Owning, living and traveling on a sailboat requires several essentials – the obvious one’s that come to mind are a working engine, tip-top rigging, good sails, a strong hull and crew that know what they’re doing.
Aside from the core basics, however, I have a list of my top 10 essentials for making life on a sailboat easier and more fulfilling
Is your list similar? Please add a comment at the bottom to highlight your top essentials!
UPDATE: I originally made this list in 2014 when we lived on our sailboat in the Mediterranean. Now that we’ve been in the Caribbean there’s a few items that we just don’t use like a hot water bottle and slippers. Hahahaha. For the most part, however, we still use everything else mentioned below.
For a full list of our recommended kit to have on a sailboat, visit our Kit Page.
Top 10 essentials for living on a sailboat
Living on a sailboat essential item #1: Dyson DC34 (powerful hand-held vacuum)
Before setting off on our around the world sailing adventure I assumed my cleaning schedule would be much more relaxed on our boat in comparison to the house we left. That being noted, I was wrong! Very wrong. Sand, salt, dust and crumbs seem to waft through the boat and sprinkle tiny messes everywhere every day.
Therefore, my number one ‘must-have’ is our Dyson handheld vacuum cleaner
I use it to vacuum up the layer of particles that settle on the shelves, over the seating area and the floor. Furthermore, the Dyson is very handy when cleaning up the crumbs that all through the floorboards into the bilge. Life would not be worth living without the Dyson.
Living on a sailboat essential item #2: Stove-top coffee maker
I’ve always been first to admit that I’m a coffee snob. Previous to becoming a live-aboard, I frequented a coffee shop every day requesting my usual ‘Large Flat Latte.’ ‘Flat’ means that there’s no foam – it’s essentially a shot or two of express with warm milk. Nothing prevented me from getting my daily fix of quality coffee – not even the flu as I’d have hubby go out and collect my latte for me.
When we moved onto the boat I knew that finding quality coffee was going to be an issue
Instant coffee was not an option. I contemplated getting one of those espresso machines but countertop and cupboard space is very limited. Fortunately for me, my cousin introduced me to the above styled coffee maker – It’s called a stovetop espresso maker. Read and watch my video: How to use a Stovetop Espresso Maker
As long as I can source quality coffee grounds, using this handy coffee maker produces excellent lattes. Every day I prepare the coffee maker and a pan of warm milk so to feed my latte addiction. Without this little contraption life would be incomplete.
Living on a sailboat essential item #3: Washing Machine
When we lived in England and had a sailboat on the south coast our longest trip would be around two weeks. We never concerned ourselves with laundry. I would just put all the dirty clothes into a bag and bring them home to wash. Now that we live aboard a boat full time, laundry is a serious issue. Even though we extend the normal wear time of our clothes as long as possible, dirty laundry piles up in an unexpectedly quick fashion.
Fortunate for us, we don’t have to fill backpacks and load up bags of stinky clothes to haul them to the closest laundry mat – sometimes miles away! If we did, it’s amazing how expensive it is – To do a couple weeks wash for us I would have to spend around €20 – €30 to wash and dry them. To have someone else do our laundry, you’re talking about €50 and up.
We have a washing machine that is discretely hidden inside a cupboard (see above). As I write this, we’re wintering on our boat in a marina in Sicily. By far, the most popular ‘wish list’ item within the marina community is a washing machine. Just yesterday I was listening to a couple that is installing a new washing machine on top of their bottom bunk bed.
What non-live-aboards might not recognize is that it’s not just clothes that have to be washed…
…everything in a boat gets dirty quickly. Sheets, duvets, blankets, pillow covers, towels, outdoor cushion covers and even curtains have to be washed on a regular basis.
Living on a sailboat essential item #4: Watermaker
If you’re going to have a washing machine you’ll also need a watermaker unless you’ll be near a fresh water supply. So, if you go from one marina to the next, this piece of kit isn’t necessary.
For us, however, the plan is to circumnavigate the world so a watermaker is essential
Not only does the watermaker allow us to top up our fresh water for the washing machine, but it also gives us the freedom to stay at anchor far longer than if we were without one. Rather than having to find a marina or a dock with a fresh water tap, we simply make water every time we’re motoring or whenever necessary. And having that self-sufficient feeling is great.
Living on a sailboat essential item #5: Ipad
We’re fortunate to have two Ipads as we use these devices for a multitude of reasons. Most importantly, it’s a backup to our navigation system. Especially when entering a harbor, we use an app called Navionics. My husband puts it above the steering wheel and has a very close view of our location and the surrounding area.
Additionally, I use the Ipad for reading – all my books from Kindle on are it
Furthermore, when I need inspiration on what to cook, I can search for recipes. Our Ipad is also chock full of educational apps to partially help with our daughters’ homeschooling. We have ABC’s, reading, math’s, science and all sorts of spectacular apps. It’s not our main mode of teaching but it sure is helpful. With an iPad and an Internet connection there’s nothing that can’t be researched. We have several movies to assist with entertainment during long passages.
Lastly, the iPad helps us to stay in touch with family and friends through Facebook and Skype
It’s definitely a sailboat essential item. Special note: Although I can run Kindle off my Ipad it’s only useful when I’m reading below decks. If I want to read in the cockpit my polarized sunglasses prevent me from seeing the screen so…I also have Kindle on board and love that too!
Living on a sailboat essential item #5: Hotwater Bottle
Depending on where you’re sailing, a hotwater bottle is an absolute must-have in cooler climates. Even in warm climates the temperatures at night can drop and during the winter evenings can get damp.
If you’ve never used a hot water bottle, it’s a rubber container that you can fill with boiling water
Over the rubber holder, there’s a cover that protects the bottle from getting too hot. Once the container is filled and covered you can use it to hold against your stomach during a night watch, put under your sheets/duvet before getting into bed or simply move it around your body to warm various bits up.
Often during the night time, I’ll start with my hot water bottle around my tummy and then push it down to my feet to make sure I’m nice and cozy. Nothing is worse than being cold and with a hot water bottle, you don’t ever have to suffer. The heat lasts for hours!
Having Checklists is Essential too – Make Sure You Have These!
Living on a sailboat essential item #6: Camera and Video Recorder
I’m a blogger so a camera and video recorder is absolutely essential…but that being noted, whether you write about your travels/experiences or not, it’s nice to have a physical record of your adventures.
Photo’s and video’s help to show friends and family of your adventures and they create a journey for you to look back upon to relive the experience. I use my iPhone and Nikon SLR camera as if they were a part of my body now – I’m never without one or the other.
Living on a sailboat essential item #7: Galley helpers
I’m going to bundle the following items into one essential item as they’re all equally important. I’d be lost without my blender/mixer, sandwich maker/grill and a bread maker.
All of these tools are used on a weekly if not daily basis
The mixer I have is a soup blender that also comes with small bladed slicer/chopper – contained in a attachable bowl. I use the blender on soups and juices and the blade is very handy with onions, celery, etc. Regarding the sandwich maker – we have a Foreman grill. It’s great because you can plug it in and make a grilled cheese sandwich or grill a chicken fillet without having to use the stove/oven. It’s fast, easy to clean up and you can store it in a cupboard.
Regarding the bread maker – this is mandatory if you’re sailing around the world
Once in the Pacific there will be weeks/months without seeing a store. Nothing is more spirit-lifting and comforting the smell and taste of fresh bread. With a bread maker, you simply add the ingredients and let the machine do the rest. I’ve also been told that a pressure cooker is also a ‘must-have’ but thus far I’ve only made a few things in ours. Pressure cookers cook food very quickly and preserve more nutrients so they’re a serious essential on a sailboat.
Living on a sailboat essential item #8: Slippers
During the summer or in hot climates you won’t be likely to use slippers but in areas like the Mediterranean, that cool down in the winter, slipper not only keep your feet warm but they also provide that nice homey feeling. We have a no shoes below decks policy so it’s nice to take off our footwear and then put some cozy non-slip slippers on to protect our feet from the cold floors. I purchased the above ‘bad boys’ at Carfour in Palma, Mallorca for €5 – bargain!
Living on a sailboat essential item #9: Portable DVD Player
We’re very fortunate as we have a TV and DVD player in our saloon. My husband and I rarely use it during the summer but when our daughter has friends over we’ll put on a Disney movie. And on the days when it rains, or during winter nights when it gets dark early, we’ll sit around in our pajamas and have a movie marathon. Days like this are very far and few between.
That being noted, however, we’ve used our portable DVD player far more often than the TV in the saloon
With the portable player, we can cuddle up in bed and watch a movie or take it up on the deck in the hammock. Or…my daughter spends hours laying on top of our main sail in our boom. She creates tree houses (boom houses) by pegging towels around the lazy lines. Once her house is made, she’ll watch a movie.
We have movies on the Ipad but there’s a limit to the amount you have
With the DVD’s we can play them on the portable or the normal player. That being said, we also have a few external hard drives with 1000’s of movies on them that we play over our laptop. Boaties are often very happy to share their movies with you so it’s not uncommon to see people dropping off hard drives to other boaties to get loaded up with movies or the latest popular TV series.
Living on a sailboat essential item #10: Fold up bicycle
My husband and I debated over getting bicycles for weeks.
The two issues we debated were whether or not we’d use them AND storage space
The fold up bicycles are space saving however they’re still very large! In most places, you can rent a bicycle so we felt that rental made more sense. Throughout the summer, while in the Mediterranean, we hired a bicycle to go for short sightseeing trips or to reduce the time it took to go to the grocery store.
Rental worked well as we didn’t feel the need for a bike that often
However, once we got to Marina di Ragusa, Sicily we started to see more of a value in having a bike. For the winter, we booked a spot in the marina to stay for 6 months. The Med is not a year-round sailing spot contrary to what many people might think. From October to April the weather can be very unsettled. All the tourist destinations shut up shop and you’ll only see a sailboat out on the water for a day sail.
That being noted, and after taking the 15 minute walk to the marina bathrooms, we started to seriously contemplate getting some bikes
When we found an opportunity for our daughter to go to an Italian pre-school (up a hill!), the decision was easy to make. Transportation was an obvious need. So, we hired a car, went to a sporting store called Decathalon and purchased two fold-up bicycles. We had the option of getting the lowest cost bike, having no gears for around €150 or the €280 option with gears and storage areas.
We went for the more expensive bikes
There are quite a few hills around us and I figured I’d need to use various gears. Our decision was a good one! Since getting our bikes over a month ago not one day has gone by without us using them. It was an excellent purchase and now I consider my bicycle an absolute essential.
What about you? What essentials do you have on your sailboat?
Please leave a comment below as I’m sure I’m missing some things and would love to add to my list 🙂
You might also be interested in readying: 12 Non-essentials for long passage sailing that make the journey easier, more comfortable and increase enjoyment
And head over to our recommended kit to have on a sailboat, visit our Kit Page.