While Packing for a Sailing Charter Expect the Unexpected

Bringing Extra Tools for a Successful Sailing Charter

Stephen King has written that “It’s best to have your tools with you. If you don’t, you’re apt to find something you didn’t expect and get discouraged.” While his quote was inspired by a different context, it’s applicable to sailing, and especially charters. When you’re sailing your own boat, you most likely have all the necessary (and, let’s face it, unnecessary) tools and gear at hand. When you’re in a strange place on a strange boat, that is usually not the case. Rather than being discouraged, try being prepared. There are a few items that are worth bringing along on a charter vacation beyond the obvious swimsuit, sunscreen, and camera.

It's really nice to have your own sharp knife in the galley of a charter boat when on a sailing vacation. Photos by Eva Hill

As the galley wench, I almost always travel with my own knife (in a sheath and wrapped in a dish towel to protect the rest of my stuff). It may sound pretentious to do so, but most charter boat galleys are equipped with dull and rusting knives; having your own sharp knife makes quicker work of cooking so that you can get back to the fun of happy hour. Also, a multitool has many galley uses, ranging from standing in for a broken can opener or missing corkscrew, or as an ice pick.

Needless to say, the multitool also comes in handy for those small but inevitable repairs or for tangled lines. I also bring along some line; you never know when you might need to secure a grill or breeze booster, or to fashion a paper towel holder. Duct tape can also come in very handy. We’ve used duct take to cover our fresh water intake when there was a leak; another time, I used it to cover inadequate bandages from my (and the boat’s) first aid kit when I got bitten by a shark (just a flesh wound...).

In our hyper-connected world, it’s almost hopeless to make your charter a screen-free zone, especially when there are legitimate reasons to be in touch, such as weather reports. So, instead of shunning communication devices, bring along gear to make communications smoother. I find a waterproof handheld VHF radio essential for local communication. When you need to communicate to people in the dinghy or onshore, or when the boat’s radio isn’t functioning properly, having a handheld is very convenient.

Mobile phones and tablets can be loaded with weather apps, cruising guides, books, and music to supplement what you'll have onboard your charter sailboat.

These days, charter boats are typically equipped with chartplotters. Most mobile phones or tablets can be loaded up with useful apps to supplement that, including weather and cruising guides, not to mention cameras, books, and music. Keeping all of these electronic goodies going requires a means of re-charging, so be sure to bring chargers for each of them. I bring a multi-port charger, multiple charging cables, as well as a small inverter that can be plugged into the boat’s 12-volt cigarette lighter.

Given that between you and your crew you’ll have many devices, make sure no one is tempted to pull the plug on your device while jockeying for battery juice. I don’t use a waterproof iPhone case because it renders my phone too bulky, so I also travel with a waterproof digital camera.

Entertainment is not to be taken likely, because this is after all a vacation. While most charter boats have stereos with a USB port to plug your MP3 player into the boat’s speakers, I have yet to find a boat where that operation worked easily. To avoid that problem, I carry a waterproof Bluetooth speaker so I can play my tunes on the boat and anywhere else I want music.

With water play comes moisture. In addition to gallon-sized zipper bags for protecting cash, keys and ID, we bring along at least one dry bag for ferrying clothing, towels, and electronic gear from dinghy to beach. Having made many undignified attempts to climb into a dinghy at a snorkel spot, I now bring along dinghy steps that take up little space but save a great deal of embarrassment. I also find inflatable swim noodles or other floating toys very versatile, for uses ranging from flogging crew to staying afloat while bathing off the stern.

At the low-tech end of the spectrum, I usually carry a handful of clothespins; charter boats never have enough, and they are useful for hanging wet towels on the lifelines, closing opened bags of chips, or holding papers together. In a pinch, I also use them to “style” my hair or to keep a pareo closed. A pareo has multiple uses as well, from beach towel to happy hour attire.

One of the mantras of packing for an island vacation is “bring half the clothes and twice the money.” While you may want to pack lightly, if you divide the items up among your crew, you’ll hardly notice you’re carrying extra gear. Suck it up and pay to check a bag or two; it will be worth it.

~By Eva Hill

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