Best Gear Picks for Liveaboard Cruising, Part 1 - 2023 Edition
Updated: Sep 5
As a sailing family of five who has been cruising, homeschooling, and working full time for more than 2 years now, we've learned a lot. Most of it the hard way, but we've had enough time to test and learn what works and what doesn't. This post is part 1 of a 3-part series about the gear that makes our cruising experience better every single day and we decided to share it so others can benefit.
What goes and what stays?
We have to be selective about what gear we bring aboard because space is extremely limited. Some gear we hope we never have to use (e.g. life raft) and other gear we use everyday. Every item we bring onto the boat we have to justify eventually. Anything that we don't need, or can't find a place to stow, can't stay. We also keep an eye on our waterline. If we notice the boat starting to "squat" it's time for another round of judicious purging. The good news is nearly every marina has a "free-cycle" space for this reason and donation centers are plentiful. We've unloaded our fair share of items, some of it very nice. Safety gear aside, a good rule of thumb is that if you haven't needed to use something for a few months, you should seriously consider whether you need it at all.
Standing up to the abuse
On a boat, we are in constant motion, even at anchor. We are also in a saltwater environment the vast majority of the time, which means our gear has to stand up to a lot of environmental abuse. Things tend to chafe, corrode, shift, come lose, or break and, usually, at the least opportune time. Our rule is that if we have to replace a piece of gear, we want to do it once and do it right so it will last as long as possible.
The point is, good gear makes a tremendous difference between a good day spent doing something you want to do and a really crappy day doing a boat project. It generally pays to spend a little extra and buy the best gear you can afford, and preferably gear that is designed for the marine environment. Trying out new cruising gear is one of our favorite things to do and it makes up a fair amount of the scuttlebutt with fellow sailors and cruisers too. We are always interested in gear that makes our life afloat better.
Our favorite gear
Without further adieu, let's talk about the gear! Amber and I collaborated to curate this list and every item had to meet these criteria to make the cut:
Gets used everyday (or almost)
Is a game changer on some level for boat life
Has held up for a long time
We would purchase the item again
We wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to others
Is not limited to sailing applications or our boat
Note: we did not receive any freebies or paid endorsements at the time of this post series. We're sharing these recommendations based solely on our personal experience, so if you are inclined to purchase any of these items, we'd love to hear how they work for you. Also, if you have gear suggestions to add to this list, please comment below!
1. Honda EU2200i Companion with Bluetooth - while there are cheaper generators out there, we are big fans of the small but mighty Honda EU2200i. With a little TLC, these generators have proven they are worth their salt and can hold up to years of daily use and abuse, powering watermakers, recharging batteries on a cloudy day, or even running a 16k BTU air conditioner (with soft start). That's pretty stinking awesome.
We also highly recommend getting a generator with Bluetooth, which allows you to connect to the generator remotely via Honda's mobile app so you can monitor RPMs, engine hours, oil life, service reminders, and even turn the unit off remotely. Also, the Eco Throttle feature automatically adapts the throttle to the demand, making the unit extremely fuel efficient and less noisy.
While we realize no one loves the sound of a generator in a quiet anchorage, they are a necessary evil to meet the power demands of most boats. As far as portable generators go, this unit is incredibly quiet and it gets used almost every day, but never overnight, on our boat. Our Honda literally always starts on the first pull. It affords us so much freedom and flexibility, how could we not give it a big thumbs up? The Honda EU2200i retails for around $1,300 US.
2. Starlink Residential/ RV satellite Internet - if you haven't at least heard about Starlink, you may be living under a rock, Charlie Brown. All kidding aside, this is the only way to fly when it comes to high speed, reliable internet service in remote places. As digital nomads, internet is a necessity for daily work, so we have a fair amount of experience using, installing, and even "hacking" (in a good way) these devices. If you haven't read our detailed post on Installing and Optimizing Starlink on a Boat, you should definitely check it out. While the technology is still adapting rapidly, FB groups like Starlink on Boats and Starlink Hacks are a treasure trove of searchable information. Starlink has certainly been a game changer on our boat and we strongly recommend this service if staying connected is important on your boat. Starlink's Residential/ RV will cost you $500 US for the Gen2 square dish and $135 US per month for service, with portability mode enabled.
3. Air Head composting toilet - we realize the idea of a "composting" head/toilet doesn't initially seem appealing, but we would never go back to a traditional marine head and holding tank. First off, marine heads stink - literally and figuratively. The first thing you typically smell when entering the cabin on a boat with a conventional marine toilet is...the toilet. It's not pleasant. Marine heads clog easily, they require extra thru-hulls, they require water to flush (preferably fresh but that creates another problem), they leak, they require regular (disgusting) valve and seal maintenance, holding tanks require chemicals, the holding tank(s) take up large amounts of precious space, and they're not great for the environment. Add to all of those issues they limit your freedom as you try to plan around a pump out location.
By contrast, composting heads virtually eliminate odors in the cabin, are self contained, simple to maintain, take up a fraction of the space, are environmentally friendly, and you never need a pump out.
The trade offs are that composting heads have an initial learning curve, you need to store compost media (we use dehydrated coconut coir bricks that store easily), you have to be vigilant about preventing bugs, and you have to empty the liquid tank frequently. Overall, we consider these to be minor tradeoffs for a boat that smells like a home instead of a latrine. An Air Head composting toilet can be purchased from their online store for $1,095 US.
4. RYOBI 18V Evercharge Cordless Hand Vacuum - This small but powerful cordless vacuum is one of the most handy, frequently used pieces of kit on our boat. Keeping the floors clean on a boat with five humans is sometimes challenging, but this little cordless vacuum helps us maintain (mostly) clean floors. The unit takes up minimal space, the battery is long lasting, it charges quickly, and emptying the waste is simple. A spare battery also comes in handy. This unit retails for around $90 US.
5. Magma Kettle Gas Grill 17 inch - the biggest advantage to grilling on a boat is you don't heat up your galley. Depending on the time of year and location, this can be a serious game changer. It also means fewer dishes which saves water and reduces chores. The Magma Kettle Grill comes in 15 or 17 inch and is a classic, proven, purpose built piece of gear. We opted for the 17" version because it has enough grilling surface to simultaneously cook a meal for our entire family. We recently grilled a portioned half salmon on our Magma Kettle with room to spare. Delish! Be aware: grilling can be problematic, or even dangerous, when the wind pipes up or if the anchorage is rolly. We also recommend a canvas cover to protect your grill from the elements. The Magma 17" Kettle Gas Grill retails for just under $300 US.
6. Rechargeable, magnetic, dimmable motion activated, wireless LED lights for under cabinets and closets - these USB rechargeable lights are amazing and you can put them practically anywhere: inside of hanging lockers, under galley cabinets, lazarets, and even inside the fridge/freezer. Best of all: no wiring and, aside from charging, no power draw. After testing at least half a dozen different makes/models, these lights are the best we have tested to date for long battery life, three different light tone/warmth settings, excellent motion detection, adjustable dim, and three different activation modes: persistent on, daytime, or nightime. These lights retail for under $40 US for a 3-pack.
7. SeaWater Pro 110v AC/ 40gph Watermaker - unlimited water is something we don't give much thought about on land, but living on a boat with five people means our water supply is a daily concern. On Koinonia, we go through a lot of water which we need to drink, cook, do dishes, bathe, wash clothes, and rinse salt and grime off the boat.
To keep up with the water demands of a boat with high consumption, there are two choices:
Don't venture far from marinas and accept the restriction as part of life or
Get a watermaker. For those who might protest this dichotomy, there is technically a third option for boats with generous tankage and/or conservative water demands. It is possible to stretch the supply and supplement by catching rain water, but this is not a reliable or practical way to meet the needs on our boat. Since our goal is to be as self reliant and unrestricted as possible, we consider a watermaker to be essential.
We recently ditched our almost 20 year old 12v DC watermaker for a new Seawater Pro 110v AC watermaker with dual membranes. This unit is capable of producing 40 gph of deselination, converting sea water into pristine reverse osmosis drinking water that is higher quality and better tasting than expensive bottled water. And we have an unlimited supply of it by simply turning on the watermaker for an hour or two a few times a week while running our generator.
We chose Seawater Pro because the units are incredibly well made with most of the parts made in the USA, they are also designed for modular installations to fit almost any boat, they produce relatively high volumes of water quickly and efficiently, the units are arguably the best value in the market, and finally their customer service is notoriously top notch. A new Seawater Pro 110/220v AC powered 40gpg unit can be purchased from the online store for $3,495 US.
8. ROBOCUP spring loaded, clamp-on cup holder - everyone struggles with where to put cups, water bottles, or even the occasional thermos for a hot cup of soup on a balmy day. These ROBOCUP cup holders are seriously tough and ridiculously strong. You can clamp them to any round or flat vertical rail up to 2 inches in diameter. They also come in a variety of colors and designs to match your boat. No drilling, no adhesives. We have two of these attached to our binnacle and they are like having an extra set of hands in the cockpit. The ROBOCUP retails for ~$30 US.
9. 12/24V 5KW-8KW Diesel Air Heater - when we first moved aboard, we had no idea how frequently we would have occasion for firing up a heater. Whether cruising New England in the summer or a sudden 3-day cold snap in sunny south Florida, you don't want to be caught out in the cold without a way to heat the boat.
But with so many options, which heater to choose can be a real conundrum because boats tend to not be nearly as well insulated as a land home. Also, heaters either require power or fuel, so it has to be extremely efficient. A lot of heaters also create problems due to the safety risk or because they end up leading to increased moisture levels in the cabin. Most propane heaters create a tremendous amount of condensation and are not recommended. Other heaters are efficient and dry but are invasive/ugly to install. Others produce only ambient heat, meaning the heat will only reach a limited area on the boat, like a saloon or pilot house because there is no way to direct the heat via ducting.
That's where a forced air diesel parking heater comes in. First off, chances are good your boat already runs on diesel fuel. Second, these units are super compact, so you can put them just about anywhere and simply plumb a fuel line into one of your primary fuel tanks. Thirdly, they are super quiet and efficient. Our diesel heater can run 24 hours nonstop and burn less than 1 gallon of fuel, meanwhile heating our whole 47ft boat to a very comfortable 74 degrees, even if temps outside are below freezing. After the initial start up, the 12v DC power draw is only 2.5 amps. That's incredible! It's so small, we have it mounted completely out of sight. After testing a few versions, this unit is our favorite because we can fully control it remotely via Bluetooth using an app on our phone. Finally, without question, installing a forced air diesel parking heater is one of the best upgrades, and best values, we have made to date. Our diesel heater of choice retails for only $170 US.
10. Whale Gulper 220 Graywater Pump - if you've ever had the, umm...privilege of maintaining a graywater shower sump box, you're going to appreciate why this pump is a on this list. Traditional shower sumps require frequent cleaning because, invariably, the filter gets clogged with hair and other waste preventing it from draining properly which then results in a huge mess of graywater in the bilge. The pump or float switch is also prone to fail. In short, handling grey water waste on a boat can be a royal pain. We dealt with all of these problems until we discovered the Whale Gulper Greywater Pump. This pump can handle pumping large amounts of water including hair, shower gels, and other substances that cause other units to clog and fail, without missing a beat. Best of all, there is zero maintenance. We take showers daily on our boat and have been trouble free with this pump for over 2 years. Works with a float or manual switch. The Whale Gulper 220 retails for $170 US.
Well, that's it for the first post in this 3-part series, Best Gear Picks for Liveaboard Cruising. We hope you enjoyed this post. If you did, please like, share, and comment below. Also, don't forget to sign up for our newsletter at the top of the Sailing Koinonia Homepage to be notified about the next post in this series and to follow our adventures aboard S/V Koinonia. You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram.
Ben & Amber Ward