Essential Items For Living Comfortably On A Sailboat

Sailing Kittiwake, Elena

After living on board our little sailing catamaran for over six months, we’ve learned a lot about the liveaboard life. There are things we bought at home we are still very glad we have, and things we picked up along the way once we got to know our needs in a life at sea. We thought we’d share our learnings. Here are the things that we find make living on a sailboat much more comfortable and pleasant.

Please note: there are, of course, much more essential items you need on a sailboat, such as a VHF radio, flares, solar panels, watermaker, etc., but this isn’t meant to be a checklist of liveaboard essentials – we just want to share some life hacks we’ve picked up along the way.

Ceramic knives

When we moved on the boat we brought our old chef knives from home, thinking that the high quality of the blades would mean they’d be OK. Bad idea! We soon realised that, no matter how careful you are washing them in fresh water and drying them with a towel right away, the salt air makes them rust. So we had the idea to switch to ceramic and that was a life changer.

ceramic knives

Ceramic knives are super sharp and simply cannot rust. All you need to do is handle them with care (don’t drop them or they’ll chip) and keep them in a sheath, so they’re always safe in their drawer on passage. Make sure the whole blade is 100% ceramic and there is no iron in the product. Here’s a good and cheap ceramic knife, for your reference.

And don’t forget to grab a sharpening stone, so you can make the blade last longer. This article explains how to sharpen ceramic knives pretty well.

Head Torches

We read a lot about night passages and night vision before we left our landlubber lives, and considered all sorts of options – buying special red lights, or even paint our lights with red varnish. Then we remembered our camping head torches have a night vision option and decided to bring them along. That was an excellent idea.

Headtorch

Without buying expensive red lights or spoiling our lights with varnish, we simply turn on our Black Diamond head lamps when we need to trim the sails or to move around the boat at night. That saves a lot of energy too, as we don’t need the lights to be on constantly. We also use them to go out after dark and as a light for our dinghy. If you’re thinking of getting one, make sure you buy a comfortable model, as you may want to lie down with it on every now and then on passages.

Portable Speakers

We don’t have a sound system on Kittiwake, so we bought some cheap KitSound BoomBar portable speakers that charge via a USB cable and connect to our phones via bluetooth or cable. Well, after 6 months of living on board, we’re happy we didn’t invest in an expensive sound system, because we divide most of our time outside between the cockpit, the hammock, or the bows. Having portable speakers mean we can listen to music or podcasts anywhere, even in our berth or on the beach.

portable speakers

A 12V Drill

We live at anchor 99% of the time, which means we don’t have access to land power pretty much… ever. Our solar panels give us all the energy we need. So we decided to get a wireless 12v drill, which can charge through our inverter, or even wire it directly to the boat batteries. This turned out to be incredibly useful – we rebedded all our windows and cut a huge hole in the deck for our composting loo fan with it.

You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll use a drill once you move on board and investing in a portable one means you can avoid going to marinas and even work on the boat during a passage, if necessary.

Water Sprayer

water sprayer

With limited water storage on our boat (we can carry a grand total of 150L), we have to be very careful with water consumption. For this reason, we have a salt water intake in the galley and always wash everything in salt water. Now, we could simply rinse our dishes, but that would mean using a lot of water, so instead we use a water sprayer like this to get the salt off, and it works a treat. The sprayer also comes in handy to give a fresh water clean to the cockpit and to wash the solar panels from the sand, dust, and salt. So thanks to this little cheap item, we can make do with 150L of water a month or so, only anchoring. Pretty impressive huh?

Normal Ceramic Mugs

When we set off, we bought a set of enamelware camping mugs, which claimed to be Falcon (we didn’t like the idea of drinking from plastic cups). We thought we were really smart, buying cups that couldn’t break. Well, it took them less than a week to become rusty! After much frustration, we replaced the mugs with normal, cheap ceramic mugs.

To keep these nice, all you need is a little care when you store them. And isn’t that much better than having to deal with rust, early in the morning?

mug

Silicone Pot Holders

We bought some non-slid silicone pot holders like these before we set off and they saved our table or dinner many times. They keep a pot or pan stable even in the worst wake and absorb heat very well. This means our cups and plates don’t mark our epoxy-finished table and we rarely spill our dinner in the galley.

An eBook Reader

With limited space on a sailboat, you can only keep a certain amount of books on board. This is so true, that cruisers often exchange or sell guides and pilots once they move onto new cruising grounds.

We tend to keep paper copies of boating books only, such as a hull and deck repair handbook and the Reeds almanac. For anything else, we use our Kindle. It takes up very little space and is comfortable to hold. We love reading to each other in the evenings or on calm passages and having an eBook reader enables us to start a new book every other week.

Luci Lights

There is nothing better than a long evening in the cockpit or on the bow, having dinner in front of the sunset and chilling or reading wrapped up in a blanket. If you like the sound of that, don’t spend a lot of money on expensive and inefficient deck lights – just get yourself a Luci light.

Luci lights are solar-powered LED lanterns that make quite a bit of light; they’re great for reading and lighting up the cockpit. We use ours even when it’s cold, as a second anchor light in the cockpit.

Luci light

Hot Water Bottles

Our sailing adventure exposed us to different climates – from rainy UK, to windy and hot Algarve, to chilly Brittany. We have been in temperatures between 5 and 30 degrees celsius so far.

Not having a heating system on board, we simply use hot water bottles (and a lot of layers) when we feel cold. These are a life saver for when you feel too cold to sleep. We also wear thick socks and are thinking of buying a hurricane lamp to warm up our cabin in the winter. 

Unless you plan to cruise in cold climates extensively, try to think of alternative solutions to installing an expensive heater – it’s not always the best call, as it takes up precious space and needs fuelling.
 

We’re sure this is a blog post in progress and we’ll add to it as we gain more experience on the sea.

How about you? Tell us about the items that make your life easier on your sailboat in the comments below.


15 COMMENTS
  • Peter Fehringer
    Reply

    We make our hot water with 5 L Jerrycans for fuel, we use it only for water, they are easy to carry, easy to store and waterproof. In the morning we expose two of them to the sun and use them for showers after swimming, or in the evening to clean ourselfes. On long passeges we shower first with saltwater and than with the warm water out of one of the cans. Its also easy to get freshwater when you go out to a restaurant, they have always filled our litle cans.

    1. Sailing Kittiwake
      Reply

      Interesting! Thanks Peter.

  • MindyP
    Reply

    Great advice. I’m living aboard from next year. I’ll definitely be looking at the Luci lights! And now I’ll keep track of youradventures too. Just started my blog but looking forward to writing it!

    1. Sailing Kittiwake
      Reply

      Cheers Mindy! We wish you the best of luck with your adventure. Let us know how you get on 🙂 Elena and Ryan

  • David Taylor
    Reply

    Hi Elena, Hi Ryan,

    Always great to receive such good readings in our mailbox… We definitely like it a lot and your list is definitely worth keeping in mind. Thanks for sharing. May we suggest you to link these items to your amazon account ? It will make it easy for all of us to order them and it might help you too…

    Fair winds,
    Lynda and David

    1. Sailing Kittiwake
      Reply

      Thanks a lot Lynda and David! We’ll look into that 🙂 For now we’ve put Amazon links inside the article itself 🙂 Fair winds!

  • David
    Reply

    Great tips! Thank you for sharing them. Enjoy!

    1. Sailing Kittiwake
      Reply

      Cheers David!

  • Floss
    Reply

    Water sprayer, ceramic knives and those Luci Lights – Excellent ideas . We have bought our boat and I’m enjoying following your adventure. Keep it up!

    ps. No-one should leave home without their hot water bottle!

    1. Sailing Kittiwake
      Reply

      Thanks so much! Haha good shout about the water bottles 😀 Fair winds guys!

  • gretchen dorian
    Reply

    What a great article…learned alot!
    THANK YOU!

  • agree about the cups ceramic is much better , I enjoyed the rest of your blog. Hope you are safe for the winter
    Reply

    I

    1. Hugh Van Duyn
      Reply

      Insulated Stainless steel cups are great as well. They never stain, and easy to clean.

  • Paul Nicholls
    Reply

    Plus 1 for the boombar, excellent piece of kit. Only for home though since the boat came equipped with car stereo and w/proof speakers.
    Well done to you both for doing what you’re doing in such an economical way. Always looking forward to your next instalment.

    1. Sailing Kittiwake
      Reply

      Thanks so much Paul!

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