You’ve owned your boat for a few years now and you find yourself asking, “What’s the point of owning a boat if I don’t make a vacation out of it? However, your next thought may be, “How in the world do I take a vacation on my boat?” While it is true that there is a lot involved in an overnight or extended trip aboard your boat, the freedom you feel being able to use your boat as a method of transportation to a tropical destination or the surreal feeling you get when you’re out on the water at night makes it all worth it. The only thing holding you back is a well-thought and properly executed Boat Vacay Plan. Use the list of frequently asked questions below to help you get started.
How should I prepare for an overnight or extended boat vacation?
Practice makes perfect. Start by spending an entire night on board your boat, even if it’s just sitting at the dock. Think of this as your trial run to make sure you are fully prepared and get rid of any anxieties. During this trial run, practice tying off, docking and anchoring in the daylight so that you’re prepared to do so at night as well in case it becomes necessary on your vacation.
Next, thoroughly prepare and review your supplies list. Below, we will detail the items you will want to include. Reviewing your list allows you to check that you have plenty of each item and that every item is in good working condition. You don’t want to pack a flashlight whose batteries are dead or realize too late that you used the last of your onboard toilet paper during Labor Day weekend.
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Before embarking, you will also want to map out your trip and do research on the areas you will be docking, if applicable. For starters, you want to check the weather in each area for the time that you will be gone. Of course, the weather can change by the hour so you will need to check in periodically while you’re on the water but knowing ahead of time could significantly influence your plans. Speaking of plans, you will want to have a Plan B with alternate routes and destinations in case of inclement weather or any other unforeseen circumstances. Furthermore, you’ll need to find out if the waterways you’ll be traversing have publicly accessible areas to dock or tie off. Looking over charts of these areas will help you find the best places for anchoring, fishing, camping and performing other activities. Researching ahead of time will also apprise you of any advanced notice requirements. For example, some marinas require reservations for slips in advance. It’s also wise to check your destinations for events or holidays that may increase the amount of traffic in the area.
If you are traveling to another state or even another country, it’s very important that you learn the regulations of boating, the waterways, marinas/docks, etc. in these areas. For example, some states require boats to be inspected for certain growths on their boats with the goal of keeping invasive species out of their regions. Other states require boating courses to have been completed or stickers to be displayed on vessels in order to operate on their waters. There could also be regulations surrounding licensing, safety equipment and ages that you will need to be aware of. As for leaving the United States, every passenger will need a passport and there’s a chance you will need to go through customs. Doing thorough research will help you plan for all of this ahead of time so that your trip is smooth sailing.
As always, you should have an emergency plan that includes checking onboard safety gear to ensure everything is functional and stocked. You should have plenty of life jackets for all onboard plus a couple extra. You should inform family or friends where you’re going, how they can reach you and when you are due to return home. If you don’t already have one, you should install a GPS tracking system for your boat. Lastly, your emergency plan should include an evacuation strategy and all passengers should run an evacuation drill.
Most importantly, you should inspect your boat meticulously for any damage or malfunction. Even a loose screw could cause some problems that may be very difficult to handle while out in open waters. Check your sail, your engine, your nav systems, your ropes and cords, water pumps, kitchen appliances, anchor windlass, lights, toilet, any lifeboats you have onboard. Everything should be operable in case of emergencies.
What supplies do I need and how much?
Most importantly, you’ll need all of your boat safety gear. This includes, but is not limited to life jackets (including a throwable), a fully-stocked first-aid kit, a high-beam flashlight, battery powered lanterns, LED headlamp, fire extinguisher, spare VHF radio and emergency signaling device.
Equally as important is plenty of food and water. The rule of thumb for water supplies is 2 liters per person per day. You will of course want to bring extra water in case your trip lasts longer than expected or you have an intense day. As for food, this will depend on whether or not you plan to stop along the way for dinner or even groceries. Either way, it will be helpful to make a menu, accounting for every meal plus snacks. In addition to the regular meals, you will want to have enough food on board to feed everyone for a couple of days in case you cannot make it to shore according to your timeline for whatever reason. Preparing most of these meals at home ahead of time is advised because food storage and cooking space will be hard to come by. You can prepare one-pot warm meals and heat them up onboard.
You will definitely need to bring coolers. Even if you have a refrigerator, coolers will come in handy for storing frozen goods or items that will be used frequently like water bottles. You can also store a couple of frozen gallon or half-gallon jugs to be used for freshwater when they thaw.
In terms of everyday items, you will want to include everything you need for your normal routine on land, including money, device chargers, coffee, your favorite pillows, medications (sea-sickness pills or bracelets included, just in case), bathroom necessities, etc. Pack like you’re packing for any old regular land vacation. Don’t forget, you may need to convert your currency if you are visiting a foreign location.
Some items that may not be in your normal routine that you will want to consider are warm layers, even during warmer months because it can get chilly at night, bug repellent, sun-shower bags, snorkeling or other water activity gear and cleaning supplies in tools to prevent mildew and condensation buildup.
In terms of energy, is recommended that you have reserves of batteries and fuel for your boat. Having a shore power cord could be very useful.
When is the best time to head out?
The best time to leave on your extended boat trip really depends upon your timeline and when you’re hoping to arrive at any specific destinations. However, it is often recommended that you start your trip in the daylight. This gives your eyes time to adjust when the sun starts to go down. Many boaters like to start in the wee hours of the morning, allowing for plenty of daytime to fish or participate in sport along their route.
Which boats are best for overnight / extended trips?
The best boats for extended trips are of course, sail catamaran and monohull sailboats. Additionally, power cruisers like cuddy cabins, cabin cruisers, weekenders and motor yachts are just as suitable and are more comfortable. Sportfishing yachts, trawlers and multi-hull power boats are also just as effective for long trips.
What is the ideal boat size for overnight / extended trips?
For sailboats, you’ll want something in the 30-56’ range. For other boats, you won’t want to take an extended trip in anything smaller than 26 feet.
How do I stay connected?
There are many connectivity devices out there these days that can help you take advantage of WiFi, cellular or satellite signals. Many of these have a hefty price tag, but they do exist. You will need an antenna to take advantage of any of these as well, so get one if you don’t have one. Staying connected will be essential on an extended trip and cell phones are not reliable. These devices include: Satellite Communications, SSB radios, Very High Frequency (VHF) radios (which you should always have onboard), Citizen Band (CB) radios, Family Radio Service radios and Single Sidebands (SSBs).
It is important to note that boaters need a VHF Ship Station License if they are traveling to a foreign port, need to communicate to bridges for navigational purposes and/or have SSBs.
How do I practice good etiquette?
When you’re learning the regulations of the areas you will be visiting, you’ll most likely come across items like fishing limits and license requirements. Understanding these is all part of the cultural etiquette that comes along with visiting a new territory. Follow these guidelines and give others plenty of space to play, fish and boat and you shouldn’t have any issues. This goes for your passengers as well – make sure they are having fun in a safe and courteous manner.
How can I be prepared for on-board emergencies / maintenance?
If you are not capable of fixing anything that goes wrong on your boat – whether it’s mechanical, technical, electrical or plumbing related – then you will want to plot the locations of some boat mechanics along your route just in case. Make sure you have tools, a plunger and backups of anything that could break/malfunction if possible.
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Where should I dock?
As part of your pre-trip planning, you should research your desired destinations and find publicly accessible marinas, docks, harbors or beaches where you are allowed to beach your boat. You should mark these on your charts so you know exactly where you’re heading and where you will end up. Be sure to reserve slips if the marinas in the area require advanced reservations. If you are too far from land or a publicly accessible docking area, you can always anchor or moor your boat for the night/time being. Just remember, there will most likely be anchoring/mooring laws that you will need to follow.
Should I dock every night?
This is up to you and quite possibly up to the ocean. Depending on how far you are from land when you feel you need to tie off for the night, tying off at a dock may not be an option. You may have to anchor or moor in place for the night. So, if you would feel more comfortable at a marina, on a beach or at a dock for the night, plan your trip accordingly so that you will arrive at your destination in plenty of time, just in case you encounter anything along your route that could slow you down.
Where do I fuel up?
Prior to heading out on your epic overnight or extended boat trip, you will need to map out your route. While doing this, search for fuel docks near these areas or along your route and plot them on your charts. There are apps that help you find fuel docks, but you may not be able to access these if you are out of range. Some boat GPS devices can lead you to fuel docks as well, so if you need to buy a GPS, see if this is a feature. If you’ve never used a fuel dock before, do your research on how to use and approach them.
What are my travel options?
As a legal boat owner, you can essentially go anywhere you want. You just have to follow all laws and regulations that apply to the country whose waters you are in or whose land you want to approach. This is why it is imperative that you map out your route ahead of time and research the ins and outs of the rules and regulations that apply to the waterways and boaters in that region.
If you are looking to embark on your first extended boat vacation, we recommend taking it easy. Don’t’ venture out too far, don’t plan to visit another country, find harbors that are well-traveled and don’t sail during storm seasons. Practice for your trip ahead of time by staging a pretend overnighter at a dock. Make sure your vessel is seaworthy and you have all the comforts of home. And of course, relax and enjoy the big blue (or little blue, if you’re overnighting it on a beautiful lake).