Beginner’s Guide to Passage Plans

Hannah Cotterell, from savvy navvy, explains how to create a passage plan using a nautical chart.

Before looking at the step-by-step guide to aid you in creating a passage plan, let’s begin by gaining a better understanding of what a passage plan is, why it is important and what you should consider.

Passage planning is the process of creating a safe voyage from one location to another. It is an important aspect of navigation that is essential for the safety and enjoyment of the crew, passengers and the vessel itself. The aim of passage planning is to determine the best route to take, taking into account various factors such as weather, sea conditions, traffic and other navigational hazards.

Safety – A proper passage plan helps ensure the safety of your vessel, crew and passengers. If done correctly the plan will take into account potential hazards and outline strategies to mitigate those risks.

Efficiency – Reducing costs and saving time. A passage plan helps to optimise your voyage by identifying the most efficient route, taking into account factors such as fuel consumption, navigational hazards and weather conditions. By minimising the distance travelled and optimising the vessel’s speed, passage planning can help to reduce costs and save time.

Regulation compliance – A well thought out passage plan is required by international and national regulations, such as the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), which mandates that vessels must have a plan for every voyage. Compliance with these regulations helps to ensure that the vessel and crew are operating in accordance with established standards and guidelines.

Ensuring you are prepared for an emergency – Your plan should include contingency plans for potential emergencies, such as equipment failure, medical emergencies or adverse weather conditions. By anticipating these scenarios and developing appropriate response plans, the crew can be better prepared to respond to unexpected situations.

The marine weather forecast is vitally important to consider when planning a passage at sea as it can greatly affect the safety and efficiency of a voyage. Wind, waves, current and visibility can all impact a vessel’s speed, stability and manoeuvrability, as well as the comfort and safety of its crew and passengers.

Before setting out on a passage, mariners should consult the latest weather forecasts and weather routing services to determine the expected conditions along their route. They should also be aware of any potential hazards, such as storms, heavy seas or areas of reduced visibility, and plan their route accordingly to avoid these dangers.

As a secondary check, you can also use apps like savvy navvy’s ECMWF Mix weather forecast to cross-check predicted weather forecasts (

These are critical components to consider when creating your passage plan as you always need to factor in contingency operations should something not go to plan. Here are some factors to consider:

1. Identify potential hazards and risks along your planned route, including weather conditions, navigational hazards and other potential dangers.
2. Develop a safety checklist that includes items such as lifejackets, emergency flares and first aid supplies.
3. Ensure that your vessel is equipped with appropriate safety equipment, such as liferafts, lifebuoys and firefighting equipment.
4. Develop an emergency response plan that outlines procedures for responding to various types of emergencies, such as fire, flooding or a man overboard situation.
5. Ensure that all crew members are trained and familiar with the emergency response plan and know their roles and responsibilities in an emergency situation.
6. Monitor weather and sea conditions during your voyage and adjust your route or speed as necessary to avoid hazardous conditions.
7. Establish communication procedures with shore-based authorities and other vessels in the area, and ensure that you have appropriate means of communication, such as VHF radio or satellite phone.
8. Plan for contingencies such as equipment failure or medical emergencies, and ensure that you have appropriate supplies and procedures in place to respond to these situations.
9. Maintain a clear and up-to-date log of your vessel’s position, course, speed and other relevant information.


1. Review the nautical chart
Study the chart to understand the details of the waterways, including depths, hazards, tides/currents and navigational aids. Look for the intended route and consider any alternatives in case of changes in weather or other factors that may require you to have a backup plan.

2. Determine the vessel’s speed and course
Calculate the estimated time of arrival and the best course to follow. Determine the vessel’s speed and consider the effect of tides and currents on the ETA and course. If you plot your route in the savvy navvy boating app you will generate an automatic ETA which you can share with family and friends. In addition, you can use the departure schedule feature to see the effect on your ETA depending on the time you slip lines.

3. Identify potential hazards
Look for any potential hazards along the route, including shallow water, reefs, rocks, wrecks, ferry chains and any other obstacles. Mark these on the chart so you remember to be wary of them.

4. Plan the passage
Plan the passage using waypoints and determine the distances between each waypoint. Calculate the bearings and distances between the vessel’s current position and the next waypoint.

5. Mark the passage plan on the chart
Outline your intended passage on the nautical chart using a pencil or waterproof pen. Include the vessel’s speed, heading, ETA and any other important information.

6. Review and revise the plan
Review the plan and make any necessary revisions before setting sail. Consider any weather, tide or other factors that may impact your intended route.

7. Communicate your plans 
Ensure someone on shore, the crew and any relevant authorities are aware of your intended trip. Ensure everyone onboard understands the plan, any backup plans and their roles in executing it.

Hannah Cotterell using the savvy navvy app


This involves reviewing and refining your plan to ensure that it is safe, efficient and comprehensive. Here are some useful steps to follow:

1. Review your plan to ensure that it addresses all of the key elements, including route selection, waypoint planning, safety considerations and emergency procedures.
2. Confirm that you have all of the necessary charts, pilot books and other navigational aids you will need.
3. Check weather forecasts and routing services to ensure that you have up-to-date information about sea conditions, currents and weather patterns along your planned route.
4. Update your log or chartplotter with the coordinates of your waypoints, as well as other relevant information such as safe water depths and areas to avoid.
5. Check that your vessel is properly equipped and that all safety equipment is in good working order.
6. Review your emergency response plan with your crew to ensure that everyone is familiar with their roles and responsibilities in an emergency situation.
7. Conduct a safety briefing with your crew to review safety procedures and to ensure that everyone is aware of potential hazards and risks.
8. Set a departure time based on weather and sea conditions and ensure that all crew members are aware of the plan and are prepared for the voyage.
9. Continuously monitor your vessel’s position, speed and course along your planned route, and make adjustments as necessary to ensure a safe and efficient passage.

Creating a passage plan using a nautical chart is essential for safe navigation at sea. It is a critical aspect of navigation that requires careful consideration of a wide range of factors. A well-developed passage plan can help to ensure a safe, efficient and cost-effective voyage, while also minimising the risks to the vessel and crew.

savvy navvy is a boating app that brings all essential marine information together in one place. It features global charts, wind and weather forecasts, tidal graphs, GPS Tracking, automatic weather routing and marina and anchorage information.

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