Boat Camping Checklist

Transporting gear into the Ten Thousand Islands
Transporting gear into the Ten Thousand Islands

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.

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:


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 fuel

Check boat battery

Check trailer tires and hubs

Check trailer lights

Check depth sounder for accuracy

Radio check

Test outboard’s hydraulics

Install transom plug

Spare keys

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

Depth sounder

Navigation charts

First Aid kit

Fire extinguisher


Duct tape

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 shorts

Quick-dry fishing shirt

Jeans and/or quick-dry nylon pants

T-shirts (short and long-sleeve)

Water shoes

Boat shoes and/or Crocs (they drain and dry quickly)

Extra underwear and socks

Fleece sweatpants and sweatshirt


Our campsite on the beach at Panther Key
Our campsite on the beach at Panther Key

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)



Bug repellent

Sun screen

Biodegradable toilet paper

Portable potty (We bought an inexpensive one from Amazon)

Biodegradable soap


Backpacker’s propane stove

Cooking pot

Coffee pot

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


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.

Related stories:

Kayak Camping: Sharkchow’s checklist

Beach Camping in the Ten Thousand Islands

10,000 Islands: Ride the tide to Indian Key


  1. Avatar

    Looks like you had a good time in the Ten Thousand island.
    Im moving out to Saint James City on the water and will be exploring all the islands around the coast with my Catamran power boat and do some camping aswell.
    Its a great place to fish too, another reason Im moving
    out there from Bradenton,Fla

    • Bob Rountree

      St. James City is a great base for boating Southwest Florida. I’m jealous! Pine Island Sound offers fantastic fishing; North Captiva (great beach, no people) and pristine Cayo Costa are a skip and a jump; and you can shoot down to the Ten Thousand Islands in an hour. Watch for coral outcroppings in the flats around some of the islands (Lulu for one). I’ve busted up a few propellers in those waters. 🙂