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Let’s face it: With all the gear and equipment you need to have for a good time out at sea, a boat can be a cluttered, busy place. Whether it’s charts and safety equipment or essentials for making your boat feel like home, your boat can quickly feel like a messy floating storage unit if it’s not organized properly.

That being said, organizing your gear and belongings on a boat is a bit trickier than when on land. In reality, just because your organization system works in your home doesn’t mean it will work on your boat. In fact, it probably won’t.

If keeping your boat organized feels like an insurmountable task, we understand. Thankfully, we have some tips and tricks for keeping your boat clean and orderly without breaking the bank or driving you bonkers. Interested in learning how to keep your recreational boat organized? Let’s get started!

Table Of Contents

Storage Ideas for Your Boat

Okay, now that you understand how storage is different on a boat compared to on land, let’s dive into the world of boat storage ideas. It turns out that there’s a whole lot of different ways to store essentials and small luxuries on a boat, it’s just about making your space work for your needs. Not sure where to start? Here are some ideas:

1. Waterproof Storage Bags

If you’re looking to store gear on deck, a storage bag is a solid option. These water, rot, and mildew-resistant bags usually sling over a railing and feature a number of pockets, which keep your essential supplies easily accessible.

Earth Pak are my favorite storage bags for organizing gear above deck. They have a fold down top which makes them completely waterproof. The one here is available in 50L or 70L sizes.

2. Marine Rope Organizer

This is the boat organizer you didn’t know you needed until now. The rope organizer is ideal for capturing all those anchor lines lying around on deck.

If you buy this product from Surf Monkey Gear, you can even get it customized with your name (or even the name of your boat!).

3. Cargo Nets

Cargo nets are a fantastic way to keep equipment organized within a hatch or locker as they can secure items to the frame of the boat to prevent them from rolling around. Alternatively, a cargo net could be placed in a good location to hold onto inflatables, lifejackets, and the like while on the water.

4. Door Hanger

Make use of the space on the back of your cabin door with a handy door organizer. The hooks at the top will allow it to hang over any door without additional hardware.

There are plenty of options available with sizes for all sorts of boats. This Simple Houseware hanger is one example which is 36 1/4″ with four pockets.

5. Plastic Storage Bins

If you have a lot of small items that need organizing, a plastic storage bin can make it easy to keep all your gear in one place. These plastic storage devices are perfect for keeping smaller gadgets in place inside a larger cabinet or can be used on their own. Plus, they’re easy to clean and often come with holes so they can quickly drain water away from wet gear when necessary.

6. In-Drawer Organizers

Drawers are great ways to store your essential items, but they can get messy pretty darn quickly. Drawer dividers can help you keep your boat’s built-in storage units even more organized so you can quickly find the item you need.

These days, drawer dividers come in a whole slew of different shapes and sizes so you can organize even the most cluttered of drawers. This example here is shown with make-up, but can be used for utensils, food, stationery, toys, or anything else you need onboard.

7. Hanging Baskets

While a boat might have limited drawer and cabinet space, we often have plenty of room for over-the-head storage. Indeed, overhead spaces are often the least utilized locations for storage, despite the fact that they can be a fantastic way to maximize a space’s efficiency.

If you’re looking for more storage space in your galley or cabin areas, consider using a hanging basket or hammock to organize some of your gear. Some storage hammocks, such as the one shown here can be used to store fruits and vegetables, bread, or other delicate items in your galley.

8. Helm Organizers

When you’re at the helm of your boat, you need to be focused on the task in front of you. Thus, time spent looking for your GPS, radio, sunglasses, and other essentials can be distracting, if not downright dangerous. Thankfully, you can get a handy helm organizing system to keep your helm area tidy and functional when you’re on the water.

It has been designed especially for boats, even with small holes around the top to hang keys, hooks, fishing gear, and other small items.

9. Cup Holders

Cup holders are an often-overlooked part of any vessel, despite the fact that they can help keep your relaxation areas much more organized when on the water. Commercially available cup holder systems can turn your outer deck into a comfortable lounging area with ease. Alternatively, they can be great for use inside the galley area, especially if you’re expecting some rock and roll during your voyage.

10. Shoe Organizer

Especially if you like to be out on the water in a warm environment, shoes can quickly become a hazard on deck as people leave them behind when walking about the vessel.

A small canvas shoe organizer can quickly be draped over your boat’s railing to create a quick and easy storage system on the fly.

11. Magnetic Strips

Wall-mounted magnetic strips are a great way to quickly and safely store tools, knives, and other essentials on your boat. These magnetic bars keep your most important items easily accessible at all times while simultaneously keeping them in a safe location, even as your boat pitches and rolls at sea.

12. In-Stair Drawers

Depending on the size of your boat, you may have stairs that lead from the outer decks into the main cabin. If you have enough room, a set of in-stair drawers can help you use this otherwise dead space for organization and storage of items that you want to have easily accessible. Just make sure to install magnetic latches so the drawers don’t constantly slide open and closed!

13. Wall Racks

A small wall rack can be a great way to use wall space for storage on your boat. Small racks, such as the ones shown here can be used to organize a spice rack or other small containers in your galley for easy access during meal times.

It’s also possible to DIY your own rack out of wood. However, If you do this, be sure to use bungee cords to secure objects to the rack, even when at sea.

14. T-Top Organizer

Put all that spare space in your T-top, bimini top or pontoon top to good use with a purpose-designed storage bag such as the one shown here.

Although designed with lifejackets in mind, they could easily be used for other belongings too.

The one shown here has 2 zippered compartments and 3 mesh pockets which can be used for any boating gear.


Built-Ins

Until this point, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing the various things you can do to add storage to your boat. However, it’s important to keep in mind that many boats already have built-in storage units – you just need to know how to maximize the space you already have.

Depending on the type of boat you own, you may already have a large amount of cabinetry and shelving units built into the interior spaces of your vessel. Most sailing and motor yachts that are meant for voyages on the open ocean will have ample racks, drawers, and under-seat lockers for securing objects while underway.

Additionally, even boats without an interior cabin will almost always have some sort of above-deck locker or two that can be used to store emergency equipment, anchors, secondary sails, and the like while on the water. Ultimately, it comes down to making good use of what you already have and supplementing your storage needs accordingly.


Organization Tips For Your Boat

Although many of us like to keep our homes clean and organized, it’s important to recognize that keeping a boat tidy requires some extra consideration that’s just not necessary when you’re on dry land. Thus, if you’re new to the world of boat storage, you may not yet understand the ins and outs of tidiness at sea. Here are a few ways that organization at sea is different from cleanliness on land:

  • Make use of all the nooks and crannies

If you’ve ever been below decks on a boat, you’ll know that space is limited. Unlike your home, where you might have room to stretch out and create lots of open space, on a boat, spaces are necessarily cramped, unless you own a large yacht with 100 cabins.

Therefore, while you might manage to nicely arrange all of your belongings in a fashionable manner at home, that tactic probably won’t fly when you’re on a boat. When you store items on a boat, you’ll use every little nook and cranny you can find. This includes under-seat lockers, lockers above deck, and makeshift cabinets and drawers. If there’s empty space on a small boat, you can be sure that it’ll be used to store something while at sea.

  • Remember, a boat can get very wet

When you store your personal belongings at home, you rarely have to worry about them getting wet (unless they’re in a bathroom or outside). On a boat, however, leaking windows and general life on the water means that most things inside your boat will likely get wet at some point, so you need to prepare accordingly.

Thus, if you have certain belongings that just can’t get wet, such as charts and sensitive electronics, consider alternative measures you can take to keep them dry. Protective cases and plastic bins, while not foolproof, can come in handy in these instances.

  • Secure your storage ready for the waves

Perhaps the number one thing to consider when planning your storage spaces on your vessel is that boats move. This might be obvious to many of us, but if you haven’t spent much time out on the water before, you may not realize what effect the pitch and roll of a boat can have on all of your belongings.

When the swell and waves pick up, even the best organization system can fail and leave your belongings strewn across the galley if not secured properly. Thus, sliding doors, cabinet doors, bungee cords, and shelf liners can go a long way to making life a little bit easier on your boat.

  • Consider accessibility

Since boats are often quite cramped below decks, you’ll want to consider how accessible each object needs to be during the day when you decide where to store it. If it’s a piece of safety equipment or something you often need to use above deck, perhaps consider storing it there, too, to avoid having to leave the helm to search for an object during your passage.

Alternatively, spare linens and extra dishtowels probably don’t need to take up a lot of prime real estate in your boat’s galley. A little bit of thought here can help alleviate a lot of frustration down the line.


How to Plan Your Boat Storage

Before we wrap this up and send you off to organize your own recreational boat, it’s important to take some time to plan out your boat storage before you just go out and start drilling holes in your boat for new cabinetry or buying new plastic bins for your smaller items.

Indeed, boat storage can get incredibly complex, so it’s imperative that all boat owners take the time to adequately pre-plan their storage layout so things don’t inadvertently become too complex or cluttered. Here are some tips to get you started:

Start with the blueprints

If you can make a visual layout of where all the best storage areas are in your boat, it’ll be easier for you to identify places where you can potentially add new storage without interrupting the natural flow of movement around your vessel. Take note of any built-in areas and how accessible they are. You can also start to identify which of your areas can be used for what type of items (e.g. food, galley supplies, emergency equipment).

Make a list

Next, you’ll want to make a list of all of the items you’ll need to store. You don’t need to get to specific, just make a general outline of all the gear you have that needs to be stored appropriately. Depending on the size of your boat, this might be a quick process, but if you have a sailing or motor yacht, you may need to spend a lot of time contemplating what it is that you actually need to store.

Start organizing

Once you have your list complete, you can start to assign various objects to appropriate storage locations. Place objects in storage areas purposefully and consider both the size and the shape of the storage location (especially important for built-ins) before using them. This will help you make better use of every square inch of available space in your boat.

Install additional storage

Once you’ve used up all of the built-in storage in your boat, it’s time to install additional storage. This can be as simple as a helm organizer or as complex as installing a set of wall-mounted cabinets. What’s important here is that you don’t go around drilling holes and adding new storage places to your boat until you’ve fully used what you already have. This will help limit clutter on your boat and keep things more organized when you’re underway.

John Allen

With more than a decade of experience cruising the lakes in my Crestliner Grand Cayman pontoon boat and my Boston Whaler, I now want to share everything I've learned with my community here at Boating Hub.

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