You’re going sailing – that’s so exciting! There’s an art to enjoying your time on a sailboat, and here I’ll talk a bit about what you need to pack. I’m a firm believer in never checking luggage. This is especially important if you’re getting to a destination on small planes or ferries and you have tight connections.
Here are some fundamentals to remember:
- No one looks cute while sailing.
- Everything runs the risk of falling, getting wet, or going overboard.
- You must conserve fresh water, so you’ll be packing some items to ensure you stay clean and fresh although you aren’t taking the kind of showers you do at home.
- Space is at a premium.
- The weather can change quickly.
- Safety first!
- The only things that get flushed in the loo/Are things that naturally come out of you.
Everything you take should be light, multipurpose, and quick-drying, from your luggage to what you put inside it. It’s a process to figure out what works, and over time I’ve developed a list of things I like to take. I’ve put links to these items in the post.
If you’re flying, you can take a carry-on and a personal item. You’ll want to take only soft-sided luggage that you can fold up and stow after you’ve put your things away. For your main packing bag, find a carry-on size duffel bag. I use the L.L. Bean Adventure Duffel in Medium. I sprayed it with a waterproofing spray to help protect the contents while I schlep it around.
Last year I splurged on a fancy personal item * but for years I used one I found for $35 at TJ Maxx. You want something that looks like a big-ass purse, but not so big that it looks like you’re trying to sneak on the plane with two carry-ons. Something like this might work. I like it to have plenty of pockets and be light and easy to carry. Guys can take a backpack. You’ll be taking this item in the dinghy when you go ashore, unless you plan to use a dry bag, which I’ll discuss below.
Here’s my fancy personal item, and then a picture of the pink tote I used for years.
I pack everything in packing cubes or ziplock bags. If I use cubes, I want them to have a mesh front so I can easily see what’s inside. These are great.
I’ll put tops in one, bottoms in one, bathing suits in one, and tuck my socks into my water shoes and slip them in a bag with my sandals. My raingear goes in a ziplock, and so do my undergarments. I wear my heaviest clothes on the plane: pants, heaviest shoes, top, and coverup/jacket.
Remember, the idea is to take items you can layer, that dry quickly, and that can serve a couple of purposes. A long sleeved shirt is a must, and a button down is the most useful. Put it over a tank and it’s a light jacket. Toss it on over your bathing suit when you’ve gotten enough sun. Sleep in it. I have a blue Columbia one that’s been all over the world with me.
While pricey, I’ve gotten lots of use out of my Coolibar coverup. I wear it as a jacket on the plane, I might sleep in it for a couple of nights (when it’s not smeared with sunscreen!) and I definitely use it as a sun protective coverup. The striped Catalina coverup is cute also, and you could even wear it as a dress when you go ashore, because no one is dressing up any fancier than that. Two items to use as coverups/layers should be plenty.
I take five shirts, rolled up tight and stuffed into a ziplock bag or packing cube. I make sure they are thin material that dries quickly, and that each can be worn with all of the bottoms I bring.
For bottoms, I’ll bring a pair of shorts or two, or maybe a skort, and a pair of light pants. I take 2-3 pair of socks and some quick drying underwear. The men’s version is here. My guys like it so much they wear it all the time.
I take three pairs of shoes and can get by with two: a pair that can get wet but dry quickly (the fabulous mesh water shoes described below), and whatever you want to wear ashore, which for me is a pair of casual, lightweight sandals.
All five us us took and really used the hell out of our mesh water shoes. Here are some Men’s water shoes.You can wear them on the boat because the bottoms are white and you won’t slip as much as you do in bare feet. They are awesome to wear when you ride in the dinghy, because there’s always a puddle of dirty water in the bottom of the boat. Stick your fancy shoes that you want to wear ashore (lightweight flat sandals like this for me) in your dry bag with your phone and money, and slip them on after you dock.
Don’t forget your rain gear! As an Eagle scout family, we each take rain jackets and rain pants, stuffed into (you guessed it) a ziplock bag. Here is a jacket and pant set for a very reasonable price.
Proof that you’ll need raingear:
Staying Clean and Fresh: Toiletries and bathroom gear
The Turkish towel is what we use for everything we do outside, whether it’s drying off after a swim or lying on the beach. They are super absorbent and dry quickly. I take two, one for outdoors (sand and seawater) and another for inside (real freshwater baths).
My guys prefer the microfiber towel for shower time. It also packs up very small and even has a little snap so you can snap it to the lifeline and dry it. You can see a gray one drying in the second picture below.
You can shower on the boat; it’s just not a traditional shower. There’s very little room to move, you must conserve water, and the temperature in the shower is hard to control. Fortunately, there is usually a hand shower on the back of the boat with fresh water. I handle most of my bathing on the back of the boat in my bathing suit. I take some special supplies, up there, including:
- a shampoo bar. I personally like the one from Lush that is pink (Jason and the Argan Oil). I use it to wash my whole self, including my hair. I also use it to soap up the parts I shave;
- It’s a 10 leave in conditioner (this is a travel size version); and
- a wide tooth comb, a razor, one of the small microfiber cloths, my turbie twist, and my Turkish towel.
I’ll shave my legs off the back of the boat using sea water because I have no shame. Then I’ll wet myself quickly with fresh water and lather up my body and rinse off, and repeat with my hair. Then all I have to do in the tiny shower is clean my intimate bits. I think it’s a fabulous system.
During the day when I feel smelly I use Swag wipes. I like the way they smell and they are big enough to do your whole body. Before I go to bed, I dust my feet with Baby powder and wipe them on a microfiber cloth. This gets any bits of sand off my feet before I climb under the covers. Of course, it’s no use doing this if you’re not going to make your bedmate de-sand his or her feet as well.
After a few days, your clothes smell like sunscreen and sweat. Anegada is a great place to take them ashore and wash them in the sink using the laundry sheets you bring. I realize this picture doesn’t make this look fun, but it’s the highlight of my week.
Everyone lost their dingys during the hurricanes. They ordered replacements, but they all look exactly alike. That’s no good after a couple of painkillers!
It’s no fun to ride in to dinner, have an awesome time, then return to the dock and realize you have no idea which dinghy is yours. So take some glow sticks to hang on your dinghy before you head to shore for dinner. Make sure they have a hole so you can attach them to the boat. And, obviously, bring some string or thin cord to tie them to the dinghy with.
(It doesn’t hurt to mark your boat also to help you find it in the dark!)
I also pack:
3-4 small microfiber cloths: Mine are pink so the boys won’t steal them. We use one in the kitchen for clean up, I use a couple downstairs to ensure that no sand or water gets near my bed, and I use one as a washcloth.
Everyone brings a headlamp: . If something breaks, you can see to fix it. You can read in the dark. You can use both hands to tie a knot in the evening when it’s hard to see.
I love these hat clips:. Clip one end to the back of your hat and the other to your shirt, and then when the wind blows (which you want, so your boat will go), you won’t lose your hat.
I not only attach cables on my sunglasses; I attach them to my reading glasses as well, because I can’t read the chart without them.
Dry bags in different sizes and colors Have a choice of sizes. Use it to take your laundry ashore and wash some undies in a bathroom sink! It can be your beach bag. Carry your snorkeling stuff around.
Clothes pins: Your boat will probably have some, but we usually need more. Use the extras to seal bags of chips, etc.
Bungee cord: We always travel with bungee cords because they are so damn handy! Use them to fashion an indoor clothes line, add a handle to something you need to carry, feed it through a sleeve of your hanging shirt on a windy day in case a clothes pin blows off, or lash down that bit of sail that’s flapping and making noise.
We each pack a water bottle to cut down on trash during the trip. I’m a freak about having my water ice-cold, so I make sure to take a bottle with a removable top and mouth large enough to accommodate ice cubes. I attach it to my personal item with a carabiner.