To those of us who spend a lot of time on boats, it seems perfectly normal to keep a plunger in the dinghy or to carry around rescue tape and a voltmeter everywhere we go. We are primed and ready to fix anything without the need for some expensive chandlery or expert. And we’re darn proud of it. If someone snickers at the duct tape holding the sunglasses around my neck, that someone has clearly never lost a pair of sunglasses overboard. Living aboard—and now cruising the world—has taught me and my husband to value our resourcefulness. We’ve amassed a decent collection of “boat hacks” over the years. Here are a few of our favorites.
A small garden chemical sprayer is a handy gizmo to have on board. There aren’t many gardens to fertilize, but filled with fresh water, it becomes a salt-fighting machine. A few pumps of the handle deliver a pressurized stream of fresh water perfect for battling salt buildup on the rigging, windlass, windows and even yourself, without wasting a drop.
If you’re in the tropics, a sunshade is a must. But custom-made shades are expensive and hard to procure. An easy alternative is to make your own shade from inexpensive billboard vinyl. A quick online search will reveal the closest outfit selling old billboards—and many suppliers will even ship to you. Side perk: You can offer up advertising space to local businesses and get yourself some discounts.
If you really want to make some landlubbers gawk, be sure to add a 12-foot section of bamboo to the stern of your boat. With a line and clip tied to the far end, you now have a free and environmentally friendly fishing outrigger. It will keep an additional hand line outboard of your other fishing gear to avoid the dreaded fishing line tangle. The best part is that it nestles perfectly into a standard fishing pole holder.
In the galley, space is at a premium. My general rule of thumb is that every item aboard must have more than one use. Single-function items like potato mashers, garlic presses or those crazy egg cooker things are not welcome in these tiny cabinets. Instead, I turn to the compact and versatile Magic Bullet blender to get the job done. Not only does it make delicious fresh fruit smoothies, it also dices garlic, blends chimichurri sauce and—perhaps most importantly—grinds coffee for that perfect morning French press.
What a landlubber considers garbage might be just the thing I’ve been looking for. In fact, boaters may be the best at repurposing otherwise unwanted items. Old worn-out dock lines can be given new life as a convenient rope ladder. Empty peanut butter containers are perfect for mixing paint, applying teak oil or soaking seized parts in anti-corrosion goop. If you fish often enough to have a bamboo outrigger, chip bags can be cut up and made into shiny new lures guaranteed to reel in dinner. And if you’re looking for cargo netting to secure bins on a shelf, look no further than the nearest coastal beach. Old fishing nets, once cleansed of slime and seaweed, work just as well. And you’ll feel good about doing your part to help tidy up the shoreline.
So, if you’re a boater, with a Leatherman on your belt, peeking behind the dumpster for misplaced treasures, don’t let those glares from the seawall get to you. Stand proud with your salvaged tarp rain catchment and your bungee-cord shoe rack. We all know the real truth: They’re just jealous.
As for that plunger in our snorkeling gear, after we’ve spent time hanging out with the sea turtles, we plant that sucker onto the bottom of the boat. The plunger stays attached so we can scrub away at the persistent hull slime without losing precious energy trying to simultaneously scrub and swim.