First, let’s sort out what exactly we are talking about here. When I say “what to pack for a week of sailing” I am talking about a monohull bareboat charter that involves you, at least one other friend or loved one, and a 20 to 54 foot monohull sailboat or catamaran. When I say “what to pack for a week of sailing” I am specifically not talking about cruising around on Jay Z and Beyonce’s 100 foot yacht in Cannes, France. While I don’t have first-hand knowledge, I have to believe that involves an entirely different wardrobe and amenity set.

If you haven’t sailed before, please hear this: Space. Is. Limited. While the boat manufactures are extra-clever about how to create cubbyholes and storage wherever they can, there just isn’t much of it, so being thoughtful about what you bring and keeping your efforts as streamlined as possible will make for a more enjoyable trip, especially if there are more than two of you on the boat. Less is definitely more!

Everyone has their own style needs and requirements for particular items they just can’t live without, so a packing list is always going to require a bit of personal flair to make sure it meets your needs and the needs of your particular trip.

Here are a few guidelines to consider.


Obviously, bring clothes that fit the trip you are on. If you are going somewhere sunny, bring a bathing suit, if you are going somewhere cold, bring fleece layers. Use common sense on that one. That said, ideally plan to wear items more than once to keep your packing streamlined.

Regardless of the destination, here are some items we always bring:

  • Rain Gear – Chances are wherever you are it will rain. Have a good rain jacket and if possible good rain pants. I am in love with my rain pants from Mammut. Comfy, look cute, can pull on over shoes or boots, easy to put on over jeans or shorts, or to wear alone. Plus they do a heck of a job on the rain part.
  • Hat – You will want a hat with either a string that goes under your chin or a clip that will attach it via a string to your shirt. It is windy out there and while you want the sun protection, you don’t want it flying away on your first day.
  • Layers – No matter how warm or cold you think it will be, bring options. Short sleeves, long sleeves, light jacket, shorts, and pants. Having the ability to layer as needed is critical. Being on a boat is like camping on the water. You want to be able to sit in the cockpit and enjoy a cocktail even if it is a little chilly.
  • Febreze – This product can magically turn the item of clothing you wear one day into the item of clothing you wear three days. Pack less, refresh more.


  • Shoes for Sailing – Shoes are optional on a boat. My husband tends to go around barefoot as a lot of sailors do. I find that too slippery so I either wear my Ecco Velcro sandals or my new Adidas Outdoor Terrex CC Boat Sleek shoes. My sandals have terrific arch support which keeps my feet from getting tired throughout the day if I am standing while at the helm. The Adidas shoes are lightweight, comfy, and incredibly grippy on wet boat surfaces and great for weather that is a little cooler. Plus they are cute. Make the footwear choice that is right for you, but keep in mind this important advice: regular sneakers and flip-flops are a no-go while you are sailing. If you wear these while you are underway, you are risking injury. Better to go without shoes or find a pair that is well-suited for the slick surfaces you encounter on a boat.
  • Shoes for Land – This is where the flip-flops and some good shoes for walking/hiking are encouraged. If you are like us, you will want to do some exploring on land, so make sure you bring some versatile shoes for that activity. Regarding fancy shoes, do what you want, but I’d leave my high heels and nice shoes at home. Getting to your land destinations may require getting into a dinghy or walking a plank, so staying as grounded as possible is advised.

Items, accessories, and sundries

This can be split into two categories. The accessories you need and the accessories you probably want. We’ll start with the ones we think belong in the “must bring” bucket:

  • Sunglasses – It is bright out there on the water! Protect your eyes for goodness sake.
  • Gloves – We learned the hard way that gloves are a necessary item. When Charles was pulling up the rope on a mooring ball in Trellis Bay it was covered in sharp barnacles and he sliced his hand open. You won’t need gloves for everything, but sometimes they are essential.
  • Headlamp – Why do you need a headlamp? Let’s see…trying to find the oil dipstick in the engine maze under the stairs, as a light on your late night dinghy ride back to your boat, checking out boat concerns after dark…Trust us. Bring a headlamp.
  • Lock and bike cable – In many places like the BVI you don’t have to worry too much about your dinghy getting stolen from the dinghy dock. In other places like Belize they tell you to lock your outboard motor to the boat so it is not stolen. We actually met a father and son who had their outboard stolen the night before we saw them paddling toward the restaurant on Hatchet Caye. One of those things that it is better to have it and  not need it than to need it and not have it.
  • Dry bag – This is helpful for when you go ashore on your dinghy. You can put your phones, wallets and extra layers in the bag with no worries that they will get wet. They are also good for on-shore adventures.
  • Local cash – While most places will take credit cards many will not, especially for things like mooring fees. In some locations ATMs are sparse, so before you disembark on your journey make sure you have some cash in the local currency.
  • Sailing reference material – For our first few trips we brought our books and notes from sailing school and we referred to them many times. It may feel like extra weight, and it is, but if you are trying to figure something out that you can’t quite remember, they are indispensable.

And here are the ones that we think you should consider:

  • Blue tooth player and updated playlists– The boat may have a good sound system and many boats are equipped to play music from your phone, so things have definitely improved when connecting your music to the boat sound system. We still bring our small ULB blue tooth player just in case. Plus, we’ll bring it on deck in the evenings for a little music at a level that won’t disturb our neighbors.
  • Dive mask and snorkel – If you have your own, bring it. If you don’t the boat will likely supply them but the fit won’t be as good as your own. My husband wears glasses and has a prescription mask which makes all the difference. Regarding fins, even if you have them, you might consider leaving them at home unless you are going to do a lot of diving. They take up a considerable amount of space and they will likely be provided by the charter company. One note about these items, in addition to being fun to use, they are helpful for inspecting your anchor and reviewing what is going on under the boat if needed.
  • Swim goggles and a swim cap – If you are a swimmer, consider bringing these items if you already have them! In many sailing locations you will find yourself in the most beautiful, giant swimming pool you’ve ever encountered. Be prepared to take advantage of it!
  • Koozies – No one likes warm beer. Obviously.
  • Spices – If you plan to cook on the boat, go ahead and bring your own spices from home. They pack small and will be less expensive than purchasing them at your destination.
  • Baggies – We always tuck a couple baggies into our luggage for sandwiches and other lunch items, and we always reuse them over and over.
  • Journal – Our travel journal is one of our most prized possessions and is the literal source for our Captain’s Log entries. We keep notes on experiences and great spots we find along the way so we can share them with others and remember what places we want to revisit.
  • Waterproof Camera – We have an inexpensive waterproof camera that we can use for snorkeling and diving, and have taken some really incredible pictures. A GoPro is an excellent option as well for both photos and videos.

Personal Products

It goes without saying that the personal care items you use on a daily basis should join you on the boat.  This does not necessarily include your entire makeup set if you can bear to part with it for a short time. A nautural is liberating! Give it a try! In addition to your day-to-day items, here are a few others that you’ll need:

  • Sunscreen – I don’t care if it is 10 degrees or 100 degrees, bring sunscreen. You are on the water and sun protection is vital. Elta MD is my favorite brand, but whatever you do, try to choose products that are Paraben free! Also, don’t forget the tops of your feet!
  • Insect repellent – This is somewhat dependent on where you are going, but why risk misery? I know from a lifetime of experience that I am flat-out delicious. When I was a child my family would go camping and I would be eaten alive while the rest of them relaxed unscathed. Ultrathon is a great, long lasting insect repellent lotion. If you are going somewhere particularly buggy, consider spraying your clothes with a permethrin product.
  • Ocean-friendly soap for hair and body – If you are always going to be showering on-shore, this doesn’t really apply, but in many locations we shower right off the back of the boat. If you are going to do that, you’ll want to use products that are gentle and good for our oceans.
  • Face wipes – Water is limited and space in bathrooms is tight. I find it is easier to “wash” my face with wipes in resealable packages.
  • Hand sanitizer – Generally a good idea.

Duffel Bags and Backpacks

Ok, you’ve got it all together! Now what do you put it in? Soft-sided luggage is the correct answer. If you were paying attention at the beginning of this post you learned that there isn’t a lot of room on a boat. That hasn’t changed. If you are an “unpacker” like me, versus someone who just keeps all of their stuff neatly in their bag the whole trip like my husband – you definitely want a bag you can “squish up” and stow away.

It is no secret that we have our favorite in this category, and the Patagonia Black Hole 90 Liter Duffel is the answer. It is water resistant and an excellent size for everything you need. Plus you can carry on so you don’t have to wait endlessly at baggage claim. And no I am not being compensated in any way to share my intense love affair with this bag. I also have the small backpack which is an excellent travel companion. It is also water resistant, has a pouch for your computer or  other electronic device, and is a great size for day hikes.

Flexibility and a Positive Attitude

Judiciously consider each item you bring and try hard to only bring the material items you feel are necessary. At the same time plan to bring an abundantly positive “go-with-the-flow” attitude, a willingness to try new things, and an open mind for new experiences. And please, leave your pride at home. Especially if you are new, embrace the fact that you still have much to learn and that mistakes will be made. Don’t worry about what others are doing and what they are thinking about your efforts.

Just do your best and enjoy every second!


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