9 Items You Should Never Bring on a Sailboat (and What to Pack Instead)

Have you been invited on a sailboat adventure? Don’t make these blunders.

From age-old superstitions to practical considerations, some objects are strictly off-limits for a sailboat, while others can be life savers. I didn’t know about many of these before moving onto my sailboat in 2017. Looking back, I wish I had.

For example, I didn’t realize cockroaches lived in places like Spain and Portugal, where winters can be quite chilly. Luckily, we noticed dead roaches in a boatyard, and we haven’t brought cardboard onto the boat ever since, no matter where we are! My other big mistake was packing the wrong clothes when I moved onboard my sailboat–all my outfits were wrinkly, and my hiking waterproofs weren’t enough to keep me dry in storms at sea. 

So whether you’re a landlubber about to embark on a short sailboat trip or a sailor preparing to move on board your vessel full-time, you’ll find this list useful and be able to avoid the pain I went through. Sailboats have limited space, so packing the right stuff is important.

Before you read on, I need to make a disclaimer. I wrote this article using suggestions from the fabulous seasoned sailors and cruisers in the Women Who Sail Facebook group. Not all off-limits items were suggested by WWS members; however, many are meant to be tongue-in-cheek.

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy for more info.

1) Bananas

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

Bananas bring bad luck on sailboats; it’s science. Well, that’s what an old nautical superstition says. According to a legend, bananas were found floating amongst the wreckages when some trade ships sailing between Spain and the Caribbean started disappearing in the 1700s. 

Even recently, fishermen have blamed bananas for mechanical issues, bad weather, or failure to catch fish. They think the ethylene gas the fruit releases acts as a fish repellant. See? Science.

Most modern sailors, including me, don’t believe the superstition. Those cruising tropical destinations often hang a big bunch of bananas in their cockpit, so they always have a snack nearby. 

Still, others have been stung; they grounded their boat whenever they carried the sweet fruit on board and will never allow a banana on their vessel again!

2) Good Quality Toilet Paper

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

Marine heads (toilets)—whether manual or electric—can’t handle toilet paper well, especially those fancy three-ply rolls. If you use any, the system clogs, leaving you with the “fun” job of extricating the toilet paper—and whatever is on it—from the plumbing. 

So if you can’t live without plush toilet paper, you’ll need to put it in a dedicated bin and throw it away with the garbage. Otherwise, the captain might delegate the fix to you.

Some sailors now install composting toilets on their boats so they can use their favorite toilet paper (that’s a thing, right?). After using the toilet paper, you throw it in the toilet, just like you do on land. Composting heads have no plumbing, so you only need to empty the compost every few weeks. 

3) People Who Don’t Like Sailing

sailboat in the bay
Photo Credit: The Wayward Home

This is a serious one; beware. Don’t embark on a passage, especially an ocean passage, with someone who doesn’t like sailing. They’ll likely have a terrible time and will inevitably complain the entire time. 

And guess what? There’s nowhere to go to get away from them! You’re trapped on a small boat with them, absorbing all their negativity. 

There are no superstitions about this, but it’s common sense. If your partner, child, or friend doesn’t enjoy sailing, suggest they jump on a plane or train and meet you on the other side. You’ll both have a much better time. Bring a fellow sailor who doesn’t get seasick to keep you company.

4) Umbrellas

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

According to an old legend, umbrellas on boats bring bad luck. Because they are used in bad weather, carrying one on a sailboat would attract storms and heavy seas. That makes sense, right?

I’ve never seen a sailor with an umbrella on board their boat. Can you imagine steering or tending to the sheets while holding onto an umbrella? It’ll likely get you airborne so you can fly away, Mary-Poppins-style. No, thanks.

If you’re taking an umbrella on board a boat because you’re visiting for the day and it’s raining, hide it away and make sure not to open it on board. The captain won’t take offense, but they’ll likely make fun of you.

5) Hard Luggage

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

If a friend or family member invites you on board a sailboat, don’t show up with hard luggage. It’s impractical, hard to lift on board and bring down below, and won’t fit anywhere other than on a bed (yours). 

There’s minimal space on board a sailboat, so cruisers must carry only what’s necessary and organize everything tidily. 

Most importantly, your sailor friend will not like you because the wheels might damage the decks. Use your trolley for land travel only.

6) Cardboard In Hot Climates 

Photo Credit: Kadarius Seegars on Unsplash

Cockroaches are attracted to cardboard—especially old, rotting, and wet cardboard—so they often hide and nest in it. Never bring any cardboard or paper on the boat in a hot place. It might lead to a roach infestation, which is no fun. 

So, if you’re bringing a gift like a can of a local delicacy or a bottle of wine for the captain, show it to them on land so they can remove the paper label before taking it on the boat.

Cockroach eggs can also travel onto a boat via the sole of your shoes. So many sailors leave the shoes they wear on land in their dinghy.

7) Women

woman wearing a jacket and life jacket while sailing
Photo Credit: The Wayward Home

There is an old superstition that says women bring bad luck on ships. The reason? They distract the crew, putting them in a mating frame of mind, which angers the sea. The men would then have to face treacherous sea conditions as a consequence. 

This long-standing theory crumbles when you look at accomplished female sailors like Ellen MacArthur, Jessica Watson, Naomi James, and Tracy Edwards. Mixed sailing crews also successfully sail dinghies, foiling catamarans, and offshore keelboats.

By the way, any female sailor I’ve ever met will make you change your mind about this superstition in no time! 

8) High-heeled Or Dark-soled Shoes

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

Most sailors prefer to walk around their boat barefoot. Bare skin provides excellent grip, and not wearing shoes helps keep the deck clean. If you prefer wearing shoes, choose trainers or boots with a soft white rubber sole. 

High heels can cause dinks in the precious teak deck, while dark-soled shoes can leave black marks on white fiberglass. If you wear either, the captain will ask you to remove them before boarding and to walk around barefoot while on board. 

You might think the captain’s priority is taking you out for a fun sail. Think again—the boat is their most valued possession.

9) Hair Dryer

Photo Credit: Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Bringing a hair dryer on a boat identifies you as a landlubber who thinks there’s any way you can tame your hair on a boat. It’s just not possible—the wind will mess up your blow-dry as soon as you’re done styling it. 

If you don’t mind looking like a landlubber and openly showing your hair drier around, the captain will probably steal it from you to use it as a heat gun, and you won’t see it again. Either way, they’ll never allow you to use it to dry your hair—it requires too much power. 

Leave your hair dryer at home.

Pack These Items Instead

Photo Credit: The Wayward Home

It’s time to get serious. If you leave those off-limit items at home, you’re already doing great as a guest or captain of your vessel. 

But if you want to make your life easier on the sea, you should source some boat life essentials. 

Pack these items whether you’ve been invited on a friend’s sailboat, are going on a charter holiday, or are preparing to live on your vessel full-time.

1) Soft Luggage

Image Credit: Depositphotos.

Bring all your clothes and gear on board in soft luggage, like a carryall, backpack, or canvas bag. You can move soft luggage around the boat easily without damaging the deck or floor and collapse it once unpacked.

Most importantly, don’t pack too much stuff. There won’t be any space to store it or many occasions to use it. 

Pack comfortable clothes you’d be happy to wear in the rain, wind, and full sun. Don’t forget personal hygiene products, though, as most boats can’t store much water. You won’t be able to shower like you do at home.

2) Waterproof Clothing

Photo Credit: The Wayward Home

While umbrellas are a no-no on a sailboat, you don’t need to get drenched when it rains. When the forecast is bad, you must either help sail the boat, sit in the cockpit, or go to shore while it’s raining. You’ll need to stay dry in these situations.

Bring or buy a waterproof jacket and trousers if you’re just a guest on a friend’s sailboat. These will work just fine for a few days.

Invest in quality waterproof workwear or oilskins if you’re moving onto a sailboat full-time. You won’t regret it when you need to climb on deck or jump in the dinghy in the pouring rain—especially when your clothes supply is running low.

3) Packing Cubes

Photo Credit: REI

If you own packing cubes, use them to pack your clothes in the soft luggage. They will keep your stuff neatly organized in the boat’s cupboards. It’s easy to lose things in there, especially on older boats. Plus, you’re already packed when you need to leave.

It’s much easier to grab a packing cube from an awkward storage space than to try and find the pants you want to wear. Chances are you’ll never see them again.

Pro tip: bring an extra packing cube and use it to store used clothes.

4) Non-iron, Quick-drying Clothes

Photo Credit: The Wayward Home

There are no irons on sailboats—they take up space, weigh a lot, and do a pointless job. Your clothes will get wrinkly as soon as you step on deck. 

Plus, when you live on a sailboat, even just for a week, you rarely get to use a washing machine. Most cruisers amass their dirty clothes for weeks before stuffing them all into a duffel bag and taking them to a laundromat.

Pack mostly non-iron, quick-drying clothes. That way, if you need to wash them (by hand), they will dry quickly and look wrinkle-free.

5) Emergency Power Bank

The Inergy Kodiak solar generator shown on a picnic table while camping
Photo Credit: Inergy

Power is a precious commodity on a sailboat, even if you stop in a marina to charge the batteries every night. 

When you’re not on shore power, you rely on leisure batteries and a solar or wind power system for energy. That means you need to keep technology use and charging to a minimum so the fridge can keep the food cold and the essential nav gear can operate.

Bringing a power bank allows you to charge your tech anytime you like while saving boat power. It will also earn you brownie points with the captain.

7) Sun-Protective Clothing And Reef-safe Sunscreen

Photo Credit: The Wayward Home

While we’re all bombarded with the benefits of vitamin D lately, remember that unprotected exposure to the sun’s UV rays can damage your skin and potentially cause cancer. Repeated sunburn can increase the risk of melanoma. Ouch.

When you’re on a boat andf the weather is good, you’re hanging out in the sun most of the time, both on the vessel and onshore. You’re exposed to UV rays even under the bimini because the sun can travel through the fabric. 

So make sure to bring sun-protective clothing and reef-safe sunscreen. You won’t look very sexy, but you’ll keep melanoma at bay—a fair trade.

6) A Flashlight Or Headlamp

Image Credits: Deposit Photos

At night, you might return to the boat in the dark or need to save power while underway. That’s when a flashlight or headlamp is super helpful. 

You can see the boarding ladder from the dinghy at anchor, move confidently on deck without smashing a foot into a stanchion, and open the cockpit door easily. 

Underway, you can keep the lights turned off at all times, as the power keeps the navigation equipment and fridge running.

It’s one of those small, light items you won’t regret packing.

8) Entertainment

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

If you’re going on long passages or sailing to remote areas, consider bringing some form of entertainment on board. 

If you want to avoid screens, you can play mini board games, read books, play cards, listen to podcasts, or read crossword books.

While it’s great to sit with your thoughts and work through some stuff while looking at the waves, you can get loopy if you do that for too long. You don’t want to get bored out of your mind or start ruminating on things, so bring your favorite low-power entertainment.

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