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Storage Space Management

I don't know about your place, but at our former house, the cars never even made it into the large two-car garage we built, because it was filled with the stuff that still couldn't fit into all the large rooms. The idea that we would be able to downsize and make the move from that large house to our first boat was, I think, somewhat optimistic on our part.

The day we had our big garage sale was actually kind of a relief. It marked the beginning of downsizing before moving to the boat. We decided that we were going to keep only those things that we both agreed we wanted to have for the rest of our lives. Looking at our possessions with this newly established guideline, we found that we could be pretty ruthless, and ended up selling most of our furniture and an embarrassingly large amount of just basic junk. There were a few deals we had to cut with each other. I let Sue keep her antique wallpaper cutter as long as I could keep the 12-foot-long wooden oar from my grandfather's skiff. But mostly, we got rid of our stuff.

Pared down to minimal possessions, the new and improved Sue and Larry "Light" excitedly moved onto Safari, our first cruising boat. We loaded on board our carefully selected clothing, the three pairs of shoes allowed each, the smallest computer and printer we could find, and an assortment of cooking supplies and foodstuffs. Then came the books, the tools, the water toys, and a gargantuan pile started mounting. And there was the sewing machine, the folding bikes; and all of this was before we had even started bringing out the real boat gear. Ugh! Where was it all going to go?

The beauty of most boats, however, is that there's actually a whole lot more usable storage space than thought at first. Generally under every seat and behind every cushion and below every berth there are very large spaces to stow things creatively as well as the visible lockers and drawers. On Serengeti, as on Safari, we even have some excellent storage spaces under the floorboards.

We soon discovered that with a little creative thinking, there was plenty of space to put away even our amazing amount of stuff. Once again, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. We'd done it! We'd made the move and everything seemed to fit. Sounds too good to be true? It was. The problem promptly reared its ugly head when we tried to find a particular item again. We simply could not remember where we put half the stuff.

After a few weeks of tearing the boat apart on a regular basis looking for the simplest of things, we realized we had to do something. We got more organized than we'd ever been in our lives and created order out of the maddening chaos.

Sue with provisionsWe devised a system in which we mapped out each storage area on the boat and then labeled it with a letter and number to efficiently guide us to its location. ("G1" for galley 1 space storage, etc.). With this accomplished, we emptied each locker, drawer, cupboard, cubbyhole, etc., and inventoried every item, which we in turn put on a spreadsheet. In the case of the food items, we keep a copy of this sheet in the galley and cross things off as they get used. This is a great list that helps with grocery shopping, and is also a good reference to see what we actually use. Believe me it was a relief to finally be able to find everything again.

Now we've just moved onto Serengeti, our second cruising boat, and this time we're a little more boatstorage-wise as we stow away our gear. Every item is inventoried and organized from the start and every locker is labeled. Also this time we've moved with less stuff than our first time. We found that we had more than we needed on our last boat, particularly in the area of clothes and galley supplies.

The key to living easily in such a drastically reduced space from your land life is to plan carefully before you start stuffing things away. Identify which items you use most frequently and designate the easiest to reach spaces for those. In many cases you will be able to customize your space and develop your own systems for easier boat life. On Safari we added some shelves on a bulkhead to hold clear Plexiglas containers for items we used everyday, like coffee, tea, sugar, flour, etc. For cutlery and cooking utensils, we through-bolted Mexican glass containers at the back of the counter top and had these items always easily at hand.

In enclosed spaces, we stacked inexpensive plastic baskets of various sizes to fit the area. These made finding items on the bottom far easier, since taking out a full basket of items on top was certainly easier than rummaging through many jumbled items. This worked particularly well in the refrigerator, so that you don't  have the door open for long and lose all that valuable cold air.

We learned that today's society overpacks a lot of products to make them look big on the shelf. You'd be amazed how much less space things require after removing their outer box, carton, or packaging. Stow your provisions to fit the space, rather than have big air gaps where outer packaging keeps items from fitting snug together. For instance, in a locker under a settee, about 40 percent more canned drinks will fit if stored individually, as opposed to being left in their cartons. Square box corners simply don't follow the shape of a boat's hull as well as loose cans do.

I think all sailors become masters at space management after a few years on a boat. My hope is that we never gather so many possessions again that we have to use these newfound skills in our next house. I'm pretty sure though that if I had another shot at it, I'd be able to get both those cars into that big garage—and maybe even have space leftover to store some of the neighbor's junk.

Storage Tips

  • Develop a numbering system for all of your storage compartments and make an inventory of each item stowed there. Label each individual storage area and keep your spreadsheet handy to locate items as needed.
  • Always return an item to the storage area it came from.
  • Make sure volatile or highly flammable items such as gasoline, acetone, paint thinner, etc., are not stored in an unventilated locker, and never in areas where fumes could reach the bilge.
  • Gather a small collection of regularly used tools, such as screwdrivers, pliers, tape measure, etc., and keep in a handy drawer or bin so you don't need to pull out the big toolbox for every little job.
  • Find plastic boxes and/or baskets that fit each storage area for holding like items as units that are easier to remove than numerous small items individually. Use clear boxes or label them well.
  • In stowing fishing rods, commit to storing them in the rod holders at the stern rail or suspend them horizontally from a cabin top inside the boat. There are plastic receptacles that will handle this or simple Velcro straps work well, too.
  • Installing plastic-coated wire storage racks (available at hardware stores) inside cabinet doors can increase storage and make access easy.
  • If a storage area is not already ventilated well (louvered or caned doors are), you may want to add some additional ventilation yourself. On Safari we improved the ventilation of the locker areas below berths and seats by cutting out holes in the doors and covering them with attractive chrome ventilation plates. This greatly reduced the chance of mold and mildew developing.
  • Corrugated cardboard boxes and brown paper bags should not stay on the boat, as they are said to be carriers of cockroaches.
  • To keep clothes fresher and electrical appliances drier, place them in two-gallon, Ziplock freezer bags first before storing them away. (Make sure you buy the freezer-grade bags as the plastic is thicker and will last longer.)
  • Install a dispenser unit for soap, shampoo, lotion, etc., (available at hardware stores) in the head compartment to make showering and everyday living a breeze.
    G a l l e y
  • Save plastic jars and bottles of every imaginable size and shape. We have found that these are great for transfers of foodstuffs from boxes and bags and are also easy to identify, while also keeping the food fresh.
  • Ziplock freezer bags, particularly two-gallon size, are handy for keeping everything fresh. Crackers, cookies, chips, pretzels, etc., get stale quickly if you don't store them in bags.
  • Take everything out of space-eating big boxes (like cereal) and stow in plastic bags, canisters, or jars, etc. You'll be amazed at the huge pile of packaging that'll mount up in your cockpit for disposal before you leave on the cruise.
  • Identify cans on the top with a paint pen. There are two benefits from this. One, if the label were to come off due to moisture, you could still identify the contents; and two, you can see what's in the can without having to lift each out to read the label. Store cans in a cool spot close to the waterline for longer life.
  • Place several bay leaves in each cupboard in which food is stored, as well as inside plastic Ziplock bags containing items like flour, rice, etc. This helps keep weevils away. For extended cruising, keep the bugs away by adding bay leaves to glass jars and then tape the tops.
  • Vegetables and fruits that don't require refrigeration should be kept in a dark, cool spot. Hanging baskets or hammocks are good for this. Store onions and potatoes separately, as they will deteriorate faster when together. Apples should be stored separately from other fruit as they tend to hasten the ripening process of some other fruits.
  • Drinking out of plastic glasses all the time can get old really fast. Bring along a few real glasses and store them wrapped in rubberized nonskid material or inside a neoprene can cooler.


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