This post was inspired by and written for The Monkey's Fist website. Please check out this link to find more great posts by other cruisers on this same subject. While each of us might feature different gadgets/products (and some overlap), each list will provide some great tips and insights into boat life that you might find helpful (I know I did!). And here we throw our hat into the ring...(these items are in no particular order):
Ten Products that Make our Life Easier
- Olympus Tough Camera - My "good" camera is a Canon G12 but, honestly, the one that is with me all the time is this one. Like the name implies, it's tough. It is my everyday, everywhere camera. I can toss it in my purse when going for a walk, throw it in our beach bag and not have to worry about it getting wet or sandy, and I don't freak out if Isla starts fiddling with it. It's shockproof, waterproof, and - dare I say - babyproof. It's perfect for people with kids...and boats. You can actually SWIM with this thing and take underwater photos and videos without having to set up a complex waterproof case. This camera undoubtedly makes taking photos easier.
- The Absorber Brand Drying Chamois (pronounced 'shammy') - I've written about these before and I am a little obsessed with them. They are AMAZING. In fact, they are what the ShamWOW claimed to be, but wasn't. (I know, I got suckered into ordering some because I am a marketing team's dream...don't waste your money). We have a lot of these on our boat. They are great for sopping up wet messes. When it rains and our cockpit is all wet? We bust out our chamois and in no time it's bone dry. When a wave poops our cockpit? Again, the chamois to the rescue. A chamois and a bucket of fresh water has also been known to give our boat a quick bath. We have mini ones for the bathrooms as well so if any water pools on the counters from washing our faces and what not, we can mop it up without using paper towel or dirtying a washcloth. Seriously, every boat should have at least one. These things are the bees knees of absorbing towels! [Note: in order for them to stay absorbent, you must keep them damp in the case they come with - never hang them dry. Also, beware of knock-offs].
- Vinyl interior cushions - when we first saw the vinyl cushions in our boat we weren't really into them...but boy oh boy do we love them now. I'd read how vinyl is all "sticky" and uncomfortable in the heat - but we have not found this to be the case and, in our opinion, the pros far outweigh the cons. Isla can happily fling her food everywhere when she declares "done!" after eating and (while we're working on her etiquette) I don't freak out because the mess is super easy to clean with a paper towel and some water. Sauces, oils, mashed up fruits and veggies and even grease wipe right off these things and - as long as we have babies on board - vinyl (or something similar) will be our interior upholstery of choice.
- DC outlets/products/chargers - we are 12 volt happy on our boat. On our first boat we installed 12V outlets (like the kind you have in your car that used to be a cigarette lighter) all over the place and we added several more to this boat as well. When you can power something with a 12V plug, you are running off the boat's batteries and therefore do not need to invert or run the generator - both of which are really annoying (and energy consuming) if you just want to charge your computer. I bought as many 12V appliances I could and for the things that did not come in 12V versions, I scoured the internet for the 12V chargers. Not all appliances have 12V chargers, but it's worth hitting the Google man for.
- Museum Putty - boats move and keeping things from falling all over the place is a constant work in progress. I discovered Museum Putty from The Container Store when we were outfitting our first boat and I've been a lover of the stuff ever since. It is great for keeping the small decorative items you have on your boat in place. We've mounted so many trinkets with the stuff - a sand dollar, a small vase, a wood carving, some shells...etc. and I've even kept our fruit basket in place with it! It's a great product for those of us who like to "decorate" and personalize our boats a bit.
- Non-skid dishes/mugs - There's lots of gadgety-cruiser-stuff you'll see at boat shows that will lure you in and having you doing the "I must have this now!" impulse-buy dance while at the booth (trust me, I know this dance well). Most of these items should probably be avoided, but if you find these dishes for a good price - I would strongly suggest them (unless, of course, you are the type of person who prefers glassware - we have met folks who eat and drink out of glass and glass alone). We skipped on this type of galley ware with our first boat but sprang for it this time around when we saw them for a great deal at a boat show and have been singing their praise ever since. You might not think that a little bead of non-skid means much to you now, but it sure will when you are trying to prepare bowls of soup or cups of coffee and the boat lurches from one side to another!
- Microfiber Dish Drying Mat - I mentioned the impulse buy gadget dance? Well, we bought one of those foldable dish racks during one of those weak moments and guess how many times we've used it? Exactly zero. Instead, I use a very simple dish drying mat to lay out our dishes after they have been washed. It's small, it's easy to clean and it does the trick perfectly. Highly recommend one of these.
- Collapsible/nesting kitchen stuff - by now we all know that space is at a premium on a boat, so anything that maximizes space and/or uses less of it is a good thing. Nesting pots and pans as well as collapsible silicone kitchen gear (we have a collander, measuring cups and recently ordered a collapsible salad spinner) are all very useful on a boat. Yes, even for the galley-challenged like me.
- Packtowls - Big, fluffy beach towels are not practical on a boat. They take up a lot of space and take a long time to dry. We have found the extra large pactowls to be great for beach outings and we have three smaller ones that act as our kitchen towels. I love these things.
- Good quality backpack - we love our Sailor Bag blue backpack. It's our main pack for beach trips and any outings that will last longer than an hour or two (like our recent hash). It has plenty of room for everyone's gear (including baby), features two mesh water bottle holders, three separate compartments, and it's water resistant, durable and looks pretty cool to boot. The awesome folks over at Sailor Bags even embroidered ours for us with our boat name and website. I'm not saying you have to get this backpack, but a roomy, good quality pack would probably be useful to most cruisers. (side note: their tote bag is my primary everyday 'purse').
And now - DING, DING, DING - a bonus ten (since so many of you write to tell us these are your favorite posts). Consider this a "two-for-one" Tuesday. These are more related to boat systems, but definitely make cruising more comfortable and a little (or a lot) easier for us:
- Aft deck shower with swim scoop - so great for rinsing off after swimming, cleaning gear and with our length of hose - we can even clean a large portion of our boat with this shower. Aft deck shower is a MUST for us. Similarly, having a little platform off the back of our boat has made getting in and out of the boat from the dinghy (particularly with baby!) SO much easier. We stand on it to shower, it's great for loading groceries and - all in all - we love it. A swim platform/sugar scoop (again) is a MUST for us.
- AIS - I personally believe this is one of (if not the) greatest pieces of technology to hit the worlds oceans in recent history. We LOVE our AIS. AIS is short for 'Automatic Identification System' and it can be a real lifesaver if cruising in busy shipping lanes during inclement weather or at night. We both transmit and receive data which means not only can we see cargo ships long before their lights appear on the horizon, but they can also "see" us. Not only do they show up on our chart plotter, but we can see the closest angle of approach, estimated time of when and where they will pass, where they are going and - most important - if we are on a collision course. Not every boat has this so AIS does not replace keeping a prudent watch, but it has given us peace of mind on umpteen occasions.
- RogueWave Wifi Booster - what would us cruisers do without internet to research boat projects, cruising destinations and - of course - blog?! This booster has been awesome at picking up wifi signals from our surrounding area. The only downside is the signal must be unlocked, and more and more folks are starting to wise up and secure their signals which means one must either go ashore and get a pass code or purchase internet time from one of the growing "hot spots". If you are a cruiser who doesn't want to completely disconnect, consider a wifi booster as one way to get online. If you are doing this to disconnect from the interwebz, I applaud you. You are a stronger soul than I.
- Cockpit mic - I wrote about this before. Having a mic for your VHF radio in the cockpit makes all sorts of sense. We love ours, use it all the time. Another must for us.
- Bimini and dodger - I have no clue how people cruise in tropical climates without these. Protection from the elements (i.e. sun, ocean and rain) really, REALLY makes life more comfortable...and easier.
- Roller furling main - I know, I know...there are people out there who "wouldn't be caught dead" with a roller furling main and who are uber opinionated on the subject. We were too. And then we bought a boat with it. And we never have to leave our cockpit. And our boat can (very easily) be single-handed and we can reef almost instantly. And it has not given us any problems. And we are the envy of all our friends that have to wrestle their mains. And now we love it. End of story. (Our "dream boat", incidentally, would have a roller furling boom, not mast). They have their downsides, for sure. But we're converts.
- Windlass - I admire those folks who hoist up their anchors manually. I admire them while I am pushing a button with my toe as ours raises itself and then I feel really grateful. A necessity? No. But something that makes life easier? For sure.
- Autopilot (or some other form of reliable self-steering) - there are folks that absolutely love hand steering and those that don't. I don't know anyone who loves hand steering for multiple days at a time. On a race course, taking the helm is invigorating. When cruising, it's invigorating for the first couple of hours and then you just want to kick back, adjust your course with the push of a button and read a book or something. At least that's how we feel about it. You might happily hand-steer across the Pacific, but you would absolutely be in the minority. More power to you.
- Refrigeration - having cruised with and without it I can say emphatically that life is much easier (and maybe a little better) with it. Cold drinks, leftovers, food that stays fresh for longer than a day...the benefits of the fridge are many.
- Dinghy Davits - we love, love, LOVE our dinghy davits. They are not only a thing of beauty, but they are super strong and functional as well. Many a passerby has stopped to ogle and admire them. Not only do they house our dinghy with tremendous strength and ease, but we can jump off them and take very cool sunset photos.