Outfit Your Cruising Boat: Life Aboard

If you’re a commuter cruiser, you are not camping, this boat is your home and most cruisers that we know that are happy cruising have “homes” not “campsites”.  I know there’s so much to think about, but don’t shortchange outfitting for your lifestyle.  If you like something at home, you’ll likely like it aboard, so put some effort into making your boat your home!  You’ll be glad you did! 

  1. Sleeping Quarters. Don’t skimp here – if you outfit the boat for a camping adventure, chances are one of you will not enjoy living aboard for long.  We bought a custom Handcraft Mattress mattress and have never regretted spending the money.  We sleep just as well – or better – in our small space on the boat as we do on our king size thermarest at home!  Be sure to have fans and adequate ventilation as well.
  2. Shadetree awning providing shade at the Dry Tortugas, FL

    Shadetree awning providing shade at the Dry Tortugas, FL

    Ventilation. Open hatches, wind scoops, dorades, multiple fans below, exhaust fan over the stove, ventilation is a key component of a happy cruising boat.  Make sure you examine yours and make it liveable.   One key to ventilation is to make sure you’ll still have some when it’s pouring down rain.  Do you have a hatch that can remain open in the rain?  Also, check your portholes – ours open and provide nice ventilation, but if there’s any dew accumulation or worse, rain, we have to shut them tight or they drip water inside.  Not pleasant when it’s on your head in the middle of the night!  If your portholes tend to pool water in the lower corners, consider some type of porthole awning or anything to keep the water from accumulating and running inside.

  3. Shade/Weather Protection. Our cockpit is our family room, dining room, shower room and our back porch.  It’s important to have adequate shade and weather protection.  We have a full enclosure with roll down isenglass windows and this time we added shade screens instead of bug screens.  The shade screens aren’t perfect, but they do provide a bit more privacy when showering and the mesh seems to keep the bugs at bay – not noseeems, there’s virtually nothing you can do about noseeems unless you use screen so dense that even air can’t penetrate it!   We also have a zip out connector link between our dodger and bimini so we can have unobstructed views from the helm while underway.   We enjoy our Shadetree shade awnings whenever we’re anchored in one spot long enough to bother to put them up!  When we’re in a marina we usually have the Shadetrees up and our little $80 Maytag room air conditioner on our main hatch.

    SSB Radio, Icom M802, a critical safety precaution aboard

    SSB Radio, Icom M802, a critical safety precaution aboard

  4. Communications, SSB, SailMail/Winlink or Other E-Mail, VHF, AIS, Satellite Phone, Cell Phone.  I love unplugging from the dock and not hearing all the jibber jabber U.S. news every day – it’s mostly depressing!  But we do like to be able to stay in touch with family and check on elderly parents.  We have an Icom M802 SSB radio connected to a Pactor III modem for Sailmail and Winlink e-mail.  The Icom 602 VHF gives us “party line calling”.  We have no AIS just because it wasn’t available when we were outfitting the boat and last winter’s mini-refit had unexpected issues arise – like a new refrigeration compressor that weren’t in the budget, so when we leave this winter, we still won’t have AIS.  A satellite phone can be insurance in case you need to get in touch quickly – we have an Iridium phone that we recently decided not to pay the expensive rates to keep a “plan” on and now we’ll just pay the high rates if and when we need to use the phone.  A local cell phone completes our communications array.  We find that it’s usually SO much less expensive to get a local cell phone when we arrive at our winter’s cruising destination/area and buy prepaid cards during triplica or quadruplica days.  We’ve been able to get our costs per minute averaging anywhere from 10 cents to 25 cents a minute to call back to the U.S. — a lot cheaper and MUCH better quality than the satellite phone.
  5. Showering/hot water/pressure water.  We use our Duckworks pressure solar shower in the cockpit because we deliberately decided not to use our separate shower below.  We like keeping as much water and humidity out of below as possible.  The downside to the Duckworks shower is if there’s no sun, or if it’s chilly, it’s really a PITA taking a shower in the cockpit.   If the water hasn’t heated during the day, I’ll often add a panful of boiling water to the water just before showering – test the water temp first to make sure it’s not too hot once you combine the boiling water with the water already in the shower.  We have a hot water heater, but it’s been fried for 2 years and doesn’t make hot water.  But the only place it worked was attached to the dock and while we’re in a marina, we always use the marina showers.  So no hot water aboard Winterlude.  How do we do the dishes?  In cold water with Joy – I’ve never had a pan or dish I couldn’t get clean in cold water with Joy.  And in the unlikely event I did need hot water, I’d boil a pan of water on the stove and combine it with more water in the sink for warm water.  We do have pressure water, but I mostly use my foot pumps – I got into the habit when we were anchored out all the time and just haven’t ever changed back.
  6. Fine Dining.  Where are you going to eat meals?  We eat almost all our meals in the cockpit.  But the cockpit table wasn’t big enough for cocktails, much less dinner.   We had a carpenter remake our cockpit table with two fold out wings.  It’s still small, but it works perfectly for the two of us for dinner and four people for cocktails/snacks.
  7. The Head — are you happy with your head?  If it’s a problem now, replace it because it will only be a bigger headache after you’ve gone cruising!

AB Aluminum Rib = Family Car

AB Aluminum Rib = Family Car

THE FAMILY CAR if you’re going cruising, your dinghy will become your family car.  You’ll want the biggest one you can handle on board underway.  Weight will be a major factor, but the tradeoff between the lighter weight air floor or rollup dinghies and RIB is worth it for us.  We love our AB Aluminum RIB.  Decide where to store your dinghy while you’re on passage and also where you’ll stow it nightly – it’s our experience that you want it up out of the water, not just trailing from a line, for security reasons.   Do you want or need davits?  Davit’s will interfere with any wind vane self-steering, so you’ll need to think through the options.  We opted for the Monitor windvane instead of davits, but that means we have to hoist the dinghy onto the foredeck if we’re underway.  Do you need a separate crane for lifting the outboard to the rail?  We do, I can barely get it up even with the crane, and we have an 8 hp.  I cannot imagine trying to lift a 15 hp.

SAFETY EQUIPMENT.  Normally the first item I’d list under safety equipment would be the SSB radio, but since it’s already above under communications, just know that we believe that our SSB Radio is our FIRST line of safety equipment.  We also have an EPIRB, liferaft, man-overboard system, horseshoe and overboard marker pole.  Not sure if we were doing it over again if we’d have the liferaft, although I suppose it’s extra insurance.  It’s so expensive to repack the thing and we voided the warranty years ago because it’s almost impossible to get it repacked if you’re outside the U.S., especially in 3rd world countries!  I’d love to just throw it in the water and see if it even works – maybe sometime this winter!   🙂

Toys going cruising!

Toys going cruising!

DON’T FORGET THE TOYS! I told my husband, David, that we’re not going to paradise without our kayaks and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  On a 37 foot boat, I’m afraid we may look like the Beverly Hillbillies (apologies to Bob Perry for ruining the looks of a beautifully graceful Passport 37!), but we enjoy all our toys.  We have dive equipment & tanks, 2 kayaks, snorkel gear, fishing gear – both trolling and spearfishing and a cool kite just for starters.  Also, don’t forget to stock some games that you enjoy and lots of good books to read!

GO NOW!  FORGET ALL THIS STUFF! One caveat for this post.  You DO NOT NEED ALL THIS STUFF TO GO CRUISING!  Go now, you’ll figure it out.  If cruising is your dream, go do it!

Don’t miss the other two parts in this three part series, Part I, Outfitting a Cruising Boat and Part II, Equipping for Sailing/Cruising.

I hope this series was helpful.  I’m sure I’ve forgotten a zillion things — anyone have other tips for outfitting the boat before going cruising?   Comments?  THX!  Jan






  1. Great list. I’ve heard of folks ditching the kayaks because they caused too much windage and prevented the guy from turning the boat in the ICW, yea it was a pig-slow-boat that had tall freeboards anyway. The other thing, I can’t agree with you more on the bed, and most of all the other stuff too.

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