SimplySailingOnline.com shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

Don't Go Cruising Without...

September 17, 2012

A while back a reader wrote to ask our advice about what not to go cruising without. Here is his question and our answer. Some of it might surprise you!


Retractable bimini, dinghy on deck, windvane ready to go.

I am setting up my 36' sloop for blue water cruising from San Francisco bay to Hawaii and beyond, but even if I had the money I would not be a fan of lots of cool stuff. I want a safe and comfortable "Jeep" and not a groovy "Jaguar". I'll be single handing or at times with just one crew, and so I need to think about how to be safe and living happily on my boat (I've been a live aboard for 1.5 years now). Can you give me some simple, non-theoretical advice about what is actually needed? I'm a damn good sailor on SF Bay but not an experienced voyager and I don't really know anyone who is a blue water sailor who can speak from weeks and months of off-shore life.

Thanks for writing us. There are two distinctly different times in your life to consider when thinking about what you'll be sorry you don't have. The majority of cruising is spent in harbor, safely anchored, using your boat as a floating home. But the most important time to be best prepared for is that small percentage when you're on a passage. So I'll try to cover both situations.

In harbor, especially if you are anywhere tropical, a good awning is a must. Something that is easy to put up (and take down in a squall) and to live around. If it is waterproof and can be made with "gutters" to direct the rain to your water tanks it would be even more of a life-changing piece of gear!


A composting toilet: our best option on every boat

Along the same lines, low voltage fans in various parts of the boat: your bunk in port, your pilot berth, the head (where seasickness usually begins because of the heat and smell), the galley, and any lounging space. I've even seen people with fans in the cockpit, but a good awning (not a dodger that blocks all the breeze) is usually good enough.

Adequate lighting helps make a boat feel like home. We use kerosene and LED lights so that we can have a lot of them without using much electricity. Be sure the one in the galley does not shine in your eyes when you're cooking, and that you can see the bottom of a pan with it on. A good light anywhere you will be reading (your bunk, pilot berth, salon) and eating is also important. A note on lights at the dinette: an overhead light is the only one that does not create shadows. If you put a light on any bulkhead, for someone at the table the light will be behind them, making it impossible to see their food for the shadows, or in front of them, blinding them. (Can you tell this is the voice of experience?) The only light we have found that works for us is a kerosene light hung from a hook directly over the middle of the table. We have been onboard boats with LED fixtures directly above the table. These work well, too.

Obviously, with all this electricity usage going on, you are going to need a RELIABLE way to make sufficient electricity. We prefer solar panels. We have tried a wind generator and hated it. We don't believe in running the engine to charge batteries and we have never owned a generator, so solar is really our only option.


The latest addition to our simple nav station

One more note about creating a comfortable home. The tendency is to install a marine head because that's what every boat has, but before you accept that as the best option, consider a composting head. Regulations are getting stricter everywhere. (The Virgin Island are talking about requiring proof of pump outs for anchored boats) but facilities are not increasing to match the demand, so pump outs can be hard to get, yet mandatory. Some harbors are no discharge zones, making it illegal to even have the option of pumping overboard, even if it is ziptied. We have found that the easiest way to comply with (and still not be hassled by) the increased regulations is a composting head. It takes up much less space than a standard head, the holding tank and all its accoutrements. Something to think about, anyway.

Offshore there are several items that you may be in danger if you don't have. My first response when Dave and I started discussing your question was "a windvane." It is not possible to safely hand steer for very long. Even if you have a crew of 10, hand steering is so tiresome that it will put you and your crew at risk. Even an autopilot is not an adequate substitute, since they break so frequently. Maybe having an autopilot for every 400 miles you plan to travel would be sufficient, but obviously not very feasible.

On our boat the mantra is "If you fall overboard you're dead." In that light, we install jacklines before we head offshore and every crew member has a comfortable harnass that we wear from dusk to dawn on deck, or ANY TIME someone is alone on deck. Period. No exceptions.

You should also find a way to store your dinghy on the boat: in davits, on deck, rolled up and stored below. Towing a dinghy should never be considered an option. It is too dangerous to the dinghy, the mother ship, and the crew. There are lots of options to choose from, so pick the one that you are most comfortable with, just don't tow it.

And we debated this one for a while, trying to decide if it really should make the "you'll be sorry/in danger/miserable if you don't have" list. Dave finally vetoed my protests and decided it should make the cut. A cheap, easy to use, AIS receiver. We have been in some heavy shipping traffic where our AIS has made a world of difference in how we spent a few hours. If we weren't sure which way a ship was headed, we checked the AIS and in an instant we knew whether to alter course or not. Before, it may have been hours of watching and worrying to find out the same information. So I guess this falls under the "miserable without" category. You don't absolutely need one (we traveled 20,000 miles without one), but if you've got $200 left in your budget, it's a good way to spend it. Not having one is along the same lines as not having a GPS. Yes, you can navigate with a sextant, but at this point a GPS is so cheap that not having one is probably done out of stubbornness rather than any sort of seamanship reason. (I have even quit admiring people who sail without them. It doesn't seem very prudent to me.) As simply as we sail, we still weigh simplicity against safety and comfort, so an AIS receiver (barely) makes the list.

Dave's last contribution to the list is a cheap shortwave receiver so you can pick up SSB broadcasts. Ours is a little $120 Radio Shack model, but there are lots of choices. You don't necessarily have to be able to transmit, but receiving weather via SSB is essential, especially once you get very far out.

Naturally you'll also want a good stock of spares: filters, pump rebuild kits, batteries, and such. But Dave and I both agreed that the single most important thing you need to have onboard or you'll be miserable/sorry/in danger is the right attitude. Specifically, a lack of schedule. Do not have someone flying in to spend the holidays with you at a port if you're not there yet! Do not have your mail forwarded to a port where you are not currently sitting! Do not feel like you have to go to a certain port because you said you were going to. Do not hesitate to sail right by a place you've always wanted to visit, if it's the safest thing to do at the time. Schedules cause sailors to make bad decisions. You leave when you should stay, go into port when you should heave to outside the harbor, pound into seas when you could easily bear off and go somewhere else. We have seen boats damaged and lost, cruises ended because of an unnecessarily rough passage, crew members hurt and marriages jeopardized because of schedules. Just don't make them.

Sorry I got so long winded on you, there were just a lot of things we felt very passionately about, and I didn't want to leave any of them out! I hope this answers your question. Best of luck in your adventures and please keep us informed. I'd love to hear how your travels go!

Have a question for us? Use the Contact Us tab above. Have something to add to the "Don't Go Cruising Without" list? Comment below. We'd love to hear from you.

Now that we are cooking on an alcohol stove, we have become compulsive users of the pressure cooker to try to save fuel. MONDAY we'll share our latest great pressure cooker recipe.

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