22 Tips for a Successful Boat Camping Trip

22 Tips for a Successful Boat Camping Trip

boat on a lake

Camping on your boat can be an amazing experience. You can bring the family and friends out on a weekend cruise to one of your favorite spots. You can even take off for a week or two when you feel stressed with work and leave it all behind.

However, the reality is that boat camping is not always easy. It requires some planning and preparation if you want to make it an enjoyable experience for all involved. In this article we will discuss 15 steps that should help ensure your next boating camping trip is a success.

Here are some helpful ideas to make sure it is as easy and fun as possible.

  1. Choose which Island you'd like to camp on first. You might want to scout your location by either going close-by or taking a few days trip. This way you know what's nearby and can plan accordingly for supplies and food.
  2. Make sure you know how to set up and use your boat's equipment. When camping with a boat, many of the tips for camping will apply, but there are also some special things that need to be done (such as leaving one end of the rope on land so the boat doesn't float away).
  3. Make sure to check weather conditions and dress accordingly. Bringing the wrong types of clothing for the conditions can mean being miserable or even getting sick.
  4. Pack lightly! You won't have any extra space when using a boat, so it's important to pack only what you'll need. This can also prevent items from shifting during travel, which could cause safety hazards.
  5. Grab your sun screen and slather up! If you're camping in places where there is water or if you are in tight quarters at night then don't forget about this important step.
  6. Prepare yourself mentally for the trip. Mentally preparing for a camping trip with a boat might just be more difficult than physically preparing - but no less important. Take time to think of all aspects carefully before leaving on your trip, take note of things that make you nervous, and then remember that you're going to be just fine.
  7. Before leaving on a trip, check the boat and trailer to ensure they are up to the challenge of transporting you and your gear. You may need some extras such as tie downs or straps - don't risk it without having the means to secure everything tightly.
  8. Plan ahead! Decide where you want to go and look for any specific permits required by the land owner(s). If planning a very lengthy boat camping trip consider all possible routes and plan accordingly; sometimes this might require stopping at public restrooms or convenience stores along your way.
  9. Call ahead! Some locations might not allow overnight docking (you might also check this before setting out) so call ahead and ask about their rules and regulations. Find out if your boat is allowed and what size vessel can be moored there; some places will not allow anything but kayaks or canoes.
  10. Always have enough cash with you just in case you're approached by someone asking for fees. Many areas require payment of an overnight fee regardless of whether you over night there. Also, don't forget to sign-in or register at the beginning of your trip so they know who's using their facilities (a couple of dollars is all it takes).
  11. Before anchoring up at night, make sure you find a suitable spot (away from busy channels) and learn how to anchor your vessel properly.
  12. Don't forget the proper safety precautions while out on open waters! Always have an emergency kit aboard in case something goes wrong during your trip. Here are five important items that should be in your emergency kit: flares, a VHF radio, fire extinguisher, first aid kit and an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) which uses GPS to send out a distress signal with your location.
  13. Is everyone aboard aware of how to use the life jackets? Don't forget yours either! No matter how short the trip is, wear your life jacket anytime you're on board. This will also help keep you warm when temperatures drop overnight.
  14. Pack plenty of extra clothing in case the temperature drops during the night or if it rains. It is always best to be prepared for anything that might happen.
  15. If your boat is not equipped with lights that allow you to anchor in the dark, bring along a small flashlight or headlamp for this purpose. Flashlights also come in handy when searching through lockers for gear, reading marine charts by dim light or any other task where an extra light source can be helpful.
  16. Anchor often and well. Anchoring frequently will help keep you from drifting during the night. Pay attention to wind direction and always try to pick an anchorage upwind of all obstacles such as trees, buildings, docks etc so it's easier to take off in the morning without getting tangled in anything that might pull you out of position.
  17. Don't be afraid of strange noises. It may sound strange but you could actually hear animals on shore barking and making other noises during the night while you are anchored up. This actually happened to us after sunset one time when we were moored just off a mangrove bank near Miami, FL. While it did get pretty noisy, I was surprised by how much wildlife there was out there even within shouting distance of all the city activity nearby.
  18. If you have will children on-board with you, plan some activities for them so they don't get bored after dark especially since most kids prefer to sleep in during the summer.
  19. Sleep with your hatches open if mosquitos are not too bad where you are camping or anchoring overnight so that you can get some of the cool breeze. This will also help circulate the air in your boat and keep you from getting stuffy while you sleep.
  20. If conditions are favorable, climb into your cockpit at night to get a better view of the stars. Also, try sleeping under the stars on a clear night if possible. There is nothing quite like being out under the open sky with just a blanket or sheet covering you after dark while anchored up overnight in some secluded spot.
  21. If you don't like noise, close all hatches and turn off all fans before falling asleep at anchor so that no noise will wake you up during the night when things calm down.
  22. Whether or not your boat's AC is on or off at anchor, having the main cabin hatch open about two inches all around will still allow plenty of air flow while keeping rain and bugs out while sleeping in hot weather. (Don't leave it wide open though, because if the wind changes while you're sleeping it could end up blowing rain inside.)

How do you camp with a boat?

Camping with a boat can be made simple if you take the proper steps in preparing your trip. Before heading out for a camping trip with your boat, make sure to consider each of the helpful tips listed above.

What are some safety measures to take for camping with a boat?

You should always make sure to have flares on hand in case of emergencies. It is also important to ensure that your boat has the proper equipment, including emergency gear and navigation tools. Do your research before you leave so that you know where you're going at all times.

Safety should be the most important thing on your mind when camping with a boat.

What is the proper way to dispose of human waste when camping with a boat?

This depends entirely on local laws and regulations. Make sure to only dump waste into an unoccupied body of water and if it's legal where you live, check for signs prohibiting such activity before leaving your dock.

Some boats have holding tanks for waste but you should know that they are often small and limited.

What is the best type of boat to camp on?

The answer to this question usually depends on your personal preferences, living conditions while cruising, and budget. Some people will prefer to get a recreational vehicle (RV) for their camping needs but keep in mind that these can be both expensive and extremely large. Camping on a sailboat or canoe may seem like an attractive option but only do so if you're sure that you won't mind getting wet while sleeping.


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How can I make my campsite more comfortable?

You might feel tempted to bring along all of the comforts of home when camping with a boat but this can make your vessel difficult to manage at sea. Instead, try to keep things simple by limiting yourself to the bare essentials. Most of the items on this list are inexpensive but they'll provide you with a lot of comfort when camping away from home.

  • Lantern or flashlight (Flashlights are preferable because lanterns can be difficult to hold while moving around in a small space.)
  • Sleeping bag and pad (Invest in a sleeping back that's rated well below the temperature at which you're expecting to camp.)
  • Tent or tarpaulin, if going ashore for overnight stays (You might want something large enough to stand up inside as well as stretch out your legs.)
  • Watch, compass, logbook, waterproof matches, pencil, sharpener - Don't forget to bring along a couple of dry bags to store your things in.
  • A marine VHF radio with a charger is always a good idea, especially in case of an emergency or bad weather.
  • Binoculars (Bring binoculars if you loaned yours to the "guy who knows everything.")
  • There is nothing more annoying than a cup full of soggy cereal. Pack the dry stuff in plastic baggies and pour it into your cereal bowl at breakfast time. Don't forget to bring a spoon, too... and wet wipes (bring lots).
  • Bring an extra set of clothes, just in case someone falls overboard or gets covered with fuel oil. Remember that polyester does not breathe. You will be miserable if your clothes stick to your body, especially in hot weather.
  • Anchor light - If cruising after dark, you need a round orange light on top of your mast so other boaters can see you. It will save your life (and maybe someone else's).
  • Fishing gear - If you're an avid angler, bring along some tackle and plenty of hooks for live bait.
  • Beach towels are nice to have when taking shore leave. Most campgrounds don't provide them so be sure to pack along one or two, especially if you must stay aboard overnight because of weather conditions. It's also smart to grab a couple extra just in case you meet up with that special someone who might want to go swimming with you.
  • Dish soap & sponge - Soap doesn't weigh much but might come in handy for those tough to remove stains from that old T-shirt you call a bathing suit.
  • A small broom & dust pan - Cleaning up the boat before going home at the end of a trip is a lot easier if your vessel has one.
  • An extra fender - Small boats are easily damaged by larger craft and their propellers, so never make a trip without one or two additional bumpers. Also helpful for rocky shorelines, especially in tidal zones where the water level sometimes changes drastically over very short time spans.
  • An inflatable dinghy or life raft with oars/paddles - These items may only occasionally come in handy but don't leave port without them in case you lose an engine or need to move the boat in an emergency.
  • Anchor & rode - You'll wait forever for tides and currents to take you where you want to go if your boat is adrift. Even if you're at a dock, sea lions, children on boogie boards, wakes from passing boats and other factors can unleash your vessel. An anchor will keep it safe. For more information on anchors see our previous post A Boat Owner's Guide To Anchors.
  • Battery/charging cables - A battery jump cable or power cable running off of another boat's engine can be helpful in emergencies.
  • Boat Identification - It shouldn't be necessary in this day and age but you never know when it will come in handy. If your boat gets lost or stolen, having your boat's identification number on hand can help recover it faster.
  • Clean drinking water - Fill up fresh water containers before leaving home so they're ready to go when you are! Don't assume that just because you have a working filter or purification system, that you'll always have clean water aboard. Always carry at least one back up method for filtering/purifying drinking water.

Does it matter what kind of boat I have?

It doesn't matter what kind of boat you have, just be sure to prepare it for living aboard before heading out on your trip. Be sure there is plenty of supplies for cooking food, keeping yourself hydrated, etc.. leaving on your trip, check the weather forecast so that you can be prepared for any unusual changes in the weather.

How long of a trip can I plan?

It's totally up to you, just remember, the more supplies that are packed into your boat beforehand, the longer you'll be able to travel! If necessary, purchase supplies along the way to fuel your journey.

What is considered "good gear?"

For camping with a boat, good gear would include items like life jackets and flares. A VHF radio is also helpful for communication purposes while at sea or traveling through unfamiliar territory. Be sure to do some research on how each item works before leaving on your trip-that way you know what you're doing.

Is there anything else I should prepare for?

Just like when you are tent camping, you have to prepare for the unexpected. Anything can happen! Make sure you have a fully-charged cell phone and be sure to bring the number of an emergency contact, as well as that person's number. You must also make sure to take care of yourself while camping with a boat. It is essential to eat healthy, get plenty of sleep, and keep hydrated.

This trip may seem like fun at first but it can quickly turn into something bad if you are not prepared for any unfortunate circumstances. Most importantly, don't forget your medication! Taking medicine during stressful times can help calm you down and "reboot" your system after a stressful day. If possible, try to purchase medications along the way instead of taking up important room in your bag or carrying with you for an extended period.

What are boat-in campgrounds and what are the amenities they offer?

A boat-in campground is one where boaters are allowed to camp on their shoreline. These boat-in campgrounds offer amenities such as:

  • FREE Wi-Fi Internet Access
  • Dumping station
  • TV with cable
  • Pavilion-game room
  • Modern comfort stations (with hot showers)
  • Paddlewheel store
  • Tables & fireplaces at each site
  • Fishing, Boating & other water activities
  • Ice
  • firewood
  • LP gas
  • Firewood
  • Non-denominational Sunday worship
  • Mini-golf
  • Kayak rentals
  • Laundromat
  • Camping Cabins
  • Camping Club area

How can you prepare food while out on a boat?

When preparing food on a boat, make sure to specify what exactly you mean. If you are asking if it is possible to store and prepare food (like on a picnic table) then the answer is of course, yes. But if you want to cook on a boat, then the answer might be different depending on your boat or camping situation. If your campsite has a fire pit then roasting hot dogs and marshmallows is an obvious choice for cooking food while out on a boat. Other options include:

  • Being anchored near restaurants where you can dock and pick up takeout.
  • Having friends who have access to a grill and can meet you at your campground.
  • Cooking in your cabin or RV using propane stoves and ovens.
  • Bringing along lightweight camping stoves and a grill.
  • If you want to cook while out on a boat, there are plenty of options. But cooking in different conditions can sometimes mean using different tools than usual so it's important to consider the unique factors where you'll be camping when choosing your kitchen essentials.

What about boat camping in cold weather?

Camping in cold weather obviously has its challenges but it doesn't take away from the joys of being out in nature during this time of year. The pleasure comes from enjoying these winter camping activities:

  • Building igloos or snowmen.
  • Hiking through pristine snow-covered forests (or even just enjoying the views).
  • Hunting for ice-fishing holes (which is best done at dawn/dusk anyway).
  • Sledding or snowshoeing.

You just learned about how to camp with a boat. You can now go out and enjoy camping with your boat. You will definitely have a great time camping when you know how to do it right. So get out there and start having fun in nature because, after all, that's what boat camping is all about.

About Author:

image of Kevin Pommells

Hi, I'm Kevin Pommells, a lover of camping and the great outdoors as everyone says nowadays. I'm also a passionate soccer fan and the proud owner of CamperRules.com, a website dedicated to helping campers and outdoor enthusiasts make the most of their adventures. With years of experience exploring the wilderness and a deep love for the sport of soccer, I'm always looking for new ways to combine my two passions and share my knowledge with others. Follow me for tips, tricks, and insights on all things camping and outdoor recreation.

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