Take This, Not That

Conserve space aboard your boat by taking items that are necessary and leaving behind a few that sound good but are definitely overrated.

   What works and what doesn’t? Just peruse a few nautical swap meets at marinas and yacht clubs along the West Coast, even in Mexico. Poking through the offerings in a dozen well-traveled lazarettes, tool bins and paint lockers can be surprisingly instructive.

I’ve outfitted dozens of nice boats for Mexico cruising adventures, and I’ve run dozens of yachts for 5,000-mile deliveries, and along the way I’ve become familiar with onboard items that are necessary for cruising in Mexico and a few that are overrated. Here I’ve identified four popular items that don’t usually work out as well as expected and 11 that are necessary, and maybe even underrated.


A $5 roll of Rescue Tape rescued us 1,000 miles offshore after a high-pressure diesel line sprang a serious leak. The repaired line held and kept the single-engine trawler running for another 1,200 miles to Hawaii. This self-fusing silicone tape seals itself even while submerged in diesel or water, insulates up to 8,000 volts and resists heat to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Rescue Tape is sold at many U.S. chandlers but is diffi cult to fi nd in Mexico.

Electronic flares, such as the SOS Distress Light, are a must-have for any dinghy gear bag and ditch kit in Mexico. It’s illegal to drive or fly across the border with handheld phosphorous flares, so it’s smart to shift to the electronic versions — still U.S. Coast Guard approved.

A lightweight foldable shopping cart is required gear for provisioning in Mexican ports; due to the threat of cockroach eggs, you don’t want to bring cardboard boxes or paper bags onto a boat. West Marine has several options. I like a Trolley Dolly model (dbest-products.com) that has two wheels and a vertical duffle-type compartment (waterproof, zip-closed) that holds about six bags of groceries or two loads of laundry. The 10-inch-by-12-inch platform doubles as a dolly for water jugs or stacks of six-packs. Two rubber wheels (not four) maneuver over stairs and broken sidewalks, and the cart folds compactly and stores in a small space. I recommend boaters put two aboard and stencil their boat name on them.

The heat in Mexico requires light-colored canvas covers for inflatable dinghies, not only to protect the tubes from sun damage but also to shield passengers’ sit-down parts from getting scorched on the way to shore. Hydraulic fluid that’s specified by your boat’s manufacturer for its steering system and stabilizers may not be available in Mexico, and hot sea water and air temperatures may affect its hydraulics more than anybody realizes. With that in mind, bring enough bottles for two or three flushes of the boat’s steering system — electrohydraulic or other — and one extra flush of other onboard hydraulic systems: davit, crane, trim tabs, outboard lifts, hatch lids, etc. Most Mexican boatyards consider automatic transmission fluid for cars as the universal substitute, but don’t let them endanger a boat’s critical systems or void its warranties.

On the same note, bring a couple of hydraulic rebuild kits or at least the correct gaskets or diaphragms for your boat’s steering system and stabilizers.

It’s OK to overestimate how many fuel filters you may need for the main engine and generator. In fact, quadruple your estimate. Just don’t fuel a revolt by stowing them in the galley.

Tubes of epoxy putty (make sure it cures underwater), all sizes of freezer-type zip plastic baggies, all sizes of quality bandages (store them in a plastic bag) and a first-aid kit are other items that can’t be overemphasized.


My uncle, who does his boating on Midwest lakes, sent us a gift from an appallingly expensive catalog: a beautifully machined stainless steel Genuine Baja Fuel Filter with a filter whose porosity was that of a window screen. Fortunately, diesel at all of Mexico’s fuel docks is centrifuged and has been for the last 15 years, even on those 2,000-gallon tank trucks that deliver diesel to Baja’s remote ports, such as Turtle Bay and San Felipe. That shiny Baja Fuel Filter could only strain out leaves, not water or bio sludge.

Night-vision binoculars are good for spotting warm objects such as a man overboard or a log. But they have only digital magnification, not optical magnification that lets you zoom the focus way out and in, so they work best for searching very close to the boat. Infrared vision is destroyed by the glare of land lights, or even a boat’s own running lights reflected off the water or stainless rails. They’re a neat idea but they just don’t replace a good pair of 7×50 marine-coated binoculars, which usually cost about a third of good night-vision binoculars.

Fresh bread at anchor epitomizes the cruising lifestyle, right? But with a breadmaker, it’s not the carbs boat owners need to count, it’s the amp hours. Drawing seven to 10 amps for three hours of rising and baking time per loaf, a bread-maker might keep the boat bound to dock power or cause the generator to be run in an otherwise tranquil anchorage.

Most leather-bound log books are so generic as to be impractical. Instead, customize a two-part spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel. Under Navigation, label columns that suit your voyage, such as Date & Time, Latitude & Longitude, Course & Speed, Distance to Closest Port, Depth, Sea State and Weather. Fill in the rows on the top of the hour. Under Engine Room, label columns tailored to your boat, such as Main Engine RPM, Engine Hours, Oil Temp, Oil Pressure, Fuel Levels, Generator and Water-maker. Make entries on the half hour. Either fill in the spreadsheet live while on watch, or print 100 sheets of each type of log, staple them together and fill them in as you go — in ink.