Are You Well Equipped or A Hoarder?

One of the keys to successful cruising is finding that balance between keeping a orderly boat and one that is so well equipped you can’t find anything. Face it, we’ve all been there.

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I reflect on this as I will see a boat survey tomorrow. So many times when I bought a new-to-me boat, powerboat or sailboat, the boat conveyed with a fair amount of gear, tools, and parts. The selling owner was mentally done with the boat to the point that even spare props and zincs came as part of the deal because what else would he do with them?

And then I would bring aboard all the gear and stuff from my previous boat. In the case of a larger boat, the large amount of space simply allowed me to put it all aboard, with the New Year’s Resolution that I pledge to go through everything on one of those rainy days. Of course, when does that ever happen?

Much like many of you, after years of cruising, I have amassed a considerable amount of gear, hardware, and fasteners of every shape and size. When I took the cabin top mainsheet traveler off my Baba 30 sailboat, I kept the through deck bolts and other hardware. While the likelihood of me buying another Baba 30 in need of these parts is highly unlikely, perhaps they will fit another use or application.

Or so the rationale goes.

I have plastic cases of screws, nuts, bolts, washers, and other fasteners collected over the years. I always thought I would someday have the time and inclination to go through all of the million or so fasteners and sort them by size, type, thread, and length. Yeah, right, that is not ever going to happen, even if I limited myself to simply weeding out and tossing the straight head screws, which would be a major life accomplishment in its own right. Perhaps if I was in solitary confinement for several years, or on death row, that might be a fun project.

But in real life, it will never happen.

 I have six or more of these Plano boxes of fasteners, all mixed together. Yet when I go to a marine store to buy a stainless fitting that requires four screws, I often also buy two of those three-screw, bubble-wrapped packages, and the extra screws go into one of these boxes. What's wrong with me!?!? I vow to sort through everything, but it has not happened yet...

I have six or more of these Plano boxes of fasteners, all mixed together. Yet when I go to a marine store to buy a stainless fitting that requires four screws, I often also buy two of those three-screw, bubble-wrapped packages, and the extra screws go into one of these boxes. What's wrong with me!?!? I vow to sort through everything, but it has not happened yet...

So what does one do to keep this from taking on unreasonable proportions to the point where your friends no longer see you as a competent, self sufficient cruiser, but rather a hoarding vagabond who probably has several dozen cats stashed somewhere down below. Something is not right with this guy, his dock mates tell each other. He’s never been the same since he turned a two-gallon insecticide sprayer into an onboard shower. Pity the guy, he needs help.

Solutions to the Rescue

There are things one can do to get on top of all this clutter, and make organized progress out of the chaos.

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Try to keep things in the same place. If you always keep certain items you regularly use in a basket by a hanging locker or nav station, for example, you’ll always know where to find them. It will also alert you to when it is time for a new roll of Teflon tape, or replace batteries in the flashlight. If you develop the discipline to keep things in a specific place, you will be able to quickly locate what you need and not spend useless minutes hunting for them.

 These plastic tubs make sense for a smaller cruiser, keeping things together and easy to access. Great job of organizing stuff.

These plastic tubs make sense for a smaller cruiser, keeping things together and easy to access. Great job of organizing stuff.

Seriously, when you are done with something, whether it is the aforementioned Teflon tape, a tape measure, a pair of binoculars, suntan lotion, even a pad and pencil, put it back when you are done.

 This beautiful Fleming 55 pilothouse has plenty of storage and drawers to designate where common items are to be stored. The captain must insist all crew follow this routine, so the helm is not a cluttered mess by the end of the cruise.

This beautiful Fleming 55 pilothouse has plenty of storage and drawers to designate where common items are to be stored. The captain must insist all crew follow this routine, so the helm is not a cluttered mess by the end of the cruise.

Avoid buying things “just in case.” I am super guilty of this. When I see something in a store, and don't remember if I already have it on the boat, I often talk myself into buying it...just in case. Big mistake, because when I do finally organize the boat, I find I already have three of them!

There was a recent article on how to avoid certain behaviors, a parallel to the above. The author suggests avoiding compulsory buying by using what he called the Amazon Three-Day Rule. If you come across something on Amazon, and have an emotional urge to buy it (for whatever reason), place it in your cart rather than a one-click purchase. Wait a full three days before completing the purchase, which allows time for you to make the decision as to whether you really want this beyond the emotional, knee-jerk urge. Excellent advice.

Always check before you head off to the store rather than wing it during a store experience. When preparing for a project, check to see if you have all the materials before going to the marine store to avoid buying duplicates of things you already have. Make a list of everything you will need, and making sure you don’t already have some of these in your pantry, tool bag, or spares locker. Tubes of sealant come to mind, as do stainless steel screws.

Once at the marine or hardware store, don’t fall for sales promotions that offer five of an item for a great price. If you only need one, only buy one.

Use Space Wisely

A big problem with larger boats is that they have so much space, it is surprisingly easy to fill all of these spaces. Don’t cram boxes and containers into a locker. Spend time to see what you have, eliminate multiples of items, and then store these containers in such a way to maximize the space.

By taking a more methodical approach, you hopefully won’t find yourself with six of something that you never seem to be able to find during the cruising season, and in some cases, several of them are beyond their expiration dates. That is a waste of money for sure. This is true for tubes of sealant, caulking material, provisions, certain coatings and batteries. Keep small containers together so they are easy to find when you need them, not buried behind a case of oil that was on sale and now hides contents you soon lose track of.

In the galley, see if you can find multiple uses of your kitchen tools, pots, pans, containers, and dishes. Can that baking dish also serve as a suitable serving dish? Can a galley item or utensil serve multiple roles, such as a sauté pan that fits in the oven, rather than the case of finding you have three spatulas, or multiple sets of salt and pepper shakers? How many colanders does one boat need? Yeah, I remember that those two came with the boat, and this other one I brought from our last boat. Pick one and give the others away.

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The biggest graveyard for junk, in my experience, is the chart table. The chart tables on my boats have always tended to be the “junk drawer.” In addition to what one expects to find in a chart table, such as charts, guides, basic instruments, and perhaps the deck keys for fueling, pumpout, and water, there is always much more. Matches, other keys, boat cards from cruisers and marinas, plastic covers or sleeves for instruments no longer on the boat, receipts, birthday candles, rusty corkscrews, corks, product instructions, pencils, pens (most no longer work), cables to devices I no longer own, dead AA batteries, zip ties, wire connectors, old rubber bands, snippets of wire, little knives and small flashlights...I could go on for pages. Not to mention all those slips of paper, often untitled, with marina wifi passwords and security gate codes.

The important thing in all of this is to try to stay ahead of turning the boat into a supply ship without a detailed cargo manifest, without going in the extreme other direction.

Being able to create Christmas and birthday decorations out of what is onboard is a big part of the joy of cruising and boat living, and should not require a separate locker under the master berth for party supplies.

Balance. Chill out, but be aware of what you have on your boat, and what you bring aboard, before they start talking about you on the dock...