10 Essential Items Needed To Live On A Sailboat

Essential Items Needed To Live On A Sailboat | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

If you’re living on your sailboat you very quickly learn a few things. First, it can be a little cramped from time to time. Second, that space is precious and you need to be as efficient as possible.

Just because you are now living on a boat doesn’t mean that you need to start throwing things away all willy-nilly, it just means you need to put a bit more thought into what you need and what you buy.

Whether you are new to living on a sailboat or are simply an experienced vet looking for some fresh ideas, you are in the right place. This article will cover some MUST have items to keep aboard your sailboat. Some are for safety, some are for fun, some may seem a little wacky at first, but they are all worth considering. Here are 10 essential items you need if you live on your sailboat and where to get them.


Table of contents

10 Essential items needed to live on a sailboat

Not all of these items are for everyone. Some of them may not appeal to you too much, some may seem a little wacky, and some may seem completely ridiculous. That being said, they all deserve your consideration. Just because you haven’t thought about using some of these items before doesn’t mean they aren’t worth using. Here are 15 essential items, how much they cost, and where you can find them:

#1 – Watermaker / Desalinator

This item may not seem that exciting, and it isn’t, this is entirely meant to be used as a safety/comfort feature. A watermaker or desalinator is used to filter seawater to make it drinkable. Even if it is just you alone on your sailboat you will need at least a few gallons of water a day. 1-2 gallons for drinking, 1-4 for the toilet, shower, and cooking combined. You may also want to store a decent amount of freshwater. If you are going to be at sea for a long time, having a watermaker can be the difference between life and death. Watermakers are pretty big, especially the ones capable of making you enough water to fulfill all of your needs. It is a good idea to set one up below deck, perhaps in a kitchen cabinet. The Watermaker listed in the link below can produce as much as 500 gallons of freshwater a day. More than enough for you and your entire family.

Cost: $561

Link to buy

#2 – Handheld Vacuum Cleaner

A handheld vacuum cleaner might, at first, rank very lowly on your list of essentials. But, it shouldn’t. Keeping your cabin clean and tidy is so important. Not only because your chances of getting sick if you don’t clean it are very high, but because it will make everything below deck feel much roomier. Have you ever tidied your living room and suddenly felt the whole room seems bigger. This works double time on your sailboat. When space is limited, you need every edge you can get. Keeping your boat as neat and tidy as possible can help you make the most of your room below deck. Besides, a tidy boat is a happy boat.

Cost: $40

Link to buy

#3 – A kettle

A kettle is not only a feature of comfort but safety. You may not have considered it, but a kettle can also be a way of getting drinkable water in an emergency. The steam from a boiling kettle can be collected and condensed back into drinkable water. This can be done to seawater or freshwater that you don’t quite trust. Of course, having a kettle is also a nice way of making yourself a cup of tea or coffee. If you are planning on being away from land for a long time it can also provide a means of cooking for yourself. Instant noodles or instant pasta dishes can be a lifesaver (literally).

Cost: $40

Link to buy

#4 – Headlight

Unless you plan on only sailing, or being on your boat at all, at night then you are going to need some way of seeing. Flashlights are great, but they require at least one hand to use. It is far better to buy a headlight. You may feel a little goofy wearing one but it is by far the best choice. If you need to do repairs on your boat, it is best to do them during the day. However, this isn’t always the case. Even if you are doing repairs during the day depending on where the repairs are taking place you may appreciate having this easy to use light source. It’s important to note that even if you are just moving around on deck at night you are at risk, by having a headlight you are going to be far safer.

Cost: $31

Link to buy

#5 – Satphone

A Satphone makes a very good supplementary piece of equipment to your primary radio. Of course, you will have a radio. All boats do. But not every sailor is equipped with a satphone. Whether you are using it to make personal calls or to call the coast guard you will be better off having one. A satphone can work anywhere in the world, it transmits its signal via satellite. An ordinary cellphone works by relaying its signal from cell towers. Unsurprisingly, there aren’t very many (any) cell towers out at sea. You are better off having a satphone and not needing it than needing one but not having one. They are a little pricey, but you will only need to make the purchase once.

Cost: $589

Link to buy

#6 – Hurricane Lamp

You may be familiar with hurricane lamps if you live in tornado alley, if not, here is a simple explanation of the purpose. A hurricane lamp is a battery-powered lamp that uses very little power but provides a nice warm glow. The idea is that it can provide light even if there is a power cut. Additionally, hurricane lamps are seen as safer than gas-powered lamps in a storm. There is less risk of fire, destruction, and death. Lastly, hurricane lamps can provide some warmth. If you are trying to avoid running your generator, or maybe you can’t run your generator, you will need some way of warming the cabin. A hurricane lamp is perfect for this.

Cost: $20

Link to buy

#7 – Fishing Gear

Fishing gear should ALWAYS be a staple part of your boat’s inventory. You should also know how to fish. It isn’t quite as simple as dropping your line into the water and hoping for the best. Fishing is an important life skill, especially if you are planning to be a full-time sailor. If you are a full-time sailor and don’t know how to fish, you would do well to learn as soon as possible. Fishing makes a pretty good pass time. It is one of the only things you can do when you are out at sea, even with no power. If you find yourself having to wait around for a few days getting some fishing practice in will be a nice way to pass the time. Most importantly though, if you find yourself stuck at sea (or marooned on an island) having fishing gear might be your only way of securing some food. The fishing rod listed below is a cheap model, but, it is perfect for storing on your boat as it is very small and compact.

Cost: $46

Link to buy

#8 – First Aid Kit

A complete first aid kit is a very important item to keep on your sailboat. A first aid kit doesn’t have to be very small to contain all the things you might need. Most of all, a first aid kit needs bandages and a few specific types of medication. First of all, all first aid kits need some antibiotics and disinfectants. It is also a good idea to store some iodine tablets to purify some water. Bandages are, of course, very important. If you badly cut yourself it is important to stop the bleeding as much as possible. You may not be able to get medical help very quickly so it is important to be able to fend for yourself for at least a little while. Being at sea is the WORST place to be if you need medical assistance. Astronauts on the international space station can be back on earth and in a high-tech medical facility in less than 2 days. If you are far out at sea, you will be lucky if you can be reached that quickly.

It is also a good idea to keep tampons onboard. If you are a woman, this goes without saying, if you are a man they can still serve some purposes. Tampons can be used as an emergency bandage and can be used to stop a nose bleed. The first aid kit listed below is pretty great, it has absolutely everything you could need. It is also 100% waterproof which makes it ideal for use at sea. It costs a lot more than a basic first aid kit but offers plenty more too so it works out pretty well. You will hopefully only need to buy the kit once and top it up now and again.

Cost: $410

Link to buy

#9 – Fire extinguisher

There are three places you NEVER want to have a fire. In space, on a submarine, or a boat. A fire on a boat is going to be catastrophic. Sure, you are at sea, there is water all around. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to help you very much. You should look at the situations as you having nowhere to go, rather than an endless supply of water to fight the fire. If your cabin should set on fire there may not be anything you can do about it for three reasons. First, getting enough water from outside into the cabin quickly is simply not feasible. Secondly, if it is an electrical fire then throwing water on it is going to make things worse. Lastly, if you are trying to put out a grease fire from cooking throwing water in the pan is going to cause it to explode flinging flaming oil all over the boat. Good luck putting that out. It is important to buy two fire extinguishers, one for electrical fires and once for grease.

Cost: $24

Link to buy

#10 – Marine Stereo

This last one is more of a comfort feature than anything else. If you are going to be out at sea for long periods it can get very boring. You can start to get very seasick just from boredom alone. Luckily, there are a few ways to combat that. Getting a Marine stereo is one of the best ways. A marine stereo works even far out at sea so you don’t need to worry too much about losing the signal. The stereo can allow you to listen to music and radio stations to help keep you sane. It is a good idea to keep one of these stereos onboard even if you don’t think you will use it all that much. They are small, easily stored, and can come in handy. Getting bored and lonely at sea is far more dangerous than it sounds. Having this connection to the mainland can help keep you thinking clearly. Additionally, some marine stereos double as a secondary emergency radio. Even if they don’t, you may be able to reverse engineer one into sending a distress call.

Cost: $250

Link to buy


As you can see, numerous items should be stored on your boat. Some for fun, some for safety, most are a mix of both. There are many more items than the 10 listed in this article that you might want to consider bringing on board. Like a small television and an external hard drive. A 1TB hard drive can store around 250 movies. All it takes is a cheap tv, power source, and a hard drive. They can cost less than $50 so buying more than one isn’t going to be a problem. If you only choose to bring a few of these items with you it is best to bring the first aid kit, satphone, and fishing gear. Good luck and happy sailing!

10 Essential Items Needed To Live On A Sailboat
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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