INSIGHTS: Six Boat Items That Make Life Easier

Five years ago, Alison Gieschen and her husband Dan sold everything they owned and moved aboard a sailboat with the intention to sail to every continent on the planet. Now, half-way through their planned 10-year odyssey, Alison has identified six items on board that they really could not do without.

Published 1 year ago

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”

Arthur Conan Doyle

Everyone who has lived aboard a sailboat for an extended period of time, will concur that living aboard is challenging. This level of difficulty may differ according to the type of boat you purchased and the amount of money you had to spend. If you live on a brand-new boat and were able to install the best of everything, this article may not apply to you. If you don’t own a luxury yacht and are looking for suggestions on items that can make a huge difference in your comfort on a day-to-day basis, we have some suggestions.

We have been aboard bigger and newer boats than our own. Some of these boats we envied, others we thought, “Meh, this is nice, but we like our little boat better.” We have spent five years as liveaboards. We are finally at the point where we are as happy as clams.

We snuggle down into our cabin on our 43ft Taswell at the end of the day, look around us and think, “We love our home.” We embrace this feeling and take it as a measure of success that we have done a few things right.  So here are six items that have made a huge difference to us in our life as “live-aboards”.

1. Handholds

This may seem silly, but I can honestly say that during every rough passage, I thank God we purchased a boat where great consideration was taken for handholds. I’m so obsessed with this feature that on every boat I’m welcomed aboard, my eyes immediately search for the handholds. On the boats that have huge gaps between the places to steady yourself, I think, “How do these people handle rough weather!”

If you are looking to purchase a boat, I highly recommend keeping this feature in mind. If you already have a boat there are modifications you can make to place handholds throughout your boat. Onboard a friend’s Beneteau, we saw a rope installed on the ceiling down the center of the cabin. This boat had a huge open gap from the companionway to the front of the boat. The rope, although not ideal, did provide something to grab as you walked forward in rough weather to prevent being tossed around like a rag doll.

Our boat gets a 10 out of 10 in handholds. There is not one space I have to cross where I don’t have at least one secure grip to steady myself. Why is this so important? Even on day sails you can encounter waves that pummel you broadside and will knock you on your butt if you don’t have a handhold. When the weather is rough, I go into monkey mode. I can move from grip to grip and keep myself secure and move safely anywhere on our boat, even if she is tossing like a toy ship in a bathtub.  Since safety is our number one priority, I rank handholds as an extremely important consideration for safety and ease.

2. Bungees

The bungee cord. It’s a common item that has many uses. None are as important as keeping items aboard your boat from becoming dislodged projectiles. It took us a couple of years to figure out how bungees can be used to not only secure items but to store items you use daily that are inconvenient to dig out of a cabinet or cupboard.

As a security feature, we have learned it‘s prudent to put a bungee across the bookshelves, even if they have ledges. The first time we were ravaged by 20-foot waves crossing the Atlantic, every book and manual secured safely on our bookshelves became projectiles. Binders popped open on impact sending cascades of loose papers to run amok with our library of sailing books.  The bookshelves seemed to be designed to keep books in place, but when the boat really starts a rockin’ they will not stay there.

Our favorite bungee addition relates to our morning tea-drinking habit. We have an alcove in our galley that used to have a microwave oven. We ditched that right away as we didn’t plan on being in marinas very often. The power consumption was prohibitive to daily use with our batteries. That left a nice space to accommodate our morning ritual.

We do keep a toaster oven on hand as it is very useful when we are at the dock. Next to it, we have a bungee containing all the items we need to brew and fix our tea. We don’t have to dig out the tea press, the honey, the container of tea, and other items we use every morning.

An even greater need in my galley is the items I use habitually when I prepare a meal. This includes oil, salt and pepper, and my favorite spices. I have a deep basket bungeed along the bulkhead next to my sink. I don’t have to open any drawers or cabinets to quickly and easily access those items I know I will be using every time I cook.

In the same vein, I have stack-able kitchen utensils that are secured to the wall with a small bungee. They start with a deep ladle and nest a series of handy utensils, ending with a spatula. I also use this daily. These nesting utensils have never been unseated, even in the roughest weather. I love not having to open any drawers or search for a utensil when cooking gets challenging.

Pro Tip. Use a bungee across your bookshelf in the nav station or in front of any other shelf, and use it to hold glasses. Reading glasses, sunglasses and whatever glasses you use daily will be accessible, safe, and stay in place. This was a huge breakthrough for us as my husband was always looking for his glasses as he put them in different places around the boat. One bungee, every time, for all glasses, will make your life easier.

Lastly, we have three bins tucked under a vanity shelf in our stateroom secured with a bungee. One bin is for shoes, the other for material and miscellaneous items. The bins stay nested when they are stacked. The bungee cord wraps around the top bin and keeps them all in place. We no longer have shoes scattered in various closets. We keep things that we don’t have cabinet space for in these bins, but use often.

3. Fresh Water Bidet

This may sound strange, but once you have a boat bidet, you can’t live without one. We were not bidet people during our land life. They were beginning to be in vogue. Our youngest and her husband installed one in their bathroom with a fancy seat heater, a warm water version. It was fun, a novelty and we could see how one could get used to a bidet lifestyle. But a bidet on a boat? Who woulda thunk!

After spending a few weeks at our daughter’s house, we returned to our boat. We looked at our head and immediately missed the bidet. To our horror, in just a few weeks, we had become bidet snobs!  “Dan,” I inquired of my captain, “Is there any possible way we can have a bidet on our boat?”

At first, he grumbled and mumbled a few things about water usage and other improbabilities, but with enough nagging, he looked into it. Sure enough, there was a simple hand-held version of a bidet that would fit and could be easily installed by tapping into our sink faucet piping. We ordered one while we were at a marina and he installed it in less than an hour.

While one might think this is an extravagance, it is actually very practical. First, your toilet paper usage gets cut by ¾. There is nothing worse than carrying large bundles of toilet paper onto your boat and figuring out how and where to store all those rolls.  Second, during passages, we don’t get to shower as often. We can feel clean and fresh every single day with a few squirts from our bidet!

Sold yet? You will thank me.

4. Dehumidifier

Boat mould. We live on the water, it’s unavoidable. The problem with a damp boat fostering mould can be minimized with a dehumidifier. A few years into sailing, we purchased a Meaco DD8L Junior. This is not something we use when we are cruising, but it does an amazing job drying out our boat when at the dock or when we are away.

Every time we enter a marina and have access to shore power, we start up Junior. We tried the small dehumidifiers with the discs that pull the water out of the air. They are messy, need to be replaced often and didn’t make a dent in our humidity. Junior sucks a gallon of water out of the air, out of your closets and clothes, in 24 hours.

For short-term usage, Junior has a tray. When it fills to capacity, an alarm sounds and you empty it. If we are leaving the boat for an extended period of time, we put Junior on the countertop. He has a tube that you can drain directly into your sink. We come back from our shore excursion to a bone-dry boat with not even a hint of mould or mildew. Personally, this is a huge asset to me as I can’t stand pulling damp clothes out of my closets and wiping mould off our ceiling panels.

There are several different brands of dehumidifiers to choose from. We love this brand. Our first one broke just shy of one year old. We were stranded in Ireland during Covid, the dampest country on the planet. Poor Junior worked so hard; he gave up on life. The good news was that the company shipped a brand new unit to us in a matter of days. No questions asked. We put the old one in the box and sent it back, shipping paid. One phone call, no hassles and their customer service was excellent.

5. Super Absorbing Towel

We didn’t know what was in the blue tube we found on our boat. We bought our boat from an older couple who had lived aboard for nine years. When we picked up the boat, the couple had purchased a car and took away only what they could carry in their trunk. They left everything else on the boat, from clothing to spices, food, books and a few things stored in bilge compartments that we are still discovering years later. One day, I read the writing on the blue tube under the sink: 3 sq. ft. drying mate. I shrugged and shoved it back in its place.

The first water crisis aboard, we had water flooding the floor of the cabin and Dan yelled, “Quick, get me towels.”

I suddenly remembered the blue tube under the sink. I pulled it out and extracted the blue towel wrapped up inside and threw it to Dan. It was a miracle. Instead of wasting a prolific amount of paper towels, or soaking bath towels, this little monster absorbed copious amounts of water which I was then able to wring into the sink. In moments, the water was gone.

I inspected the canister more closely and discovered that this little rag gets put away damp, needs no drying and is machine washable. I was blown away by how well it worked. The best part was not having to hang it out to dry after it did its incredible job.

We have used this mat more times than I can count. It’s always handy and accessible when we have our little accidents and have to wipe up large amounts of water. We’ve also had our fair share of spilled beverages which are handled easily by the mat. One swipe; spill gone. This happens way more than I could have predicted.

Unfortunately, I went on Amazon and searched for Mirage Drying Mate. I don’t think it exists anymore. The previous owners must have bought it a decade ago before they moved on board. The closest thing I could find to it is the ShamWow towel. I believe it will provide the same service. I would recommend finding a sealable plastic canister to store the towel in if it doesn’t come with one. The towel works best when it’s slightly damp. This is one of those items that you don’t need that often, but when you do, you are very grateful to have it.

6. Collapsible Bikes

I saved the best item for last. I don’t know where we would be without our bikes. We have the Zizo collapsible bikes which are all aluminum construction. We purchased waterproof bags to pack them in and we strap them to the railing on our stern. They are light enough and compact so passing them over the railing and into the dinghy when we are at anchor is not a problem.

We have ridden these bikes literally hundreds of miles. The wheels are tiny so they are not meant to ride up mountains, even though we have tried. In Cartagena, Spain we attempted to ride up a mountain to see a castle. When we were halfway, we got off and walked the bikes the rest of the way. Pro-bikers on their 10-speeds glanced at us with disdain as they peddled past, barely puffing. The flip side was awesome. Our bikes do very well downhill.

We use our bikes when we provision. We purchased bike bags that attach to the back of the bikes. Between our backpacks and the saddlebags, we can carry multiple six-packs as well as weeks’ worth of groceries in a single trip.

Our bikes are light and easy to take on public transportation. We have been in cities and have packed them on trains to get to distant places and then used the bikes to sightsee and get around. These bikes are great for flat terrain.  We have ridden up to 20 miles in a day with no problem. To say we love our bikes is an understatement. They are our main mode of transportation any time we visit the shore.

A few lessons we have learned along the way:

  • Have secure locks for your bikes, they get stolen a lot.
  • Have spare tubes and a pump with you at all times.
  • Have a light, as you may not always get back before dark.
  • Purchase a bell, pedestrians walk in front of you… a lot.
  • Get a holder for your cell phone so you can navigate hands-free.

In our experience, many of the cities in Europe are extremely bike-friendly and have paths to allow you to explore safely.

Life aboard a sailboat is not always easy, but the longer you live aboard the more items you find that you can’t believe you ever lived without. We are slowly but surely learning to improve our level of comfort on our boat. We are very happy with the progress we’ve made. With each discovery, we appreciate the difference it makes. We love our boat, and our life, and are happy to share what we have learned. Hopefully, we can help others who are looking for a pleasant life, living on their little boat in a very big body of water.

Alison Gieschen
SV Equus

Please share in comments, below, the items on board you really could not do without.


About the Author:

Alison Gieschen met her husband met in 1985 in a sailboat race in New Bern, North Carolina. After learning they both shared a passion to someday sail around the world, they fell in love, got married and raised a family. When the children were all grown up, Dan and Alison embarked on their sailing adventure, Their plans include visiting every continent and living aboard their sailboat for 10 years.

Read more about their voyages at

Watch their videos on the Sailing Equus YouTube Channel.

Read Alison’s INSIGHT article on Why Sailing Makes you Healthier.


Other INSIGHTS can be found here.


The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of or World Cruising.

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  1. November 13, 2023 at 8:15 PM
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    I FINALLY have validation for my shamwows! My husband will get a true chuckle out of this!! Thanks for sharing!!