for powerboats and ribs require is that at sea at night and/or in poor visibility your boat is correctly provided with and must display navigation lights. The lights and shapes required are defined by the rules and the lights must be consistent with the vessels' length, type and also the circumstances where it is used. Rib and powerboat skippers should ensure that the navigation lights on their rib or powerboat are of approved types and they are displayed in the correct position(s) on their powerboat or rib.

Our advice is that you should always check your navigation lights at the beginning of any voyage which may be at night, or in poor visibility such as fog.

Accident Reporting

At sea, all vessels over 13.7m in length and all commercial vessels must report accidents to the Marine Accident Investigation Branch MAIB of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency MCA. Powerboats and ribs less than 13.7m are not required to report accidents to the MCA, but good practice would dictate that all serious boating incidents are reported, especially if they result in injury or damage.


When planning a voyage, the powerboat or rib skipper should assess all the possible risks of navigation, weather, tides, equipment failure and other known (or possible) hazards in the area. The powerboat skipper should then consider whether the powerboat or rib, and the crew, and the equipment on board will be adequate for the proposed trip. Just before a voyage starts, the skipper should ensure that the weather has been checked (again), that all the necessary safety equipment on board and that it has been tested.  They should then brief the crew on their plans.