What do you need to go cruising?

We got an email recently from a cruising buddy, who had been in touch with a family planning to go cruising. They don’t have a boat yet, but were actively looking and trying to get ahead in anticipating the cruising life.

The fundamental question they wanted to ask was this: how can you start acquiring essentials for long term cruising before you have a boat? The underlying concept: while you have time (and an income), attempt source the essentials by trolling eBay and Craigslist so you minimize paying retail at the last minute.

My gut reaction was that accumulating stuff at that stage was a little premature. The kneejerk response was rooted in two parts. First, after four years of living aboard, I pretty much think of “stuff” as the enemy. Second, I remember how hard it was getting rid of too much stuff when we moved out of our house in 2008. And besides… there are so very many things that could come with the boat you purchase, why put time and effort (and cash) into it now? Overwhelmingly, cruisers have at least a year with a boat before they take off. Isn’t’ that enough? This acquiring-in-advance just felt like a distraction, and a reversal of the simple life cruising idealizes.

Puerto Don Juan
Dinghy on the Beach, Baja

But then I started to think about it some more…and Jamie and I started ruminating…and brainstorming…and the list of things you could reasonably acquire in advance started to grow.

It’s not just about the stuff you need (which is highly subject to individual interpretation, anyway). It’s about the dream of cruising: of keeping it present, and doing little things every day which bring it closer to reality.

It’s also about saving money. With time and patience, there really are quite a few things which are generally essential to have, and if you can score a fantastic deal, the worst case is that you end up having to resell one later. This is potentially a hassle (not to be underestimated in the chaos of trying to cut docklines at last!) but not going to literally cost much. I think it’s fair to say that almost every cruiser we know- ourselves included-  hemorrhaged cash as their anticipated departure date loomed. Much of this is due to unknowns (we really did not plan to buy that autopilot THE DAY BEFORE WE LEFT, but when the one on the boat died, we didn’t exactly want to hand-steer from Puget Sound to San Francisco either).

So stay tuned. Lists o’ Stuff are coming.

No retouching
Sunset, Sea of Cortez

6 Responses

  1. Very excited to see what you come up with. I’ve been so frustrated with the progress of the refit I haven’t really even thought about acquiring cruising gear. Maybe I need to rethink that and plan on looking for your suggestions if only to help keep my eye on the prize- even if that prize seems sooo far away right now.

  2. If you don’t have a boat, then don’t buy anything except for personal gear that seldom comes with a boat (inflatable life jackets, snorkel gear are a few that come to mind).

    BUT if you have a boat and the time still, there are tremendous savings to be had. Our boat is the boat that Craigslist, Ebay, local newspaper classifieds, and deep Google searches built. What we didn’t come close to paying retail for included:
    – Yanmar diesel
    – s.s. prop shaft & dripless seal
    – feathering prop (the hardest search of all)
    – Spectra watermaker
    – Pactor modem
    – Ham radio
    – Force 10 stove
    – Yamaha 15 outboard
    – aluminum Spade anchor
    – some of our autopilots
    – EPIRB that was only 1 year old thus lots of battery life left

    A few big ticket items that we paid retail (but sometimes discounted internet retail) included the windlass and one more autopilot. Very very few things we paid retail for.

  3. Another item that you can start assembling before getting the boat is reference books, such as Calder. We spent over a grand on those, and it would have been cheaper if we’d done it over time and found used. BUT the flip side is that we sold them all with the boat . . . so maybe you wouldn’t end up needing them!

  4. As an additional thought to go with Evan’s–the reason we go so much good stuff on Ebay and Craigslist was so many future cruisers start accumulating stuff before they have a boat then for a variety of reasons end up not needing what they bought–we headed to garages that looked like marine stores and were full of unused dinghies, motors, solar panels, wind vanes and even a life raft. Honestly–I think that need to buy and prepare for every life event by shopping is a North American tendancy. My two cents is also to save for the boat and outfit once you have it…
    Books though are different–start looking for cruising guides, travel guides etc (we have most on digital files now)…

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