Putting The Wind In Your Sails: The Essentials To Living On A Sailboat
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Putting The Wind In Your Sails: The Essentials To Living On A Sailboat

A personal account of the eight categories of boat-living necessities.

 a view of the front of a wooden sailboat from the point of view of someone sitting to the left of the cockpit during sunrise.

As I write this, my brother's rock music plays through the stereo of my dad's 30-foot Pearson sail-boat, Bloody Mary. With noodles boiling on the built-in stove and my dad grilling burgers out on the dock, the evening is going smooth as ever.

We have been sailing Lake Michigan for four days now, stopping at a new port every night. This being our second summer trip, we are looking to go a bit further this year if the winds will allow. Our plan? Sail up from Chicago, Illinois to Sheboygan, Wisconsin where we will cross the lake to come back down the East/Michigan side, back to Chicago. Currently, we are at Sheboygan.

An eleven-day trip like this is hardly "living" on a boat, especially stopping at ports each night for a shower, grill, and washing machines. But, I know a lot more about sailing and living on a boat than I ever would have before, and it's an adventure I would love to share.

If you are interested in boat-life, or even van-life, this might give you some insight into the supplies, provisions, and atmosphere that comes with traveling in your own tiny home.

1. Clothing

a suitcase being packed by a father and how two children.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

Due to my own experience, I will be writing for warm weather.

You'll want to have five to fifteen pairs (depending on trip duration) of shorts and t-shirts of varying kinds (jean, cotton, khaki, athletic shorts, short-sleeve, sleeveless, tank-top, etc.). I prefer comfortable but airy/light clothes for these kinds of trips. The sun can be brutal for long hours, so athletic, long-sleeve shirts can be a life-saver.

Next, be prepared for chilly, windy, and rainy days. Think long jeans, leggings, and joggers. Bring layers like zip-ups, hoodies, flannels, and storm gear. You only need one or two of each of these items if you are expecting nice weather.

Braids, hats, buns, bandannas, and head-bands will be your best friends on your journey.

Of course, bring your underwear, sports bras, bathing suits, and socks. You will want both closed-toe and open-toe, non-slip shoes.

Anything else you bring is up to your own discretion (makeup, accessories, etc). Don't be afraid to rock your style!

2. Bed, bath, and body

glass bottles of various sizes containing soap, bar soaps, and skin exfoliating brushes.


Bring a pillow, blankets, and sheets that will best fit your sleeping arrangements, and have a towel and washcloth as well.

What are your bath and body essentials? These things can remain relatively the same as long as you will have access to showers on your journey. Otherwise, soap and a washcloth can make a good sponge bath on quick notice. If you ever have a chance to go swimming in the lake or ocean, lather on some biodegradable, non-toxic, eco-friendly soap before you jump in!

Don't forget your sunscreen, aloe vera lotion or gel, other hydrating lotions, and bug spray!

3. Pro bug hacks

lots of large-winged bugs flying around a light at night with leaves in the background.

Photo by Caio from Pexels

Always have one to three fly swatters and a couple of hanging fly tapes for bugs and flys. You can even make a squirt-bottle mixture of grain alcohol, Listerine, and some water to squirt at flys and other bugs. If you don't have alcohol, the Listerine still stuns most bugs.

4. Cooking and cleaning

a cup filled with spatulas, whisks, and spoons, in front of a couple cutting boards.

Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

This will depend upon the cooler/fridge and cabinet space in your boat. We dedicate four cupbaords as follows: one to food, one to silverware and utensils, one to pots, pans, and a coffee machine, and the last one under the sink to cleaning supplies.

As far as cooking utensils go, it is good to have metal or plastic silverware, a can opener, sharp knife and cutting board, spatula and tongs for the dock grills, big serving and draining spoons, plastic plates and bowls, plastic containers, and large and small baggies.

For pots and pans, a frying pan for a boat stove or dock grill, cast iron skillet, medium and small pots, and a strainer should suffice.

When packing cleaning supplies, make sure to have a couple of sponges, a box of garbage bags, dish soap, hand soap, a spray cleaner like Lysol, bleach, laundry detergent for dock washing machines, deck cleaner, hull cleaner, and water-tank treatment.

Be sure to bring paper towels and toilet paper as well!

5. Food and liquids

two large brown bags filled with apples, bagels, bananas, lettuce, frozen pizzas, etc.


First, get your base foods down. This may be meats/tofu, eggs, salad ingredients (onions, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, greens, avocados, peppers, etc.), bread/buns, fruits (bananas, watermelon, pineapple, cherries, apples, etc.), beans and other canned foods, dry noodles/rice, and cereal/oats.

Ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, hummus, salsa, salad dressing, your favorite spices, hot sauce, and dipping sauces cover condiments.

Include snack foods like crackers, chips, assorted nuts, breakfast bars, and any other of your favorite snacking foods.

Always have lots of water, especially in the sun and heat. We usually have to buy a new case every two days for the three of us.

Aside from that, ginger ale, sparkling waters, and other sodas can be really helpful for any seasickness. For oats and cereal, plant-based milks like almond, soy, and oat milk are great because they do not need to be refrigerated before opening and last a long time in the cooler/fridge.

If you will be taking alcohol, bring as few glass containers as you can. Instead, stick to cans and plastic to keep from breakage. Don't forget cocktail essentials like simple-syrup, limes/lemons, sodas and juices, and liquor to be stored in a safe place.

Use your space wisely. Do not keep bulky items if you are not certain that you will eat/drink them. Provision for about five to ten days at a time and restock onshore when you can. If you are planning to eat out once every day or two, you will not need to bring as much food.

6. Attitude

a sailboat on the water as it reflects the night sky and seems to become a void.


Bring your most open-minded, go-with-the-flow attitude when going on any adventure, but especially a sailing adventure. You can't control the winds or the weather, so get used to making the most out of any situation.

Of course, we all get in annoyed and upset moods regardless of this knowledge. My advice on that is to feel it, express it, and move on as soon as you can.

Remain open-minded to each port you enter. We have been to many great ports, and many not-so-great ports, but each one is a uniquely special experience.

Get your feet wet and have fun! Traveling via the water is an underrated and rare experience. It is a great time to accept nature as the powerful force that she is, ground yourself, and get inspired.

7. Games and activities

Yahtzee, Scrabble, and Triominos stacked on top of each other next to a plant on a shelf


Cards are a must-bring, and if you like poker, poker chips are great to have too. Other card game ideas are speed, Egyptian rat-screw, crazy 8s, blackjack, go-fish, war, and spoons.

When it comes to board games, we personally love Yahtzee, but bring any games you like! Monopoly, Uno, Scrabble, Risk, Sorry!, and Stratego are a few examples.

Books are a calming form of entertainment for any time of the day. If you are a creative, coloring books, journaling, jewelry-making, photography, and other art forms are great hobbies for this adventure. This is also a great time to try out some new hobbies that you find interesting.

If you like to work out more often than not, bring a yoga mat to do some yoga or other workouts on on the docks.

Most docks provide WiFi, so bring a laptop if you have any work to keep up on or like watching movies and series before bed.

If you ever find yourself bored, see if you and your companions can brainstorm a silly game. Have fly-swatting competitions, play charades, guess the cartoon from its acronym, play I-spy, try not to laugh challenge, and really anything else you can think of.

8. Safety

a life saver and rope attached to a boat in a marina full of boats.


Always have a life preserver and storm gear for each person on the boat. Be sure to hold on to the boat with one hand at all times when maneuvering around it.

There should be at least one knowledgeable sailor on your boat. Take all standard precautions when functioning a boat, and listen to the most experienced person.

Always check the radar before going out on open water. If you are uncomfortable sailing in stormy weather, high winds, or large waves, wait for clearer weather.

And, of course, keep a first aid kit on your boat at all times for any injuries.

If you find the idea of traveling on a boat or in a van fascinating, inspiring, and exciting, then continue to learn more about it and start making small achievements towards your goal!

Save up money to take sailing classes, research makes and models of boats, and watch others who are doing it. A few great YouTube channels to check out are Sailing Project Atticus, Sailing Uma, Sailing Zingaro, Sailing La Vagabonde, and Sailing SV Delos.

There is great freedom in having your home and belongings with you wherever you go. Though gaining experience and buying a boat/van can be painstaking and expensive, this is also one of the best ways to travel on a budget. What you put into it now will pay off later.

So, take a chance, get out there, keep learning, stay safe, and be free.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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