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Cruiser Comforts: Ways To Maximize Your Onboard Living Space

You just can’t see it. There’s something wrong with your boat, but you can’t put your finger on what it is. She runs great. She’s seaworthy and safe. And there’s nowhere you’d rather be than your perch at the helm.

But at anchor or in a slip, it’s another story for you and your crew. Where the family feels refreshed and rejuvenated underway, you all seem to get tired and worn out the longer you stay on board. But don’t give up the ship! Some subtle fixes can make extended cruising more enjoyable. Here are six ways to improve the comfort level of your boat’s interior.

Breathing Room

Ever put on a sweater on a sunny, hot July day? That means you know the difference between air conditioning and ventilation. There’s a reason the system, and indeed an entire industry, is nicknamed HVAC, and if you skip the V for ventilation you may be missing the whole point. “Ventilation is the paramount part of that HVAC equation,” says Dave Gerr, naval architect and professor at Westlawn Institute of Marine Technology. “If you don’t have enough heat you’ll be freezing, but you can’t survive without ventilation. Same thing with air-conditioning—you’ll be miserable and hot without it, but you need proper ventilation to live.” Think of survival as a guide to the very basic parts of comfort: air, water, food, sleep.

The interior space on this Fleming 58 brings all the comforts of home.

The interior space on this Fleming 58 brings all the comforts of home.

Back to that cardigan you just buttoned up, you’ve got your air conditioning blasting because, well, it’s hot out. But you’re not always more comfortable because of the temperature, it’s often actually because the plenums are moving the air. Sometimes it makes more sense, particularly when there’s a breeze, to open some ports and hatches, and let the air move through the boat. If your boat is well designed it will do the job, and letting the interior air out is good practice.

Some boats, of course, need a little help moving air through, particularly if you’re anchored out of the wind. In that instance a fan may be just the ticket. Caframo ( manufactures fans for installation on boats and the company has a handy application guide that allows boaters to select just the fans they will need to push the air around the various spaces on their boats. “We look at the CFM (or cubic feet per minute) which is the airflow that each fan provides,” says Stephanie Guran, marketing specialist for Caframo. “We also offer fans with additional features: There’s a model called the Kona that’s weatherproof, to be located where it could be splashed or sprayed. And we offer the Sirocco, which has a 360-degree gimbaled design to be positioned in any direction. We also have a fan that can be installed right on the hatch and exhaust air out of the cabin or bring fresh air in. Even with the hatch closed, it can offer a cooling breeze inside the cabin.” Caframo fan hardware starts as low as $29.99.

Keeping the air moving when you’re not on your boat lets you start from a better place each time you step aboard. The portable Breathe Easy air purifier from Dometic ($109.99; will filter odor-causing bacteria (and other nasty stuff) from the air in enclosed spaces, while a West Marine air dryer ($94.99; warms and circulates the air to keep that damp funk in check.

Film Study

Another way to make your boat’s interior more comfortable is to block out some of the sunlight that warms it up. Applying window film is nothing new, but today’s technology more effectively blocks bright light and harmful UV rays, both of which contribute to the breakdown of interior fabrics, wood surfaces, and more.

“A lot of it has to do with pure comfort because the boat is extremely hot inside and also we see a lot of glare and sometimes it’s magnified on the water,” says Stefan Nodwodny of The Window Film Specialists ( “There’s kind of a misconception: UV rays produce only 40 percent of your fading. You have to knock some of the visible light down, but we have to be cautious because we don’t want to put something on the windshield where you have a hard time driving the boat. We’ll meet with you and show you some options, but it’s important to look at how a given product looks at certain times of the day and in the evening, so you find the right product for the right application.”

If you’re considering adding film to your boat’s windows, be aware that the marine application can be tricky—interior trim, valances, and headliners can block installer access to the edges of the windows, very few windows are square in shape, and other factors can affect installation costs, which are generally in the $15 to $25 per square foot range.

Lighten Up

Toning down the light that streams into the saloon through the windows is one thing, but you also may enjoy having more hands-on control of onboard lighting after the sun goes down. There’s never been a better time for this with the advent of LEDs suitable for refit.


“The simplest thing would be to add dimmers,” says Kinder Woodcock, project manager for IMTRA. “Unlike the early days of LEDs for illumination, most LED lights available today can be controlled by dimmers, and that adds a whole new dimension.” This makes sense for boaters, since evening cocktails onboard may require a softer light than, say, a nighttime session hunched over the charts spread out on the dinette, looking closely at soundings and bridge heights to plot out the next cruising leg.

But dimming ain’t what it used to be. It’s better. “It was an interesting selling point in the past for us that our LED lights could dim up and down without changing the color,” Woodcock says. “We thought in the past that was pretty cool and customers thought that was a nice feature as well.”

“With an incandescent or halogen, you don’t just lower the light level when you are dimming,” he continued. “You’re changing the color (or the Kelvin temperature) of the light. The filament is actually turning a different color as the light level decreases, similar to what happens when the sun goes down. So whether you’re aware of it or not, we are accustomed to our lights turning more yellow as they were dimmed.” But new Correlated Color Temperature (or CCT) changing technology is giving consumers the option to actually change the Kelvin temperature (e.g., from cool white to warm white) within a single light fixture and control this through dimming or a switching sequence. “We don’t know if that’s going to catch on,” Woodcock says. “But we’re seeing it in the domestic market and commercial jets. We’ll be curious to see if boat owners will ask for it.”

Solid Sleep

There’s no better way to help make the most of your time aboard than to get a good night’s sleep. When you’re rested, your mood improves and you’re ready to take on the day’s challenges. Many people sleep well on boats, thanks to the gentle rocking of the hull, and the fresh air enjoyed all day.

But the converse of that is a bad night of sleep. Sometimes quarters are a bit closer than what you have at home. Tossing and turning, unable to get comfortable, you take longer to get your rest, and invariably, finally drift off to sleep just as others wake up and want to start their day.


A good night’s sleep starts with a good foundation, the mattress. “If you don’t sleep well on your boat, you go home earlier,” says Dave Ogle, owner of HandCraft Mattress Company ( “You don’t stay aboard as much and you don’t get the true value of your investment out of it. We say we’re making a live-aboard mattress but most of our customers don’t live aboard. You just want to sleep well when you’re on board, enjoy your boat, and overnight more often. But by Sunday, if your back is killing you, you’re stressed out and you’re not enjoying it—you’re going home and looking forward to getting to your bed.”

So why not invest in the one-third of your time you spend aboard sleeping (or trying to) and get a new mattress (and maybe even one for the guest stateroom)? There’s no reason your boat shouldn’t be as comfortable as your home. “Our first question [when meeting with a new client] is, What do you sleep on at home that works for you?” Ogle says. “If you love an innerspring bed with a pillow top, we don’t waste time talking gelfoam beds or latex beds.”

Of course, onboard accommodations may limit the size and thickness of a new mattress, and the weight of some mattress types may make stowage areas inaccessible. But there are solutions: “We do a hinge fold so the bed can be folded into two but the top is covered as one,” Ogle says. “So it folds over, but when it lays flat you can’t feel it. This way you can fit a heavier bed, but the wife can still get access to stowage on her own. There are a lot of little details like that.” Custom mattresses from HMC range from $800 to $4,000.

The Fabric of Life

You may have been on boats where the furniture is designed to fit a certain space or meet some requirement other than user relaxation and enjoyment. The comfort of onboard furniture starts with the cloth used to cover seating surfaces, armrests, and pillows.

An interior designer can help source furniture and soft goods, but just considering the way you think about your boat’s outfitting is a good step towards improving the situation on board. “For any fabric that will be on the furniture or pillows, the ‘hand’ of the fabric is very important; it needs to be soft and comfortable,” says Joanne Lockhart, president of YachtNext, a yacht interior-design firm ( “The filling in all furniture needs to be checked so it is up to the comfort level the owners enjoy. Depth of furniture is very important, too—if the owners of the yacht are short or tall this needs to be taken into consideration.”

But welcoming guests aboard is more than just offering them soft cushions and comfortable chairs, it’s also about setting a mood, a tone that relaxes everyone—and it has to come from the host, the boat’s owner: “Comfort can also be perceived in the warmth of the look of the interior,” Lockhart says. “Try to make a comfortable, inviting space rather than a stately home where guests are terrified to touch anything.”

Lose Your Edge

And speaking of terror, we should mention that comfort and onboard safety go hand in hand. When it comes down to a boat’s interior, the possibility of a serious injury can make things dicey for the crew when seas kick up. “There should be no sharp outside corners,” Gerr says. “If you’re on a boat that’s rolling and fall into something, those sharp edges and square corners can cause serious injury. There are many boats built like that today: Beautiful, modern-looking furniture and every one of them with sharp corner edges.” If you’re considering new furniture, take the opportunity to get rid of those sharp corners.

While on the subject of safety, there’s one additional interior factor: Boats designed to show off their size sometimes have large open spaces in a saloon. It may look nice and feel like home, but put that boat in a sporty seaway and you’ll find it means something else: There’s nothing to grab onto should you lose your balance.

“On larger yachts people want their open space, but I do often try to design it so that there’s no area that’s really wider in terms of built-in furniture than 36 to 48 inches,” Gerr says. “So you feel like you’re going into this big space but there are things at least 30 to 36 inches high there that you can catch yourself on if you start to slip and fall.” That’s better than falling across a wide-open saloon to fetch up on the sharp corner of a table.

Take these factors into account when you consider refitting your interior and everyone onboard will feel safe and comfortable. And there will be nowhere else they’d rather be.

This post originally appeared in Power & Motoryacht and can be found here.