Could you use some extra stowage space aboard your boat? Do you particularly covet the space taken by bulky items such as blankets, jackets, and paper products? Your nearest supplier of commercial fishing gear has just what you need. Netting.
Machine-knotted fishing netting is sold by the foot or the pound in numerous widths and a large variety of opening sizes. Two or three yards of netting can allow you to take advantage of an astonishing amount of otherwise unused stowage capacity in your boat. Netting is lightweight but strong, easy to rig, and it does not inhibit air circulation.
Netting is perfect for using the space in the tops of lockers, under the deck, under tables, and under counters. In lockers, the netting can be rigged as a shelf, screwed in place with small nylon wire clamps. Or for a neater look, you can stitch a canvas border around the cut-to-size piece of netting, install grommets in the corners of the border and hook or lace the netting in place. To add a net fiddle to a net shelf, just cut the netting a bit oversize for the depth of the locker you are installing it in, then rig the net shelf with the extra netting turned up at the front.
We used a rectangle of fishing net and a length of bungee cord to create wonderfully convenient stowage beneath the dining table in the main saloon. Our under-table net bag functions much like the vegetable hammocks we sometimes see tied to the overhead grabrails in other boats, except it is sized and shaped to precisely fit the space available and it is completely out of sight and out of the way. We use it both for vegetable and fruit stowage and to contain bulky items like chips and crackers—often at the same time.
The mounting system for this net bag is a length of bungee attached in a rectangular shape to the bottom of the table. The bungee can be captured at the four corners of the rectangle with wire clamps, but we opted for a better fastening system fashioned from four small blocks of wood. It is better because the blocks allow the bungee freedom of movement, promoting equal tension on all sides. The mounting blocks on our boat are about ¾ x ¾ x 1 ¼. Three of these cleats have a single hole slightly larger than the diameter of the bungee cord drilled through the center of the long dimension. The fourth block has two such holes side by side. On the underside of the table I penciled a rectangle the size I wanted the bag to be, then with two countersink screws per cleat—one on each side of and perpendicular to the hole or holes for the bungee—I attached these blocks at the four corners of the rectangle. The ends of the blocks point toward the center of the rectangle. A length of bungee threaded through the holes and knotted on opposite sides of the two-hole block forms the support for the netting. Tension can be adjusted by relocating one of the knots.
As the bungee is being installed, it must be threaded through the mesh along the sides of a rectangular piece of netting. The “belly” of the bag is determined by the cut size of the netting. You can guess at this dimension by measuring across the bungee rectangle while allowing the center of your tape to sag down to the desired position of the bottom of the bag. But ultimately this is a trial-and-error process also influenced by what you stow in the bag. The lesson here is start with a bigger piece of netting than you think you need; you can always make it smaller, but not larger. Access to this bag is gained by pulling down on the bungee on any side. The stretchier the bungee, the easier the access.
This type of bag is also ideal for the tops of lockers. For two decades our storm jib has been captured this way against the underside of the deck in the forepeak chain locker. This has proven to be the ideal location for this little-used sail. It did, however, evoke some excitement with boarding drug agents when they discovered this bale-like parcel so out of the way that it might be thought of as hidden.
On a cruising boat, shoe stowage can become a problem. We have long had an underbunk locker mostly devoted to footwear, but the shoes we use most often only return to this locker when we are tidying ship. Otherwise, they are out somewhere. If they are not actually in the way, they at least add clutter to the deck or the cabin. We found a solution aboard a boat whose crew had “fenced” the triangle of sole beneath the v-berth filler cushion with knotless netting, creating an unobtrusive open-top bin whose varied contents were completely hidden by the dark-colored, small-mesh netting. So when the crew from a catamaran gave us some left-over trampoline material, we knew just what to do with it. I cut it to size, sewed a black canvas border around the perimeter and installed snaps in the corners. But instead of turning the entire forward cabin sole into a bin, we decided to fence off only the part that was outside of the passageway. So our fence ran fore and aft, from the front side of the forward cabin bulkhead to the aft face of the V-berth. This created a V-shaped open-topped bin invisible from the main cabin, but with adequate space for several pairs of shoes. The top of the bin is low enough that it can be accessed with the bunk filler in place. When we are not cruising, the bin can be unsnapped and removed.
Open shelves are a nice interior feature in port, adding both the impression of additional cabin width and visual variety. But when the sails and/or the seas are up, open shelves become less appealing. For book shelves, this is easily overcome with removable fiddle rails, but if the shelf contains a mishmash of small items, a different strategy is required. Closing the shelves with netting restrains the contents while leaving them in view.
The type of netting to use depends on how you use it. For example, if you want the netting in place only when underway, you might select lightweight nylon netting which can be attached to the inside of the existing hard fiddle on the shelf. In port it lies on the front of the shelf behind the fiddle. To restrain the shelf's contents when underway, you simply pull up the netting and attach the top corners with hooks, snaps, or ties.
Alternatively, you might elect to raise the height of the shelf fiddle with netting that is always rigged. This configuration has the advantage of being self-tending, and if you choose a small-mesh netting, it tends to hide clutter without actually preventing you from seeing what is on the shelf. A canvas border will stabilize a net fiddle and almost certainly improve its appearance.
Clear the deck
Small-mesh netting is ideal for making bags to consolidate and/or protect otherwise loose items on deck. Two such items that come immediately to mind are sheet tails and diving gear.
Sheet bags can be sewn from canvas, but unless they have a net panel in the bottom, canvas bags on deck tend to harbor moisture. In general, the more netting the better. Nylon netting, however, can have a short life when subjected to constant UV exposure. A better choice for above-deck use is common shade cloth, available in the garden department of most home supply stores.
Shade cloth is also an ideal fabric for a bag to consolidate diving gear. A bag configured to hang from the lifelines is convenient for stowing fins and masks that are in daily use. Wet diving gear can go straight into a lifeline-mounted net bag without consequences. Putting wet diving gear into a cockpit locker contaminates other items in the locker with water and salt. A bag is also an improvement over deck stowage, the shade cloth providing a significant amount of protection from the sun. To maximize this benefit, give your bag a top flap.
Netting is designed to provide maximum functionality with minimum material. Likewise this article. The ways netting can be used to improve stowage aboard your boat is limited only by your imagination.