One of the best parts of having a boat is that when you want to head somewhere new, you just untie the dock lines. No need to pack a bag, everything is already aboard. You have the flexibility to sail anywhere you want that has water. This is all good, in theory. But, what are you supposed to do when you’re based in freezing NYC and all you want to do is head to a warm Caribbean island? Bound by limited vacation days, we knew we didn’t have the time to sail our own boat all the way down. We were going to have to charter a sailboat.
Being fully capable of sailing on our own, we opted for a bareboat charter through Dream Yacht Charter. The plan was to fly in to Martinique and sail up to Guadeloupe. We were prepared for the nautical miles, but I had no idea what to do without all the sailing and cruising “comforts” that we keep on our own boat. Did I need to bring a lock and cable for the dinghy? Would I need my own PFD? What about a first aid kit?
Just How bare did this bareboat truly come?
I usually subscribe to a carry-on only mentality when we travel, but snorkels, masks and fins take up a lot of space! After a lot of research, I put together a pretty solid packing list that all fit in our two checked bags (we came way under the weight limit, too!). We used almost everything we packed, and there were only a few extra items I wish I would have brought along.
Most charters come stocked with the essentials and basic equipment – charts, first aid kit, life jackets, lock and cable for the dinghy, etc. Be sure to check with your specific charter company before assuming they will have any thing specific on board. A lot of charter bases have companies close by that you can order your food from ahead of time. In Martinique we pre-ordered our provisions (check with your charter company for companies) and everything was on the boat when we arrived. I knew what we would have aboard and packed anything essential that we still needed.
What follows is the bareboat sailing charter packing list I’ve used for each of our trips.
1 Handheld VHF. This was really nice to have as the main VHF was inside the cabin. The Lagoon 450 that we got can only be sailed from the bridge deck so having this was really handy. However, it seems in the French Caribbean, no one uses their VHFs anymore as we were constantly told by marinas that they only monitor their cell phones now. We’re a fan of the Standard Horizon HX870 Floating 6W Handheld VHF with Internal GPS.
2 Flashlight. This was great for scoping out anchorages when we broke our own rule of not arriving after dark. Also helpful when looking in lockers at night. The Pelican 7600 Rechargeable Flashlight is a great option for a sailboat as it is both rechargeable AND submersible.
3 Headlamps. These are tiny, just bring one or two along. It was really useful as our dinghy didn’t have a light on it. I particularly like our rechargeable Foxelli headlamp as you don’t have to worry about having enough spare batteries for it and a single charge lasts forever (100 hours to be exact).
4 Dry bag. Dinghy rides can be wet, bring one of these.
5 Solar Light. Whether you’re a Luci fan or prefer the Luminaid, these guys are great for creating the perfect night ambiance while at anchor. We found the built in cockpit lighting way too bright and these provide just enough light so you don’t kill yourself trying to walk around. Luci now even makes a version with mobile charging built in and string lights!
6 Camera Equipment. Whatever your documentation style is, be sure you have some kind of camera. You’ll want to remember your trip! Our crew had SO. MUCH. EQUIPMENT aboard. We had 4 cell phones, 3 Go Pros, 2 DSLRs, 4 spare lenses, 2 waterproof cameras and 1 drone. Before we left, Lowepro gifted me with this amazing Photosport daypack that was ah-mazing. It was perfect for keeping my camera gear accessible through the side pocket and even had space for all the other gear I wanted to keep with me. It also has a weather-proof cover that is great for dinghy rides.
7 Binoculars. All of the charters we’ve taken come with binoculars, but we we were glad we brought our own pair as well. Ours are much better quality and really helped us scope out anchorages, boats approaching in the distance or just spying on neighboring boats. We’re fans of Maven, despite them not being waterproof. The clarity is just so sharp that we always wear the strap and are careful not to drop them in the water (knock on teak).
8 12v chargers and converter/adapter. We brought a few of those cigarette lighter adapters so we could charge phones. The French Caribbean is on a 220v system so we also needed an adapter for the inverter to charge our camera batteries and computers. Most of the outlets on the boat are round, so make sure you get a style that will work with that. The square style will NOT work. We tried.
9 PLB. We honestly never travel without these – even if we’re not stepping foot onto a boat. You never know. The ACR ResQLink is so small there is no reason not to keep it attached to you whenever you’re underway.
10 Carabiners. How else are you going to hang up that hammock? These are great for random things – hooking your water bottle to your bag (or the boat to keep it from rolling way), hanging up your solar lights, and of course, hanging your hammock.
11 Sailing gloves. The rope burn on my left hand suggests I should have actually pulled these out of my bag once or twice. I really love the Gill short finger style. They cover enough of your hand to keep them protected, but are flexible enough that you can still do things while wearing them.
12 Spare batteries. Not everything we own is rechargeable, though we are slowly getting there! Some of our headlamps and the wireless remote for my camera were both rendered useless once their batteries ran out. Thankfully we found some in town.
13 My PFD. Yes the boat came with life jackets, but they were big and bulky. On our own boat we subscribe to the mentality that we don our PFDs for any crossing, and always during night sails. We didn’t hit any crazy weather, but that easily could have gone differently. Be careful when trying to fly with the compressed canisters, it is best to check with your airline for any restrictions.
14 Stick lighter or matches. The automatic start on our stove didn’t work so I was glad we had some matches in our bags. A stick lighter would have been even better.
15 Tote bags. Every time we went to shore I put one of those small packable nylon bags into my backpack. Stores typically don’t have plastic bags, so these were great for all the wine and cheese we seemed to collect during shore excursions. Don’t judge.
16 Garbage bags. We bought garbage bags through the provisioning company, but they were insanely thin and barely strong enough to hold an empty water bottle. Throw a few in your bag. You’ll thank me later.
17 Ziplocs. These might have been one of the best things I brought. They were great for storing the left over fillets from the fish we caught, keeping my clothes separated from all the gear in my bag and for keeping all those bottles of rum we brought back from leaking on anything. Bring a lot of these, and in multiple sizes. The ones available from the provisioning company were super thin and of the fold over variety. They were useless.
18 Spices. I brought pepper and slap your mamma. Spices were definitely available, but I really didn’t want to spend my time wandering through a grocery store looking for something that may work.
19 Sushi paper. When Jason saw this on my list he rolled his eyes at me. In the end I didn’t bring this but SO WISH I DID. We had so much fresh fish that some sushi would have been amazing. Jason was worried about customs, but honestly we were out of the airport within 10 minutes of landing in Martinique. And you know what? Not one officer asked me if I had sushi paper stashed in my bag!
Fun in the Sun
20 Water bottle or camel pack. Our charter company recommended that we drink bottled water while we were there, but having a refillable bottle makes day trips a little easier. The Avex stainless water bottles keep whatever you are drinking cold, no matter how hot it gets outside.
21 Clothespins. How else will those bathing suits dry? Use more than you think you need.
22 Turkish towels. I believe that most charters come with towels, but these fold up so small that they are great to throw in our backpack during shore excursions. We used these all the time as the fluffier towels never seemed to dry between the squalls. I’ve been using towels from Cacala for a few years now and they show no signs of wear.
23 Cards Against Humanity. This game isn’t for everyone, but our crew loved it. It’s great over a glass of wine (or five) at anchor. If you are the type that appreciates inappropriate humor, this is your game.
24 Hats – I forgot to bring one when we went to Barbados, and nearly caved on a $100 one on the last day I was there. With such fair skin, I need as much protection as possible. Unless the wind was really kicking, you will find me sporting a hat. I even brought a backup. Wallaroo offers a bunch of styles, some even packable. They offer men’s, women’s and kids options.
25 Hammock. Who doesn’t want a picture in a hammock on the bow of the boat? We packed a small camping hammock so it didn’t take up too much space.
26 Fishing equipment. Obviously you aren’t going to pack a rod and reel in your carry on, but a few key items can get you by. The marina we picked up our boat at had a fish & tackles store that we picked up a few supplies. Our hand line caught us a nice big Mahi Mahi on our crossing. Trolling is an easy way to to get dinner, or at least attempt. And lunch. And dinner the next night.
27 Sunglasses. You’re going to be outside, a lot. Keep your eyes safe. A polarized pair are even better for seeing the variations in the water. Don’t forget the strings that keep them from falling off. A diver had to recover Jason’s from the marina when he smacked his head on the bimini and they went flying into the water.
28 Snorkel, mask and fins. I am happy to say that we were in the water every single day! Some charters will have a set for you, but having a mask that doesn’t fit you well can really impact how much fun you are having under water.
Clothing & Toiletries
29 Clothes. We were gone for 9 days. I brought 3 pairs of shorts, 8 shirts, 2 long sleeved shirts, 2 dresses, 1 pair of leggings, 1 pair of pants, and 4 bathing suits. By the end of the trip we were all dressing a little nicer because we had run out of clean t-shirts and tank tops. Next time I’ll pack 2 – 3 more t-shirts and tanks.
30 Rain gear. We used this every. single. day. And, multiple times a day. The French Caribbean is very squally. I brought my light weight Colombia rain jacket, so it doubled as a windbreaker.
31 Water hiking shoes. I’ve written about how boat shoes make terrible shoes for actual boating before, so I wanted to be sure I brought the right shoes for passages. The French Caribbean is also know for its hiking, so I didn’t want to be stuck climbing up a volcano in flip flops (which I’ve done before!). I just got these new shoes from Chaco that seem perfect for sailing. They are incredibly lightweight and comfortable with a protected toe, and the open design allows for quick drying if you are wading through pools of water or a wave crashes over you while underway. I can’t wait to try these out.
32 Sandals – I brought one pair of sandals and wore them exactly zero times. I wore flip-flops the majority of the time. If we went out to a nicer dinner I likely would have worn these. I’d likely bring a pair again next time as they take up so little space.
33 Flip-flops. These are a no brainer. Whether you are a Havianas, Reef or actually prefer Crocs style, you’ll be happy you have a pair for exploring different ports. Just promise me you won’t wear them underway.
34 Bug spray. Bugs weren’t a huge issue for us on this trip, but with the Zika outbreak why would you want to take a chance? Bring more than you think you’ll need. Our family is a fan of Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard. It smells great and works for noseeums and mosquitos.
35 Baby wipes. These are great for a quick wipe down when you can’t do a fresh water rinse, to keep in your day pack, wash your face at night when you’re just too tired for anything and a whole slew of other things.
36 First aid kit. Our boat came stocked with a basic first aid kit. However, if you have specific medications you like on hand I would be sure to bring them along. For me, I loaded up on Advil and Sturgeron.
So, are you ready to dive into your sailing charter vacation?