Must Have Boat Gadgets for Sailing and Travel 2019
What are our must have boat gadgets for living aboard and travelling on our sailing boat?? After travelling overland around the world, we were pretty good at knowing what travel gear worked in our backpacks, and what didn’t. We had our favourite travel accessories that are invaluable to us while on the road. Since buying a sailing boat and setting off around the world, we have found essential boat and sailing gadgets for entertainment, safety, fun, relaxation and convenience. Can our favourite backpacking travel gear really turn into must have boat gadgets for our sailing adventure around the world? Sometimes, yes. But there are so many more boat gadgets too.
How travel gadgets turn into sailing gadgets
We’ve started a new adventure which involves us living aboard and travelling on our sailing boat. Some of our favourite and most useful backpacking gear is now proving to be very useful for living and travelling full-time on a boat. Useful travel gadgets have now become must have boat gadgets and sailing gadgets.
A sailing boat is obviously nothing like a big backpack, but space and storage is still at a premium. It’s very tempting to fill the boat with stuff that would be nice to have, but we’re trying to think of it as a massive, floating backpack. We need to stick to must-haves, not would-be-nice-to-haves, and definitely not just-in-case-we-need-its.
So here’s our handy guide to the best must have boat gadgets; our most awesome and essential boat accessories, some of which we used while backpacking around the world, some that we have discovered more recently and are now sailing around the world with us.
Our Top Must Have Boat and Sailing Gadgets
Essential sailing gadgets for keeping things dry and safe
Waterproof dry-bags and backpacks
We love a good waterproof dry bag. The first time we travelled around the world, pre-kids, we started in Kolkata in India. On the second day or our year long trip we were caught out in the biggest monsoon downpour I have ever seen. Our pathetic ‘waterproof’ covers for our backpacks were useless. The streets were knee deep in rainwater and we were completely soaked through in minutes. Unfortunately so were our passports, money and every single plane ticket for a whole year of round-the-world travel. What a pair of numpties! Just a plastic ziplock bag would have done the trick!
We didn’t make that mistake again. After that, we carried small dry-bags with important documents and money safely tucked away in them. And even better, we carried a 20 litre waterproof dry-bag with a shoulder strap. It folded up neatly in our big packs and we pulled it out for trips to the beach, diving and snorkelling trips, boat trips, or just when we are somewhere tropical and monsoony and we need to keep stuff dry.
I don’t think I need to explain why a waterproof dry-bag is a must have boat gadget, do I? I’m yet to drop a bag over the side of our dinghy on the way to the boat, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. Bags often get dumped in the bottom of the dinghy in a puddle of water. Freshly bought bread often gets wet. Dinghy rides to shore are never completely dry, even on a calm day.
It’s important to have a proper hard-core waterproof dry bag that doubles as a backpack, with proper shoulder straps .
Ice cooler bag for beer (or other cold drinks, I suppose)
We bought our Dry Ice cooler bag a couple of years ago, before we had a working fridge on our boat. This miracle of genius-ness keeps drinks cold for ages and supplies ice for cold drinks (read: rum, gin etc.). In the UK it would provide us with a whole weekend of cold beer and ice. Here in the tropics, we use it for beach BBQs.
Put your cans of drink (it doesn’t have to be beer but obviously that’s preferable) in the bottom, pile ice cubes on top, seal up, open the air valve to increase insulation and head down the beach for a BBQ! It even floats when fully loaded. Love it!
We don’t have a freezer on our boat so we take this ice cooler bag to the supermarket with us. Supermarkets here almost always sell bags of ice. The ice stays frozen all the way home, ready to entertain boat guests or just to make cold drinks for us.
Dry Ice Cooler Bags are available in different sizes and colours. We have the 40 litre version, perfect for a load of cans of drink plus a whole bag of ice from the supermarket. Dry Ice are a British company, but check out other, equally awesome cooler bags on Amazon, like this Overboard one. Overboard make fantastic waterproof bags that come highly recommended.
Water-To-Go bottle – water purification filter bottle
I can’t recommend these bottles enough!
It’s only when you’ve been travelling for a while in countries with unsafe drinking water that you appreciate being able to drink straight from the tap at home. Bottled water seems relatively cheap when you are on the road but you can’t ignore the massive environmental impact of plastic bottles on the environment.
Over a million plastic bottles are sold worldwide every single day, most of them ending up in landfill or in the sea. Read some scary facts here. The world is awash with plastic. Finding clean and safe drinking water while travelling is tricky if you don’t want to add to this problem.
As a travelling family, we absolutely DON’T want to add to this problem. We took 75cl Water-to-Go bottles with us when we backpacked around Asia for a year with our two kids. We used them almost every day, from drinking from Himalayan rivers to cleaning our teeth in Indian hotels. We could fill up from streams, rivers, hosepipes and taps without worrying at all. They probably saved us from using hundreds of single-use plastic bottles and, over the year, saved us loads of money.
Now we live and travel on a sailing boat and our Water-to-Go bottles definitely make it onto the list of must have boat gadgets. We are exploring the sort of places that might have suspect drinking water or dodgy marina hosepipes to fill up your freshwater tanks. These are the sort of places that don’t need any more plastic waste polluting their environments and wildlife. We can safely drink tap water on land, as well as on the boat. We can even drink rainwater without worrying about contaminants.
UPDATE – After almost a year of living on our boat, we’ve found we use the Water-to-go bottles constantly. Although we have fitted an in-line water filter to the drinking water supply that comes from the water tanks, we still add some chemicals to the water tank. The chemical, chlorine-y taste is removed by the Water-to-Go bottles. We have also found that water from local sources can be a bit dodgy, sometimes with visible particles floating in it. This water goes into our water tanks, so Water-to-Go bottles are keeping us safe from this water. We found that we were not drinking enough water as it didn’t taste too good, but we have changed that by giving each crew member his or her own Water-to-go bottle. Result!
Water-to-go bottles use a water filtration system, originally developed for NASA, that filters 99.9% of contaminants including metals, chemicals, bacteria, viruses, and parasites. They are easy to use. Just fill up and go. No more faffing with steripens or sterilising tablets. And the water tastes good too.
The bottles come in two sizes; the 75cl Water-to-go bottle and the 50cl GO! bottle. Filters also come in two sizes; for the 75cl bottle, filtering 200 litres and lasting 3 months, or for the 50cl GO! bottle lasting 130 litres or 2 months.
Important…. Water-to-Go bottles cannot be used for salt water, so no filling up from the sea! Also. according to their website, you shouldn’t use them for drinking urine either, just in case you were considering it.
Our Water-to-Go bottles are a must have boat gadget and travel companion. No more plastic bottles and we save money too! Highly recommended and one of our best sailing gadgets.
I’ve even written a Water-to-Go filter bottle review – Click here to read it.
Where to buy your Water to Go filter bottle
In the UK, you can buy directly from the Water to Go website. Find your 15% discount code below. They are also available in stores all over the UK. Have a look at your local Boots, Blacks Outdoor, Millets, Go Outdoors and Rohan. The full list of stockists can be found on Water to Go website.
If you are not in the UK, Water-to-Go have worldwide distributors. Check out their website for a list of distributors or click here.
The filter bottles are sold on Amazon worldwide too.Water to Go filter bottles on Amazon UK
Water-to-Go Discount code
We love these so much that we’ve arranged a 15% discount for Growing a Pair Travel Blog readers.
Go to the Water-to Go website and enter the code GAP15 at checkout. You’ll get a 15% discount on Water-to-Go bottles and filters.
Waterproof phone cases
I have an iPhone. It’s a replacement for the one I dropped overboard in Falmouth, UK, last year. If I lose this one I won’t be getting another so I’m not taking any chances. The problem with phones on a boat isn’t so much with keeping them dry as keeping them on the boat. It won’t be long before all modern phones are waterproof so getting them wet isn’t a major disaster. However, phones never slide onto a boat. They only ever slide off a boat.
For me, a waterproof phone case needs to be bulky, easy to grip and rubbery in order for it to be a worthwhile boat gadget. It needs a good hand strap and maybe somewhere to attach a carabiner or clip. If you drop your phone down the companionway steps, it needs to bounce. Don’t be tempted by those flimsy waterproof dry bags for your phone. As beautiful as your sexy, sleek new phone may look, it still needs to be encased in bulky, less-than-attractive grippy rubber that protects it while still allowing you to take photos. .
I have this waterproof case for my phone. My sexy phone is no longer sexy.
Amazon has loads of rugged, waterproof cases for all varieties of mobile phones. Check out the range here.
Go Pro floating strap
If you have a GoPro for underwater photos and video, you’ll already have a waterproof case for it. But have you thought about a floating strap?
Floating sunglasses retainer strap
Other than phones, the other (often expensive) things that seem to be regularly thrown overboard from boats are sunglasses. Floating sunglasses retainers are absolute must have boat gadget. They are not expensive and the floating ones tend to be a bit bulkier than others, but they give you time to retrieve your expensive sunnies before they disappear beneath the waves.
We like the Chums Floating Neoprene Sunglasses Retainer Strap.
Must have boat gadgets for fun in the water
Inflatable Stand Up Paddleboard
Inflatable stand up paddle boards pack away neatly, are easy to attach to boat guard rails and are super cool! Every boat should have one! Our standup paddleboard is used all the time as it is easy to pump up and doesn’t take up too much room on the deck. Check out SUP prices on Amazon.
We used to own a couple of two-man inflatable kayaks. Now we have just one single-man kayak. At the time, we thought there wasn’t enough room on our boat to store both two-man kayaks, but now we wish we had them. We can use the kayak (and the paddleboard) to visit other boats in the anchorage, paddle to the beach or explore the coastline.
Subwing – a towable underwater wing board
I soooooo want one of these! Inflatable towing tubes (see next must have boat gadget!) are fab and lots of fun above the waves, but how about flying underwater? This boat gadget allows you to whizz around the ocean like a mermaid. The Subwing is a towable underwater watersports board which has two hydrodynamic wings joined at the centre by a swivel. Tow it behind your dinghy, hold onto the rubber handle and, once you are moving, adjust the wings to travel up and down and side to side. Before you know it you’ll be gliding effortlessly through the water. It’s a bit like waterskiing underwater.
The Subwing comes in lots of funky designs. The Subwing website has lots more info and some cool underwater video. You can buy these cool boat gadgets and accessories such as towing ropes, bags and GoPro mounts directly from Subwing or check prices on Amazon.
Inflatable Towing Tubes
If you have kids and a decent sized outboard on your tender or dinghy, towing tubes provide hours of fun. We don’t yet have any towable toys. There’s not much point with our 3.5 hp dinghy outboard! These are on the “boat gadget’ list though, just below “new 15hp dinghy engine”.
Airhead make a huge range of high quality towing tubes and accessories for all ages and budgets. There are plenty of other manufacturers too. Check out loads of these towable inflatables on Amazon.
Floating Water Mat
I’ve only recently found out about these simple yet genius water toys. Get a group of adults or kids together to create hours of ‘king of the hill’ madness. Or sit around, chat and drink a cold beer just off the back of your boat with other adults. These inflatable water mats are actually designed as a floating waterway and they zip together to create a floating island on water. Ideal for playing or lounging on the water.
Tough Waterproof Camera
In our opinion this is the best, medium priced shockproof, underwater camera on the market. There are cheaper waterproof cameras but the Olympus TG-6 gives you a good balance between cost and picture quality. To make it really waterproof for diving, there is also a waterproof housing available.
Must have gadgets for entertainment and relaxation
Portable Projector and Screen
A big television is on the list of ‘must have boat gadgets’ for our kids. They can’t watch television as such, as we travel from country to country, but we love a movie night on the boat with the curtains closed and a big bowl of popcorn to nibble on. A big TV simply won’t fit on our floating home. After much research, we have a Nebula Mars II portable projector with built-in speakers.
No need to buy an expensive projector screen. Our projector screen is an Ikea pulldown blackout blind. It rolls away when we are not using it.
Waterproof bluetooth speaker
For music in the cockpit, for beefing up a movie on the laptop, for listening to comedy podcasts as a family. It needs to be waterproof, able to connect both via a wire and wirelessly to a device, have a decent battery life and have good quality sound. We use BOOM 3 speakers because the battery lasts for fifteen hours and the sound is good.
Rechargeable, inflatable, floating solar lanterns with a strong attachment point. Perfect for the cockpit at night. Excellent for beach BBQs and parties. No batteries required. Just leave them in the sun and they’re ready to go. A must have boat gadget. Every boat should have several Luci Lights on board.
The essential boat hammock
No self-respecting sailing boat should be without a good hammock for relaxation and a cold drink on a warm evening. We like the nylon, parachute type as they are light and pack away small. We hang ours on the foredeck, or we string it from the end of the boom to a shroud.
Until we reached the tropics in our boat, we were using thermal mugs to keep our drinks warm on chilly night watches. A hot cup of tea or coffee stays hot for nanoseconds in the breeze in the cockpit. Now we use them to keep cold drinks cool.
Insulated wine tumbler
What’s more important than a nice hot cup of tea? A nice cold glass of wine, that’s what! These stainless steel, insulated wine tumblers are unbreakable, keep your wine cool for hours and have an insulated lid to prevent spillages in rolly anchorages.
The ultimate must have boat gadget for us! We love neoprene stubby holders. We discovered them in Australia many years ago. We have collected them from all over the world, and even had our own made. You can buy them on Amazon, but why not collect them from the places you visit?
A portable battery pack or two
Whether you are backpacking or sailing, your supply of electricity is likely to be limited. A portable battery pack is essential. It was probably one of the most used gadgets in our backpacks and we regularly use one now that we are living on a boat. We have solar panels on the boat now, which definitely helps with keeping our electricity supply constant. These batteries are still used every day to keep our phones and tablets charged. And we take one out with us whenever we go exploring.
We have the Anker PowerCore 26800mAh external battery. It’s not tiny but charge it up for a night and it will charge your phones, tablets and camera batteries for a week. I can get up to 10 charges of my mobile phone on a single overnight battery charge. Not that I get the chance as it’s used to charge up so many other gadgets. It has three USB ports too.
There are loads of really powerful external batteries available, of all shapes and sizes, and prices. We are currently using one to keep our navigation iPad charged while we sail.
We’ve bought and tried cheap battery packs, and solar powered ones too. You get what you pay for when it comes to battery packs- ‘Buy cheap, buy twice’.
USB charging hubs
Another essential travel gadget is a USB charging hub for charging up all your gadgets at once. This is invaluable in hotels rooms with only one or two wall sockets, and on our boat when we are in marinas and therefore using mains electricity. We have a charging hub with five USB ports, but they are available in a variety of sizes. We can plug in phones, tablets, cameras and laptops at the same time, as well as charging up our big external battery.
Splitter for head phones
This simple, tiny bit of electronic gadgetry kept both parents and kids sane for a whole year of train, bus and ferry travel. This is a wire that plugs into a phone, tablet, iPad, laptop, and then splits so that you can plug two sets of headphones in. The boys could watch movies on their tablet, listen to audio books or music, together, without disturbing other travellers, or us for that matter. Genius.
These are used a lot on the boat now that we are living aboard. We have bought a projector for watching movies as a family, but the boys still like to chill out in their cabin watching movies or cartoons on a laptop.
To go with these we’d recommend a decent set of head phones or earphones too.
And that leads us to the boys’ favourite travel (and now boat) gadget….
The awesome Kindle Paperwhite
I asked both boys to tell me what they though was the most important travel gadget in their backpack when we were travelling overland. Evan said “Definitely my Kindle. It was awesome for that 36 hour train journey in India.” Sam said “Kindle. I’m not sure I would have got through all those bus journeys without my kindle!” I see a pattern forming.
Any kind of long term travel creates a lot of downtime. Travelling takes time. Public transport takes even longer. Sailing takes even longer that that, especially on long multi-day passages. We love reading, but carrying all those paperbacks around just isn’t realistic with the limited space on a boat. On Fat Susan, we all use our Kindle Paperwhites every single day, whether we are sitting in the saloon, swinging on a hammock on the deck, or floating around in an inflatable kayak.
We have Kindle Paperwhites. These are so much better than the Kindle Fire if you want an e-reader. Reading only, that’s what you need, for kids at least.
Don’t get the cheaper one without a backlight. Splash out on the Kindle Paperwhite. The light-up screen allows you to read both in the dark and in glaring sunlight, so they are awesome for overnight travel, lounging on the beach, or swinging in a hammock on the foredeck. And the battery lasts for weeks on one charge.
And now.. guess what? The Kindle Paperwhite is WATERPROOF! It could almost be designed for sailing around the world in a boat! The ultimate sailing gadget for cruisers.
So, the Kindle Paperwhite. Travel gadget, sailing gadget, boat gadget, backpacking gadget, dodgy public transport gadget, home gadget. Top gadget for pretty much every situation as far as we’re concerned.
Decent camera equipment
Wherever and however I travel, my camera is the most important travel gadget for me. I’ve always loved photography and my passion is travel photography. Street portraits. Local characters. People going about their everyday business. A photograph tells a story and holds memories.
These days, your phone can take a fantastic photo. Smartphones are slowly killing the compact point-and-shoot camera market. You’ve only got to look at Instagram to see that anyone with the latest smartphone and the ability to frame a shot can produce a decent photograph.
Nowadays, I tend use my phone as a camera. After all, the best camera is the one you have with you and the convenience of a smartphone is an important factor. I need my hands to move around our boat, even at anchor. But I love my DSLR. There is no competition when it comes to photo quality and range of functions.
My current camera is a Sony Nex-6. It’s old now and it’s not a ‘proper’ DSLR. It’s a mirrorless camera and it’s not full frame, but it’s smaller and lighter than many DSLRs, which is important for me. I’ve tried the back-breaking, massive DSLRs by Nikon and Canon, but I ended up leaving them in the hotel room instead of lugging them around a city. Also, people don’t seem to be that fond of someone shoving a massive camera in their faces. So I find a smaller camera sometimes gets me a better shot.
Anyway, I digress, and unless you know about cameras, you probably don’t know what I’m going on about.
My recommendation for a small, proper camera with interchangeable lenses and the ability to take awesome photos is not the Sony Nex-6. Sony don’t make it anymore. Get the latest version, the Sony Alpha A6400. Or for a full-frame version, the Sony A7R II. Nice.
Don’t take my word for it though. This is my opinion and we know the saying about opinions and arseholes, don’t we? Don’t buy anything until you’ve properly researched it. Or use your phone.
Whichever camera you have, a mini tripod is invaluable for travel. We have the chunky and fabulous Gorilla Pod but the one we use most of the time is the Manfrotto mini tripod. It’s sturdy, fully adjustable and stable enough for a big camera. It also has rubbery feet and so far hasn’t slid off the deck of our boat.
So that’s our list of must have boat gadgets….
These are the boat gadgets we know and love for backpacking and now sailing and boating, but I’m sure you know of more. If you can think of any useful sailing gadgets or fun toys that you use all the time on your boat or think should be essential for every traveller, add it to the comments below, and I’ll keep adding to the list. Also you can click here to see our list of cool boat stuff we really, really want for our boat. There are some ideas in there for sailors, cruisers, liveaboard families and water enthusiasts everywhere! :o)
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