We recently published the last update in the Last Item blog, where the couple unloaded personal gear from their Nimbus 405 Coupe after arriving in Fort Lauderdale. It marked the completion of their Great Loop, which began over six months ago when they took off from Annapolis. The boat is now for sale, so they needed to remove their personal belongings and tidy up the boat so it can be shown by Seattle Yachts’ brokers.

It got me thinking of a subject I’ve written about before, particularly at this time of year. Besides Sidonia and Fred, who are back on the West Coast for the holidays, this time of year represents the end of the boating season for many areas of the country. Our boats are either winterized for the coming cold or put away to varying degrees because they aren’t going to be used for the next couple of months.

For those who keep their boats where it is warm, and for those liveaboards who enjoy boat living all year around, the following points also applies, perhaps more so. Without the seasonal “put to bed” ritual, there is no obvious time to review what is on the boat or try to clean out and remove unnecessary items that tend to collect during the year. It is the same for all boats, big or small, sail or power.

Of course, there are some aspects of this activity that totally relate to the size of the boat. Anything smaller than 30 feet, for example, can be taken out of the water, and all cushions, pillows, linens, clothing, and belongings removed for the winter, and selectively put back in the spring. While this is great when it can be done, it is not at all practical for most other boats.

And none of this conversation is a requirement for those who own a Hampton Endurance 658, one of the larger Grand Banks, Fleming 55, large DeFever, or full displacement trawler yacht. There is more room and storage than most can even use, so who cares if that old college sweatshirt hangs behind foul weather gear? Even if it is only worn when varnishing trim a couple of times a year, it doesn’t matter.

(Below: The new Endurance 590 has so much storage you won't need to worry about running out of space.)

endurance 590 yacht

But for the owner of a Tayana 37, a 36-foot Tartan, a Catalina 30, a small tug yacht, or even a 40-foot Downeast cruiser, the available hanging locker space will make owners more conscious of what is on the boat. And, at some point during the season, such as end of the year, one should consider going through the spaces and taking off what is no longer needed.

So, depending on what size boat you have, take my comments and action items with a grain of salt. If the boat is big enough, perhaps it just doesn’t matter to you. But for the rest of us, “Less is More.”

When closing up a boat for the season, it is good to go through the accommodations, mechanical, and utility spaces and do an inventory of what is aboard. Then consider if it is worthwhile to remove what is no longer required, or duplicates of what is already on the boat.

Again, many larger yachts do not have storage issues, nor is weight even a consideration. I have been on some full displacement trawlers with granite or stone flooring in the heads, and some have dedicated exercise rooms with weight training equipment and full-size exercise machines. Yachts that begin as a commercial fishing trawler hull need lots of added weight to stay on their lines. But for most of us, that is not the case, and we should view this exercise as a means of staying shipshape. It comes down to why carry things you no longer need.

I am always amazed to look around my boat, and marvel at how so many things came aboard that I know don’t need to be there. Even if there was a reason why it came aboard, now it is just unnecessary stuff.

(Below: Hopefully your boat isn't this cluttered!)

boat clutter

Here on the MidAtlantic East Coast, I try not to wait until it gets too cold to do this, because it isn’t much fun when I’m wearing gloves to look through a cockpit locker or medicine cabinet, and I would rather be warm somewhere else. It is not supposed to be punishment, after all, so it is good to do this before the weather turns seasonably cold. This year, that would be right before Christmas.

The basic premise of this effort is to return the boat to how you want it outfitted for normal cruising. Any special gear brought aboard during the season for a special event, such as an offshore race or family cruise, and is no longer needed, can be taken off. That might include children PFDs, spare rode and folding anchor, and decorations and props used for that pirate-themed party last summer. Time to get it off the boat. Aargh!

Going through this stuff is also therapeutic, because it makes me feel good about returning an absurdly full chart table into a mostly empty space with just the essentials of basic instruments and tools, and only one pair of scissors…not three. Same with knives, calculators, and flashlights. The memorabilia of the last couple of seasons, from fuel receipts to boat cards, unknown keys, brochures, snippets of paper and notes from marinas we visited, left-over zip ties, batteries, corkscrews, split rings, loose screws, cotter pins, paper clips, and nearly empty Post It notepads…can be removed.

The goal, of course, is to restore the chart table space to contain just those things we need to start the new season. I know that on the chart table on a liveaboard cruiser, it can be a real challenge.

Over the years I have developed a brutal honesty when it comes to this clean out. I know what I need to do, and it is pretty black-and-white.

(Below: An organized chart table to start the new year.)

organized chart table

Those mosquito killers and fly gadgets, for example. I carried one of those fly swatters that has a battery that supposedly creates a zillion-watt killing zone across the screen that will obliterate any fly caught in its swing. As much as I thought it was worth a try, it never got used. And the battery is dead. Same is true for that Bug-A-Salt thing weapon someone brought aboard, which shoots table salt at insects and those nasty bugs walking on the window screens. Also never used.

Take them off the boat and stop looking at them sitting next to the boat’s helm compass (for lack of a better place).

I find a loose nut on the cabin sole and don’t know where it came from, so it goes in the chart table or drawer. After six months, the drawer has a lot of these things, none of which are likely to find their way back to where they came from.

Go through your bookshelves. Notice the old newspaper sections that seemed worth keeping at the time, some important information about gardening, TV, lifestyle, kitchen tips, latest gossip of the Royals, or some other noteworthy (ie., meaningless) events. Old copies of Cosmo were a favorite to find stacked on the shelves back in the ‘90s. No need to keep any of it.

Books deserve your attention. Once you’ve read the latest hot novel, why keep it on the boat? Pass it on, give it to someone who might be interested, or donate it to the reading library in the marina coffee room. But get it off the boat.

It is easy to deal with blankets and towels. I typically remove them all, so I can wash everything at home, and put the tattered ones into the rag pile. Then I can bring back the clean towels and blankets I normally keep on the boat, and they don’t have that boat smell from sitting for months. In this way, boat smell is mostly avoided. (The worst smell I ever remember was back in the 1970s, when I would go look at used boats at Gove’s Cove on Seattle’s Lake Union on Sunday afternoons. The musty smell inside a damp Thunderbird that was raced hard and put away wet, is still a strong memory.)

In the galley, as elsewhere, it is mostly a matter of common sense. Food stuffs and liquids that will freeze or go bad should be removed. Galley drawers are especially interesting. That rusty can opener was replaced with a new one we found at Harris Teeter in Charleston last year. So why are we keeping the old one? For backup!?! Toss it!

Most food comes off the boat as a matter of course. Any opened bags of anything usually go in the trash. Stale chips and nuts are nasty, yet I usually find a bag someone stashed in the back of a locker during clean up after some evening. It happens all the time. Soggy Oreos? No thank you.

(Below: Remove provisions out of storage that weren't used during the cruising season.)

provisions on your boat

A friend takes the batteries out of everything. He replaces them with fresh batteries each spring. It is a good habit. Today that includes the electric SOS buoy that replaces the emergency flares. For several years, I took my handheld VHF radio off the boat, although I don’t really know why. Now I just keep it in its holder.

Are there casserole dishes that need to go home? Large platters from the summer raft up are not worth keeping on the boat. And have you checked over your supply of cups, saucers, and plates? Any with chips or cracks might be worth a toss. Look in every storage nook. What about that box of used birthday candles? When on earth would you ever use them again?

The medicine cabinet is another place we tend to forget, yet I always find something that does not belong. Duplicate lotions (some might be expired) and off-the-shelf meds can be sorted through and removed, keeping only one bottle of each. Where did all those dispensers of dental floss come from? No idea how that happens every year...

I’ve written about tools and tool storage before, as they are another place where things just accumulate. Why do I have four cans of WD40? As I discussed when I wrote about the tool bag, restore the bag to its original contents and tools, and remove the wrenches, sockets, and specialty tools put in for a specific job during the season. Continuing to carry them in the bag makes it unnecessarily heavy, with tools one won’t need very often. The gear puller from replacing the windshield wiper arms comes to mind.

There are always rags and shop towels used for some project or task, and there are always dirty rags to run through the wash at home. Those microfiber rags are so handy, it just makes sense to take them home to wash them. Again, start the new season with a fresh supply, and retire old T-shirts that have seen recent duty as rags. Time to say goodbye to that shirt full of holes.

Another related topic is cleaning the boat’s interior. Once we get things off the boat, what about the interior? There are marine carpets that could be stained or simply dirty from a season or two of use. Have you ever removed them for cleaning?

What about interior or exterior cushions that get dirty from normal use? Now is a good time to take them off and have them cleaned.

There is something satisfying about launching in the spring and the boat is fully ready to go, inside and out. By taking the time to do a proper clean out months before, it is a simple matter to replace batteries, put things away, and get ready for the new season.

It should feel great to put a folder with itinerary, notes, and reservations in the clean chart table, relevant documents for upcoming cruises. And feeling prepared because you took the time to get ready for this new adventure.