Before packing a thing, decide how much room you have.
Evaluate stowage and deck space you can allow for gear, keeping in mind that you need to get around the boat and access hatches, dock lines, bumpers, anchors and other deck gear.
For gear that cannot be stowed below deck, use sealable storage boxes that fit pre-determined deck space. Once you’ve determined how much space you have, stick to it. Pack the boxes and stowage, not the boat, and make choices.
My wife and I always seem to take too much in our 19-foot Cobia Center Console open fisherman. As I approached a low bridge recently while navigating a narrow, shallow channel, I had to scramble around gear on my deck to release the strap clips so I could lower my Bimini top. Dangerous.
I also made the mistake of storing camping gear above a hatch I needed for dock lines. Not good.
As it was, I had already eliminated cooking and kitchen gear, opting for cold cuts, bread, fruit and vegetables.
Taking a few queues from kayaker Warren Richey, who packs far more useful gear in dramatically smaller space, I’m revising my pack checklist. You can see Warren’s kayak camping checklist here. https://floridarambler.com/florida-best-camping/kayak-camping-checklist/
While requirements for a motorboat are less restrictive than for a kayak, there are lessons to be learned. You can bet I’ll be a whole lot smarter on our next trip. Here’s my plan:
PRE-LAUNCH BOAT CHECKS
Fire up motor for a few minutes every day prior to launch
Take a shakedown cruise to make sure all systems are go
Check navigation and anchor lights
Check boat battery
Check trailer tires and hubs
Check trailer lights
Check depth sounder for accuracy
Test outboard’s hydraulics
Install transom plug
Check towing insurance to be sure it’s active, identify the nearest port(s) for your service (Boat U.S. or SeaTow), and jot down the phone numbers in your log in case your radio fails.
Check your vehicle insurance and/or AAA coverage to include road hazard coverage for boat trailer towing and flat tires.
Prepare a float plan with copies to leave with friends and/or rangers if wilderness camping
Life vests for each person on board *(see note below)
Throwable life-saver cushion to keep on deck
VHF radio (and/or submersible handheld radio)
GPS and a compass
First Aid kit
Tarp (see camping gear)
Tool kit that includes a Knife, pliers, rubber mallet
Spare prop and prop-removal tool
Cell phone (Can you recharge it on your boat?)
Dry-seal duffle bag (available from Bass Pro Shops)
Broad-brimmed hat or flats hat and baseball cap
Lightweight, breathable rain/wind jacket
Quick-dry fishing shirt
Jeans and/or quick-dry nylon pants
T-shirts (short and long-sleeve)
Boat shoes and/or Crocs (they drain and dry quickly)
Extra underwear and socks
Fleece sweatpants and sweatshirt
Tent (and poles) or jungle hammock
Sand stakes and hard-ground stakes
Tent repair kit, including seam sealer
Ground tarp (serves as an emergency tent)
Inflatable mattresses (We used boat cushions)
Sleeping bags (stuffed in dry bags)
Biodegradable toilet paper
Portable potty (We bought an inexpensive one from Amazon)
Backpacker’s propane stove
Cigarette lighters and waterproof matches
Forks and spoons (plastic is disposable in campfire)
Plates and/or bowls (paper is disposable in campfire)
Multi-tool with knife with can opener and corkscrew
FOOD AND WATER
Maximum-cold marine cooler
2 gallon jugs containing frozen water (use as ice)
Plastic containers of drinking water (gallon per person per day)
One-pot meals, pre-cooked and frozen **(see note below)
Cold cuts and fresh bread
Fruit and vegetables
Yogurt and cold cereal
Coffee and tea bags
*-A note about life vests:
The leading cause of boating deaths in Florida is drowning — about 70 per year, 63% experienced boaters — yet it is amazing to me how few people wear life vests, or even have them readily accessible.
When boating alone, wear a comfortable, lightweight fishing vest with mesh shoulders (and pockets). If there are others on board who can operate the boat and are capable of throwing a float cushion, I may shed the vest in hot weather but keep it within arm’s reach.
All life vests, if not worn, should be above deck, not stowed, and accessible so they float in case you capsize.
There is a very interesting side benefit to wearing a vest: So few wear them, other boaters slow down and give you wide berth because they think you are a cop! It’s a chuckle moment. J
**-A note about food:
I dream of grilling a nice ribeye while beach camping, but it’s wholly impractical. Sand gets on the steak, you need hard plates and utensils, and it’s impossible control the heat of a campfire. If you must cook, stick to one-pot meals — such as franks and beans, chili or pasta dishes — and prepare them in advance so you can freeze them and stick them in the cooler to keep everything else cold.
Beach Camping in the Ten Thousand Islands