Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Boat Camping Overnight - "On The Hook"

Article by William L. Gills aka Bos'n Bill

My wife and I are campers.  No, not in the traditional sense at a designated campsite in a tent or caravan, but in a boat on a body of water for a day or two or more.  Both are considered outdoor recreational activities, the only difference for us and so many others being the vehicle and the venue.

Just what is the allure about camping on a boat at an anchorage of your choice when there's always the uncertainty of stormy or unpleasant weather, or that your anchor might drag in a stiff breeze?  That some guy whose night vision has been compromised might ram your starboard quarters while you sleep or your starter or house battery might run dry with all those electrical appliances and safety lights drawing down the juice, your bilge failing as you take on water, you and your crew going down with the ship? 

These are often the musings of fictitious, overactive imaginations, for these things rarely if ever occur and they could prevent you from enjoying one of boating's most pleasurable experiences.  To be sure you have to be prepared for the worst case, carry the proper equipment, take the proper precautions, but once organized you should have the tools and wherewithal to handle just about anything out of the ordinary that comes your way. 

Personally, we like to camp because we're energized by the challenge of semi self sufficiency, the unpredictability of the elements and the freedom to chose the day's activities on a whim, unfettered by the conventions and demands of daily life on terra firma.  "On the hook" one has a myriad of choices and options.  You can wake up with the sun or sleep in, fish, swim, relax, read, feed the birds, explore, BBQ as you watch the sun set and gaze at the stars and moon emerging in the immense black dome in the heavens so often obscured by trees or other building structures on land.  Best of all, there are no time constraints unless you decide you want to impose them.  You can leave the watch and clock at home.

In our earlier days as trailer boaters we were often troubled at having to return to the launch ramp before sunset so we could beat it back home to have supper at a decent hour. This was after securing the boat to the trailer, taking the hour or so long drive home,  washing down the boat, flushing the outboard and putting away all the gear we had packed for the day.  We felt we were missing out on a major part of the boating experience. Instead of relaxing we were harried. 

Things are a bit easier now that we're in a slip and most everything we need in the way of basic household/boat accommodations, staples and entertainment are left on the boat. We're prepared for anything and everything.   Having the comforts of home at the marina including shore power, hot showers and a protected cove is great, but there's something missing; the sense of adventure, freedom and the challenge of the unknown.

Perhaps you have a same yen for adventure and self reliance.  If so, I have a few ideas to share with the uninitiated, those who have thought about camping but have never tried it.  I've outlined below are a few things you might consider in your camping plan before setting out.  Don't be discouraged by the length of the list, you won't need all these things. 

What To Bring
Food and beverage is a given, the only limitation being the size of the cooler(s) you bring, the size of your fridge and how much storage space you have.  If you'll be grilling you'll need plates, napkins and utensils, butter or margarine, salt, pepper and other seasonings, a BBQ grill (propane recommended) or a butane stove, fuel and a torch lighter, spatula and tongs. Don't forget a sponge/rag, paper towels and garbage bags (plastic grocery bags will do) because you'll be cleaning up afterwards.  Consider keeping  the grilling simple with hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken. 

Other food staples might include eggs, bread, buns, crackers, nuts, fruit, salad ingredients, mini cereals, cheese, mayo, ketchup, relish, canned tuna, peanut butter, coffee, tea and juice.

Water is the most important beverage.  We find that if you freeze bottled water it'll stay cool much longer and can serve the dual purpose of keeping the cooler on ice (your should store enough ice for a couple of days).  The other beverages are a matter of choice, but count on having at least 7-8 bottles of water per person per day.

On person essentials are sunglasses, brimmed hat and long sleeve and long pants for cool evening weather and mosquitoes, sweater, sweatshirt or windbreaker and swimwear if you're going in the water.  Don't forget the sunscreen and towels.

For entertainment consider music, games, cards, books, magazines, fishing gear, rafts and inflatable toys.

Simple bedding like comforters, sleeping bags work well for sleeping and don't forget your favorite pillow.

Before You Shove Off
Outside of the importance of communications (VHF radio, cell phone), navigation (nautical charts showing your course and chosen anchorage, GPS/Chart plotter), safety (PFD's, flairs, fire extinguishers, sound producing devices, working navigation lights, first aid kit) and proper anchor and weight for the size of your craft, there are a few things you should do before shoving off to ensure a safe and relaxing camping trip.

1.  Test that all your electronics (GPS, chart plotter,VHF) and running lights to be sure they are in good working order.

2.  Check the latest weather forecast in your area using, the NOAA broadcast on your VHF, TV marine forecast or smart phone weather apps.  Pay particular attention to wind and wave conditions, weather fronts, short and long term forecasts.

3.  Check the tidal information at the anchorage where you'll be anchoring.

4.  Check the bilge for leaks and that the bilge pumps are clear of debris and functioning properly.

5.  Leave a boat plan with a relative or friend or your local marina.

"On The Hook"
1.  When you arrive at your destination be sure you're not in swing distance of any of the other boats in the vicinity taking into account possible changes in wind direction.  After dropping anchor, slowly back off on the line to be sure it's set.  You'll feel it grab and you'll begin to swing on its set point.  After the anchor line is secure on the bow, you can shut down the engine(s).  A 7 to 1 ratio of anchor line to water depth is a safe bet in relative calm conditions.

2.  Be sure your coolers and fridge lids and doors are secure.  Electricity is at a premium on the hook.  To keep well charged when you have no shore power and you have been running down your battery stores use a generator to power up your battery(s) or run your engine for 20 minutes to half an hour each morning to restore battery capacities.

3.  If you're in a populated anchorage it's a good idea to put a colorful marker, like a small buoy on your anchor line so other boaters can see it and won't foul your anchor line.  Display a white anchor light all night long.  There are some aftermarket low-voltage lights that you can plug into your 12 volt outlet that draws very little current.

Camping on the water is much like camping on land and like preparing for any vacation or time away from home, unless your going on an all inclusive holiday, it takes thoughtful planning and preparation.  It's not as burdensome as it might seem though and it's the key to an enjoyable foray into independent living, on your terms, "on the hook".  Nothing beats hearing the calming sound of waves gently lapping against the hull, watching the sunrise, sunset, feeling the cooling effect of water or a soft breeze on a hot day.  Try it just once, it won't be the last time you leave the ramp or dock for a night or two or more. I guarantee it.

Here are some good reasons to overnight on a boat.  Thank you Michele & Arden aboard Cinnamon Girl for this spectacular video.

William L. Gills aka Bos'n Bill, webmaster of this site, is the author of the book Lubber's log, published by Llumina Press; a boating journal and adventure story of the author's first time experiences in the preparation, maintenance and piloting of a new, unfamiliar boat. 


  1. Camping on boat is really enjoyable moment. Hopefully these will be best moment of your life.

  2. So you dont have deep pockets for boat camping well heres an affordable way to get started. On your list will be a pontoon boat with a small motor these boats are easy to push,u will not need a gas hog.if u are going overnight take a potty. We pitch our tent on the bow for night & take it up mornings.these boats are virtually unsinkable & they are light weight.we use ours several times a year and really enjoy it.happy camping.