Many of us don’t cruise in large trawlers with stabilizers, vast stowage lockers and workshops, yet we do cruise with provisions, spare parts, gear, tools and consumables. And when we add a dinghy (or paddleboard or surfboard) on deck, there is potential for chafing, shifting or breakage during a passage. Thus, when preparing a modest boat for sea, it’s best to anticipate Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
A superior seaman uses superior intelligence to avoid superior circumstances, which means we can outsmart Mr. Murphy by imagining the worst-case scenarios. We can address any void or empty space to maximize capacity and prevent damage while underway.
Packing properly is certainly easier said than done, but avoiding last-minute preparations before departure is a good place to start. Make nonperishable purchases and assemble gear early. Keep an accurate inventory list. A good stowage plan, uniformly executed by the whole crew, not only will help to prevent broken items but also will mitigate those annoying underway queries, such as Where’s the *&%$#! hidden?!
A good supply of low-stretch lashings, stowage containers, chafing gear and padding should be on hand from the start. Group all of the provisions, spares, gear and tools into smaller stowage units; this helps to avoid having to disassemble a whole kit if something is needed quickly.
Food is another consideration. Cruising to places where there are no supermarkets means stocking up, and packaging takes up valuable space on board. A solution: Send the boxes ashore before you cast off. Styrofoam and single-purpose plastic are superfluous, and cardboard draws moisture and promotes mildew. Worse yet is that cockroach eggs can come aboard in corrugated cardboard.
Stow the everyday ingredients in galley lockers and bins, and pack larger quantities into space-saving containers. Resealable plastic bags and canisters with tight lids are ideal (and reusable). Stow these repackaged quantities in spill-proof lockers or bins, and secure them against shifting. And remember to provide good ventilation, especially for perishables.
Bottles of alcohol — for medicinal purposes, of course — and glass containers also must be stowed to avoid colliding in a seaway. Shipping sleeves, tube socks, tea towels, rolls of paper goods or sponges can segregate bottles. Boxed and carton-packaged wine and beverages in cans are alternatives to glass bottles.
And if you must use canned goods as ballast in the bilge of a small boat, be sure to remove the commercial labels and note the contents with indelible marker on each. This prevents the labels from coming off in damp or wet conditions — and fouling bilge pumps — and ensures that you’ll be able to tell what’s in each can without having to open every one of them. Also, be sure to stow the cans somewhere that their metal will not interfere with your autopilot’s fluxgate compass.
Some food can stow for weeks or months, but what if you need to find a specific tool in a crunch? Tools, too, should be stowed away from magnetic and remote fluxgate compasses, and they should be lashed down or contained by fiddles. If empty bilge compartments are difficult to resist, put everything above the cabin sole so that it does not shift or become water-damaged.
The man-overboard gear and retrieval system, life raft and EPIRB should never be obstructed. Backup safety gear, such as portable emergency pumps, occasional tools and “go-to” equipment, should be prominently labeled and stowed in an accessible manner, not under a pile of secondary stuff.
Extra fuel should be deck-stowed in designated containers to avoid spillage and vapor ingress. A simple board between stanchions can provide a secure way to lash and stow these types of containers. Find what works best for your boat’s deck camber and lashing points. The American Boat & Yacht Council recommends safe LPG (liquid petroleum gas) or CNG (compressed natural gas) stowage in approved lockers.
If a dinghy or personal watercraft is stowed on deck without dedicated chocks and pad eyes, keep it clear of navigation lights or maneuvering sightlines. Use a generous amount of chafing gear and low-stretch lashings. If your dinghy is carried on davits, ensure that the falls are stopped off, the safety straps are on, and the dinghy is secured against swinging and chafe. Make sure your anchor is secured for sea, too.
Never underestimate the power of repetitive shock-loading from pitching, rolling, heeling and high winds. Be fastidious while underway. A change in padding or lashing tension, or unwanted contact, can be a clue that something you’ve stowed is shifting. Investigate all clinking, straining and chafing sounds, no matter how minor. It’s much easier to prevent a stowage incident than to fix one after something runs amok.
Hope for the best and plan for the worst. Even if the weather is glorious offshore, conditions can deteriorate quickly. Thoughtful planning, effective stowing habits and the ability to imagine the worst conditions are your best tools in preparing for a sea passage.
This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue.