At the risk of overstating the obvious, trailerable sailboats are cramped. Some are more cramped than others. Cramped inside and cramped outside. But we tolerate the cramped conditions because they’re so much fun to sail and to camp aboard. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be made more comfortable.
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When the weather is great and you’re anchored in a secluded cove at dinner time and there’s an amazing sunset happening, do you regret having to go down into the cabin to eat at a cramped dinette? I sure do. I’d much rather eat topside and soak in the natural surroundings and not miss a minute of the night’s light show.
You don’t have to envy those big motor yachts and pontoon boats with their spacious cockpit dining tables. And you don’t have to spend hundreds on a complicated upgrade that will put holes in your boat the size of the void left in your wallet from their cost.
For a few dollars and a couple of hours of your time, you can have a simple, sturdy, and space-efficient cockpit table by re-purposing a part of your sailboat that you already have.
Put a lid on it!
Most sailboats have storage lockers of some kind in the cabin space. While you’re serving dinner, don’t you normally get food, dinnerware, and other supplies out of at least one of those lockers? We do aboard Summer Dance.
Rather than removing and replacing the lid over and over or leaving it off where it just gets in the way, you can modify it to work temporarily as a cockpit table. After dinner, when the cleanup is all done, you can switch it back from cockpit table to locker lid.
This project has only a few parts:
- One locker lid. Choose a lid that is handy to take off at dinnertime and is the best size for your cockpit; big enough to be useful but still leaves room around it for seating.
- Two rubber pole clips (Sea Dog Line Pole Storage Clip White 5/8″ or similar) to fit the main sheet traveler bar, pushpit rail, or transom edge. Attach them to the lid 1″-2″ inward from the edge so that they clear the locker opening when the lid is being used as a lid instead of as a table. Depending on the configuration of your cockpit, you might have to get creative here with a different attachment method to support the aft edge of the locker lid than I show here.
With the aft edge of the locker lid supported, you want to support the front of the lid at one point with the tiller handle. The three points together make a stable base for the lid.
On my Catalina 22, the height of the autopilot bracket on the tiller and the height of the traveler bar are nearly identical and hold the lid fairly level. I drilled a shallow hole in the bottom of the lid for the autopilot pin to sit in. The goal here is to prevent the tiller from accidentally getting bumped out from under the locker lid and spilling your dinner down the cockpit scuppers.
For more information about autopilots and to see how the autopilot bracket attaches to the tiller, go to How to Install a Tiller Autopilot.
For more leg room under the table, drill extra holes near each edge so that the tiller can be swung to either side of the table and locked in place there. The table will almost seem to float in space yet it should be strong enough to hold dinner for at least two stingy sailors.
If you don’t have a suitable autopilot bracket but your tiller sits high enough, consider attaching a third, larger pole clip to the bottom of the locker lid to grip the tiller.
Give it a leg to stand on
Another option is to build or buy a short folding table leg (AP Products 013-071 Folding Table Leg or similar) that you can attach to the bottom of the lid but fold up and secure so that it’s out of the way when the lid is back on the locker. Again, make the leg short enough and attach it 1″-2″ inward from the edge so that it clears the locker opening when the lid is being used as a lid instead of as a table. As a last resort, I’ve also seen tables suspended from the boom by a short accessory cord. Choose the option that works best for you.
You can further customize your locker lid/cockpit table with drink holders, non-skid surface, fiddle edges, and so on. The cockpit flood light attached to the pushpit rail in the first picture was featured in Add a Solar-Powered Flood Light in Your Cockpit. It works great for illuminating the table if it’s extra dark. If you want to get even fancier, make a replacement lid out of varnished teak plywood or other material of your choice. Guests to your sailboat will marvel at your ingenuity!
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