What to Pack for a Bareboat Sailing Charter – The Complete Guide
Bareboat chartering allows you to choose from destinations around the globe, and the ability to freely explore with few of the trappings and stresses of daily life back home. Destinations vary from places like the BVI in the Caribbean, Greece in the Mediterranean, Tonga in the South Pacific, the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, the Bahamas in the Atlantic Ocean, Belize in Central America and more. The better you plan and pack, the more trouble free and relaxing your time will be. The more remote your destination, the more self-sufficient and prepared you will need to be.
The suggestions below are based on numerous sailing charters in various parts of the world, and the many lessons learned. The packing and prep lists are for a weeklong bare boat sailing charter in the ‘islands’ in warm to hot weather where sunny days with occasional passing squalls are the norm.
This article is broken into sections covering:
- How Much to Pack
- Sailing Specific Gear
- General Items
- What Not to Take
- Practical Tips
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How Much to Pack
Most first time charterers pack way too much stuff. Life in the islands is simple and casual, and you really don’t need loads of clothes and accessories. When packing, put all of the clothes and accessories you have chosen out on your bed, then put half of them back. Pack light.
Duffel Bag – Remember that storage space on sailboats is limited at best, and sailboats are not hard-shell suitcase friendly. You’ll want to pack your things in a soft collapsible duffel bag that can be easily stowed once on board.
Backpack – Having a backpack that is comfortable will be one of your most essential items when flying to your destination and when out exploring when you get there. They stow in the overhead compartment when flying, they keep your hands free to deal with other luggage or getting in and out of the dinghy, and they keep your gear up and away from spray and water sloshing around in the dinghy. Be sure to pack a bathing suit, shorts, a shirt and a change of underwear in your carry-on just in case your luggage does not arrive with you. If your luggage is lost or delayed, you will need to be proactive in insuring is eventual arrival. The pace at which work is done and problems solved in the islands can be slow or not done at all at times.
Hats – having a brimmed hat that can be worn in windy conditions is a must – baseball caps are ok. Hats with a full brim all the way around them with a chinstrap to keep them on are best and can be used in all conditions. Light colored materials are cooler in the sun.
Sarong – These colorful cotton body wraps for men and women constantly come in handy. Use them as light weight beach towels, a pillow, a privacy screen when changing on the beach, transforming your beachwear into a respectable town dress, a blanket on the plane or when napping, an easy cover up when evenings turn cooler, or when you’ve had too much sun.
Bathing Suits – You will be living in your bathing suits by day. Men should bring 2 -3 bathing trunks. Women the same, and one should be a full suit if you intend to do some athletic swimming, snorkeling or diving.
Flip-Flops – These will be your go-to footwear off the boat unless you are hiking. Be sure to pack at least one quality pair of fip-flops that are intended for use around the water. Leave your leather flip-flops at home. They will never dry once wet.
Walking/hiking Shoes – One pair of comfortable sneakers or fully strapped water friendly sandals. No boots please.
Shirts – Five comfy shirts or T-Shirts that are light and lose fitting. One long sleeve tech shirt to keep the sun off of your arms when needed in or out of the water. One long sleeve button up sun shirt for the best and most comfortable sun protection – collar to help protect your neck and sleeve that can be rolled up or down as needed. Again, try and limit the number of cotton items.
Dinner Clothes – If there happens to be a nice restaurant at one of the anchorages and you want dress up island style, a nice pair of khakis and a collared short sleeve button up shirt is all men need. Ladies may choose to wear a nice summer dress or a casual skirt and blouse. Dining in the islands is almost universally shorts and t-shirt as the norm. So if you don’t have to, leave your dress clothes at home.
Underwear – Bring four sets. Wash them on deck in salt water, rinse them in fresh water to get the salt out and dry them on the lifelines as needed. Stay away cotton underwear. You want wicking, fast drying undergarments to maximize comfort which are available for men and women.
Sailing Specific Gear
Polarized Sunglasses – Sailing in shallow water with reefs requires you to ‘read’ the water. Polarized sunglasses will cut most of the sun glare from the surface of the water making it much easier to spot underwater obstacles. Be sure to use a lanyard so you don’t lose them overboard. Take an inexpensive pair as a back up pair just in case. If you lose your good primary pair of glasses, going days without will strain your eyes and impact your fun in the sun.
Life Jackets – Charter companies will provide life jackets for adults and kids. Independent charter providers will too, but check with them ahead of time that they have the child and adults sizes you require. Expect the provided life jackets to be the standard orange type that are not that comfortable. Adults who wish to wear a life jacket may opt to bring their own inflatable PFD which is much more enjoyable to wear. Young children will be wearing life jackets constantly and their time will be much more enjoyable if the ones they wear are comfortable. This is one piece of gear you will want to consider bringing with you to ensure proper fit and comfort – no one wants their children to be hot and cranky, pulling at their uncomfortable life jackets all day. Solid foam kid’s PFDs are usually preferred over inflatable types for children as they can be used for swimming and snorkeling daily.
Foul Weather Gear – The three key elements are light weight, waterproof and breathable. If you are not sailing at night, then you should usually be close to a protected anchorage where you can wait out the rare rainy or stormy day. Most weather you will encounter will be passing squalls. This being the case, do not bring heavier coastal, offshore or ocean gear. You will be over protected, hot and uncomfortable in it. Inshore foul weather gear is good and light inshore gear is the best. Taking a jacket alone is usually enough as a jacket and shorts in warm squalls is ideal. Having a pair of foul weather gear waist high pants is good if you will be doing daytime passages where you will exposed to the weather all day.
Deck Shoes – Sure, many people sail on vacation in bare feet, but if you are going to do some serious sailing or encounter some poor weather, you will need deck shoes for their grip on the deck and to protect your toes.
Sailing Gloves – If you intend on participating as an active crew member and will be handling lines, take a pair of sailing gloves. It is also a good idea to have a pair on stand by, and to loan to someone on board who may need them.
Handheld VHF – A handheld VHF is handy to have with you in the cockpit if your boat does not have a cockpit microphone/speaker, also useful for communicating with those on the boat when you go ashore. Be sure to pick a working channel (not channel 16). Check that the boat’s radio is set to the correct channel and that the volume is turned up for those staying on the boat before heading away in the dinghy.
Multipurpose/Leatherman Tool – Some tasks will require a tool, and you will be glad you have a multipurpose tool at some point on your charter. Be sure not to pack this in your carry on bag or else airport security will confiscate it.
Handheld GPS – Another handy item to have is a handheld GPS as a back up to paper charts and onboard systems that can occasionally fail. Also, they make finding your boat at anchor in the dark convenient. Just put in a waypoint before leaving the boat in the dinghy.
Ziploc Bags – Large freeze Ziploc bags are excellent for packing any liquids, keeping important documents dry and for organizing small items. Also good to ensure that special bottle of rum you bought will not leak in your duffel bag on the way home. You can never have enough of them.
Sunblock – There needs to be an ample supply of sunblock for each person onboard. Constant winds keep you cool and can make you forget that the sun is consistently beating down. Start each morning by applying liberal amounts of sunblock to your whole body. Reapply in the middle of the day and after swimming. Be sure to have sunblock products for lips, face and body. You will want a waterpoof sunblock with a 30 SPF rating or higher. Products with a zinc base are the absolute best.
Flashlight – Take a small personal flashlight or headlamp for finding your dinghy after a few after sunset cocktails at the beach bar, or when dealing with an issue on deck in the middle of the night.
Dry Bag – A dry bag is useful to have when going ashore in the dinghy, which is open to spray and often has water sloshing about your feet.
Insect Repellent – Avon’s Skin so Soft is excellent. It is a bath oil that is nice to your skin and keeps insects away (you can dilute it with ½ water). If you are not using Skin so Soft, then just buy insect repellent when you arrival.
Biodegradable Soap – Be sure to bring salt-water biodegradable soap. This is used when showering on the stern of the boat after a swim using the fresh water shower hose most boats will have.
Digital Camera – You will be taking lots of pictures. Be sure to have extra memory card and batteries (recharging may be an issue). Having a waterproof camera bag (or a Ziploc bag) is a must.
Snorkeling Gear – Almost all charter boats have this gear on board or it can be had from the charter office upon arrival. Always check the gear prior to leaving the dock – try on the gear you will use to make sure it fits correctly. A leaky mask or loose fins are no fun. If you are chartering from an independent owner, be sure to check with them ahead of time.
AC/DC Inverter – If your charter boat does not have an inverter (or generator) you may want to bring a small inexpensive personal inverter for charging devices. Make sure it comes with both a cigarette lighter plug and a pair of clips for attaching directly to a battery (in case there is not a cigarette lighter outlet onboard)
Outlet Inverter – If you will be spending some portion of your vacation ashore prior to or after your charter, be sure to bring an inverter if the outlet current is different than that of the US. This way you can charge your electric devices.
First Aid Kit – Put together a mini first aid kit in a Ziploc bag. This always seems to get used on a sailing trip. Include: Band-Aids, Ibuprofen (Advil), antiseptic, antifungal cream/ointment, antibacterial cream/ointment, and antihistamine for allergic reactions. Aloe Vera for sunburns. Nail clippers, tweezers and a needle for removing splinters.
ID and Documents – I suggest you make color copies of your passport information page, laminate it and keep it in a bag separate from your original. Additionally, scan your passport, drivers license, medical insurance card and save copies in www.Dropbox.com account (or another secure cloud based account) so you can download copies from anywhere in the world (be sure you have a strong and unique password to protect these documents). Make sure to take your drivers license with you.
Credit Cards – Take both a debit and a credit card with PIN numbers for cash withdrawals from ATMs. Be sure to call your credit card company and bank to let them know you are traveling outside of the country so they don’t think your card has been stolen and block it when you go to use it.
Prescription Medications – Be sure to bring enough quantities. As with your passport, scan your written prescriptions and save them in your drop box account – www.dropbox.com, or another secure cloud based account. This way you can access them anywhere you have an Internet connection. Also, if you are not absolutely sure you don’t get seasick, pack sea sickness medication, prescription or over the counter. All medications should be in their original labeled containers so as not to have issues when clearing customs.
Prescription Glasses – If you wear them, bring a back up pair just in case your primary pair is lost or damaged.
Food – Provisioning for meals is a large task. Some charter companies offer meal planning options and will do the shopping and stowage of your provisions based on the choices you submit, but this can be expensive. Most will plan meals ahead of time, and do the shopping upon arrival. Be sure to check with your charter company ahead of time what your local shopping options are and what food items are available. In remote areas, you may want/need to bring in select frozen meets and ingredients in a disposable cooler as checked baggage. If you like good coffee or tea, be safe and bring your own ground coffee and/or tea bags. Spices tend to be expensive and of limited selection in many stores. Consider bringing a few of your most used items. Check with your charter company to see what provisions customs will and will not allow you to bring into the country.
Flag – If you will be mooring and anchoring among many boats, bring a small distinctive flag to hoist while on your charter. Your boat will be easier to spot in the anchorage.
For the Kids – Good old fashioned games such as playing cards are especially nice if you are cooped up down below while a squall passes. A star finder for nights on the bow gazing at the sky. A book of how to tie knots is fun. Leave the iPads and electronic games at home.
What Not to Take
Jewelry – The island scene is casual and lots of jewelry is not needed. Depending on where you are sailing, wearing jewelry could make you a theft target. Plus, security of jewelry can be tough. Hopefully you are swimming a lot so remember barracudas have poor eyesight and try to eat shiny objects.
Hair dryers, Straighteners and Curlers – Most boats don’t have generators to power these, and if yours does, you wont have it running often. If your boat has an inverter, you can strain the boats electrical system due to the high wattage these devices draw. Pack light, leave them at home and enjoy being free of them.
Makeup – Makeup and fancy personal body care products. Keep it simple and bring a little as possible, or none. Go natural.
Extra Electronic Gadgets – These can stay home. Besides your smart phone (turned off) and maybe a hand held VHS, and possibly a hand held GPS, you don’t need anything else. Bring a paper book and leave your e-reader at home. Pack a journal and get writing. Enjoy being unplugged.
Linens and Towels – These will be provided by the charter company. Take an inventory of towels upon arriving on the boat to be sure there are sufficient quantities. I suggest two towels per person. One for salt water & the beach, the other for fresh water showers only. Once a towel has salt in it its hard to get it to dry completely. Also make sure there are LOTS of clothespins on board. Go to the hardware store prior to your trip and get a pack of wooden clothespins to bring with you. The ones on the boat may be old, rusty and too few. You will be drying towels and bathing suits on the lifelines and each item will require many clothespins to keep the wind from taking them away.
Insurance – Be sure to check with your insurance carrier to see if you are covered in the countries you will be traveling to, and how health care providers will be paid. It is not uncommon for you to have to pay out of pocket and then submit for reimbursement from your insurance company once you are back home. I also maintain additional coverage in the form of travel insurance from DAN (Divers Alert Network). The coverage is specific to the needs international travelers and fills many gaps in traditional insurance.
Skype – If you will be sailing in remote areas, make sure you and those you many need to communicate with back home with all have Skype accounts. Skype is a free online calling program (video calls too). Load it on your smartphone, tablet and laptop. All you need is a Wi-Fi connection and you can call anyone in the world who also has Skype (and is online with the program running) on their device for free. Set up and use Skype before you leave on your trip. Call people who you may need to Skype with so you and they know how to use it ahead of time. Skype also allows you to call landlines (and cell phones) anywhere in the world for a reasonable fee. Have around $20.00 of credit on your Skype account for emergency calls from an internet (Wi-Fi) connected smart phone, tablet or laptop to land lines in case those you are trying to reach are not online with Skype running. If something unanticipated happens and you are required to talk with someone back home, you need only find a Wi-Fi connection and you can call them. WhatsApp is another free app/program that is excellent for making internet based calls only with, but it only works when your smartphone is connected – computers and tablets will not work with WhatsApp, unless the phone is also connected to the internet.
Your Doctor – If you will be sailing in remote locations, get your primary care physicians personal cell phone number before leaving home. Let them know you would only use it in an extreme emergency while traveling. If you have a medical emergency and can’t get qualified medical help, this is a wonderful lifeline to have.
Cell Phone Calling – If you feel you will need to use a cell phone while on vacation or just want it as a back up you have a few options. You can contact your carrier and have an international calling plan added for the period or time you are away, you can rent a phone at the airport in some places, you can buy a disposable cell phone upon arrival in some places, or you may be able to purchase a SIM card upon arrival. If you are going to switch out your SIM card call your carrier and confirm your phone is not ‘locked’, which would prevent you from using another provider’s SIM card. If you use your own smart phone be absolutely sure your data is turned off (tablets too). You can create a very large phone/data bill if your not careful and end up using roaming data from a local phone company.
- Duffel bag
- Hat 1
- Sarong 1
- Bathing suits 2-3
- Flip-Flops 1pr
- Walking/hiking shoes 1pr
- Shorts – fast drying 3
- Pants – fast drying 1
- T-shirts 5
- Long sleeve tech shirt 1
- Long sleeve button up 1
- Dinner clothes 1 set (optional)
- Underwear fast drying 4 sets
Sailing Specific Gear
- Polarized sunglasses 1 primary, 1 backup
- Lifejackets adult (optional)
- Lifejackets kids
- Foul weather jacket
- Foul weather waist high pants
- Deck shoes
- Handheld VHF
- Multipurpose/Leatherman Tool
- Handheld GPS
- Ziploc bags
- Sunblock – lots
- Personal flashlight
- Dry bag
- Insect repellent
- Biodegradable soap
- Digital camera
- Snorkeling gear
- AC/DC Inverter
- Outlet Inverter
- First aid kit
- Ids and Documents
- Scanned and saved to a cloud account
- Credit & Debit cards with PIN numbers
- Call credit card company
- Prescription Medications
- In original containers
- Scanned prescriptions and saved to a cloud account
- Prescription glasses primary pair and back up pair
- Frozen items in cooler
- Kids entertainment items
- Check coverage & how payments are made
- Additional coverage from DAN or other carrier
- Downloaded and test with others
- Set up an account for paid calls (optional)
- Your doctor’s personal cell phone number
- Cell phone plan