Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Saving Space On Your Boat

Article by William L. Gills aka Bos'n Bill

This past weekend my wife and I had the occasion to get out of the 6 o'clock blazing sun on our dock neighbor's 30 foot express cruiser by taking temporary refuge in their cabin.  Everything was impeccably kempt and orderly, comfortable and accommodating with small mounted flat screen TV, bright work brass matching barometer and clock, planked wood floors and wood grain appointments.  It was as inviting as the company, as comfortable as our living room at home, only it was on our neighbor's boat.

It's not the only boat on the dock that rivals this scenario, there are others and my wife felt betrayed by all the "stuff" we squeeze into a comparable space in the name of convenience and fulfilling the challenge of meeting any and every possible contingency.  I reminded her that we are "boat campers" and often spend several or more days "on the hook"; we're not day boaters very often, where most of one's creature needs can be met at the marina or a drive to a nearby store or eatery.  So, we're different in that way, we load up our boat and try as best we can to keep her shipshape, whatever that really means.

I am of the opinion there are two types of boaters, minimalists and immoderates.  In my mind a minimalist believes in carrying the bare minimum of what is necessary, whereas an immoderate believe just the opposite.  My wife and I happen to be of the immoderate variety. Some of my favorite neighbors are minimalists, but either way there are boating essentials required by law; you can't escape them lest you be found in contempt or downright foolish.  You know what they are: life jackets, throwable flotation device, fire extinguisher, visual distress signals, navigation lights, horn or whistle, registration papers and flame arrestor. 

Then, there are things I would never do without, "helpful boating gear":  the tool kit, marine radio, compass, GPS, anchors, mooring lines, sunscreen and water.  A first aid kit comes in handy for the occasional cuts, bruises, bug bites and slivers as does a portable bilge pump and a boat hook.  Water is essential for any boating trip and we always have high protein, non perishable snacks that might tide us over should there be a boating delay until we can get help when let's say, we can't get our engine started and we need a jump or a tow.

If you're a minimalist you needn't read any further, you've probably found a space on your boat for the essentials and "the helpful boating gear".  If you're not and you pack towels, swimming rafts, fishing gear, extra clothing, bedding, soft drinks and all those other basic fun and comfort essentials not enumerated here, like food and a cell phone you might want to read further unless you've got all this covered.

For us, the most utilized space for larger items is under the berth in the bedroom or forward cabin.  Here we can stow our extra cushions, bedding, towels, water and water toys.  Below the seat storage is an obvious choice for storage on any boat, but you can keep items organized and dry by storing them in plastic storage containers (like those made by Rubbermaid and Tupperware) where you can pack your spare batteries, repair and first aid kits. 

Don't forget below decks either.  If you have air conditioning, there's often enough space to accommodate cleaning and other boat maintenance supplies.  If you're a fisherman, not fishing and have a live well aboard you might consider using it as temporary storage.

Side pocket storage is a "no brainer" just remember to close the sliders if you have them so the cabin looks less cluttered.  Mentally designate each side pocket for an assigned function, e.g., kitchen supplies, food, toiletries, emergency, cleaning, personal or even miscellaneous for things like pens and pencils, puzzles and games.  I suggest if you chose not to do this you'll have a hard time finding those spare sunglasses you'll need when the ones you are wearing are sinking in 30 feet of water.

Other great space saving ideas include using plastic shower suction cups that are equipped with clips, racks and caddies to hold anything from soap, tooth paste and hand sanitizer to a clip to hang your cap or visor.  Small hammock cargo nets are also great for accommodating food, snacks and toys.

For clothes and linens keep in mind folding takes up more space than rolling.  You'll save more space than you might think possible rolling and the items will not be in any worse shape than if you had folded, I promise (that is, if you're a neat, not a  sloppy roller). Also consider getting a vacuum packer to remove air from vacuum pack bags to compress them and keep them dry. 

Instead of carrying soft drinks in cans or bottles, you can bring refillable water bottles and make iced tea, Gatorade or Tang from a powdered mix.  The same applies with some foods.  Buy dehydrated grains, vegetables, pastas, dried potatoes, etc.  It's a big space saver and comes in handy in a pinch.  Think dried fruit, granola bars, Wheat Thins, string cheese, tuna in a pouch rather than a can.

There are many ways to keep an orderly boat and I'm sure you've probably got some other ideas I haven't touched on here.  Space is at a premium on a boat, it just takes a little imagination and planning, a few tricks and accessories to find the best place and ways to keep it all.  We immoderates may have a lot of "stuff" and even though the minimalists may not get it, we can coexist in both camps, how much better is that?

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. You can visit his website here.


  1. Yeah, my wife want to bring everything, except the motivation to help dock the boat.

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  2. Who handles the lines when you're coming in to dock? You or your wife? Do you find yourself at the helm, the bow and stern all at the same time while your wife sits at the helm seat, sniggling watching the spectacle of you scrambling to secure lines while the boat pivots on the starboard piling needing a prodding shove from someone other than yourself? Just asking...

  3. There are really a lot of things to consider when you wanted to buy new accessories for your boat. Better be wise when you do so.
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  4. I hear you Cruisin Bently. My wife is OK with docking as long as I don't hit a piling coming in a tropical storm. She's a perfectionist, even when no one is looking on at our fine docking skills. She can't do it, but she expects me to outwit the elements no matter what. BTW, we're trying to go lighter on the cargo so we can sell the boat and move up...;) heh, heh.

  5. Space is an important thing to consider. A crowded boat will limit your capabilities, and added weight can have an effect on its mobility. Your space-saving tips will help your readers in knowing what they should do when their boats are overcrowded. And yes, bringing refillable water containers will help in minimizing your trash. :)


  6. There are many boat accessory items you can choose that will help to make your boating experience easier and more enjoyable. They can also increase the value of your boat.

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