Tips To Get Organized Below Deck

It can be tempting to keep every possible item that you might ever need aboard your small sailboat. You know, Boy Scout style, ready for anything. But storage space is very limited and the more you keep aboard, the harder it is to find what you’re looking for. Getting organized below deck not only makes your sailboat more comfortable, especially for overnight trips, but it also makes your sailboat safer by eliminating clutter and excess weight.

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There are lots of ways to store and organize things below deck. None of them are wrong so long as you have some kind of plan. These are tips on how I organize the storage aboard Summer Dance. If you don’t have a Catalina 22 or similar sailboat, some of these tips might not work perfectly for you but think about how you can apply the same principles to your specific sailboat design.

A Boat Hook In the Hand Is Worth Two In the Bilge

The primary guiding principle that I use for organizing storage is practicality. You need to be able to retrieve some items quickly or often like safety equipment, rigging, or ground tackle. For this reason, reserve all the storage space that is accessible from the cockpit for sailing gear only. If you’re busy minding the helm and sail trim in heavy weather and have all the hatches closed up like you should , you can’t stop everything to go below for a something critical – you need it within easy reach.

Other items, you might only need rarely and can take longer to retrieve. They can be stored wherever you have space to spare for them.

Don’t Be a Taildragger

Your sailboat shouldn’t look like a taildragger airplane on the ground with its tail lower than its nose. Even though it can be easier to stow some large or heavy items in the stern of the sailboat, resist that temptation and try to find a place forward if you can. Some sailboats like the Catalina 22 are notorious for squatting in the water and they handle better when their weight is more balanced between the bow and stern. You can easily tell how heavy your stern is by how much of the transom is under water. Ideally, there should be none. Two to three inches is typical, less is better.

After practicality, consider how the weight is distributed aboard your sailboat but let necessity be your overriding guide. For example, if you have a heavy outboard motor on the port side of the transom, try to compensate for it by putting a roughly equal amount of weight on the starboard side. Consider where your crew normally sits too. Rather than leave the fuel tank in the port lazarette, slide it forward under the cockpit, near the keel. If you don’t anchor out often, store your ground tackle in the one of the more forward lockers to lighten the stern too.

Keep Things High and Dry

When you get everything sorted as to where it will go, don’t just toss the small items into their locker. They’ll just gravitate to the bottom of the locker where, if you get any water in the bottom of your boat, they will get soaked and likely damaged.

Instead, put small items in inexpensive plastic storage bins like these.

Perforated storage bins

I use them aboard Summer Dance wherever they will fit through a locker opening. Stored items are easier to find and they stay dry. If the size is right, you can remove the whole bin from the storage locker to reach smaller items or to clean the bottom of the locker.

$tingy’s Storage Suggestions

Below is a diagram of the storage compartments in a first generation C-22 with each compartment numbered. Refer to the table below for suggestions of what to store in each compartment. These are just examples, you might not need some of these items aboard at all or in all seasons.

C-22 Storage Plan
1 Port lazarette This is the largest compartment with relatively easy access, so store the lightest, most often-used sailing gear here like:

2 Aft settee locker The easiest to access small locker, put often used smaller items here like:

  • Toolbox
  • 12V fan
  • First aid kit
  • Bailing bucket
  • Flags
  • Spot light
3 Forward settee locker This locker provides access to the swing keel lock bolt, so don’t stuff it full. Store seldom used gear here like:

4 Bow locker This locker is not convenient to get to, but it has a lot of storage space. It’s also a good place to store heavy items to move their weight forward and better balance the boat. Rarely used gear goes here like:

5 Dry locker The only place that you can be reasonably certain will stay dry, this locker is best for:

  • Foul weather gear
  • Towels
  • Blankets
6 Head locker Directly in front of the portable toilet, this is a good closet for:

  • Toilet paper
  • Toilet additives
  • Cleaning supplies

There is no easy access to this space unless you Make a Door to Storage Space Under the V Berth.

7 Forward galley locker Next to the galley, this locker makes a good pantry for:

  • Dry goods
  • Paper goods
  • Dishware & utensils
8 Aft galley locker Directly under the galley, this locker is convenient for:

  • Pans
  • Grill accessories
  • Dish washing supplies

There is no easy access to this space unless you Make a Door for More Storage Under the Galley.

9 Starboard lazarette Another large compartment with relatively easy access, store heavier and most often-used sailing gear here like:

10 Under cockpit This space is nearly inaccessible unless you are either very flexible or have small children to send down there for:

  • Outboard fuel tank
  • Extra life vests

Tie one end of a short length of cord to these items and tie the other end to the line hanger in the nearest lazarette to make them easier to retrieve.

You might not want to store still other items in lockers at all, like:

  • Clothing in duffle bags in the V berth
  • Food and drinks in an insulated cooler under the dinette table
  • Maps, binoculars, camera, and electronics on shelves or in dedicated holders

And if you live in a region with an off-season, be sure to take everything out of the boat except a dehumidifier to keep it dry and mildew-free until the next sailing season.

For even more storage tips, see:

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. Jon Heath says:

    Whatever you do, remember gasoline fumes are heavier than air, so don’t put even a supposedly empty fuel tank down in the cabin unless you provide plenty of air circulation with a powered exhaust fan / blower. And the motor needs to be a brushless type, so it won’t cause an explosion if it gets switched on after fumes have collected in the bilge or cabin. Just my opinion, based on laws of physics.

    1. Hello, Jon

      I figured somebody would pick up on my tip about relocating the fuel tank and you jumped right on it 😉 While your points about fumes and ventilation are basically correct, the risks and solutions are a bit more complicated.

      For example, most older sailboats like the Catalina 22 have very little, if any, separation between the compartments where fuel is stored and the cabin space. So even fumes from fuel tanks that are stored in their manufacturer designated location can potentially reach the occupied space.

      For that reason, it’s important that every sailboat have a passive ventilation system. This is the two clamshell vents on the aft side deck, one facing forward and one aftward. One should have a vent hose only partly into the fuel tank storage compartment and the other vent hose should extend to the lowest point in the compartment.

      Any breeze in through the short hose will force some air out through the long hose and expel accumulated fumes from the compartment. Catalina Yachts changed this in the “new design” C-22 and created an exterior storage compartment for the fuel tank.

      I don’t know of anybody who removes their fuel tank when it’s not actually in use, it’s just too inconvenient. In lieu of that, the smartest thing to do is to prevent fumes from accumulating in the first place, starting with their source. Be sure your fuel system is in good condition and to only use one of the newer EPA certified tanks.

      I prefer the airtight ones that have a manual vent. I keep the vent closed when it’s not in use and release any tank pressure with the compartment well ventilated, of course, before I start the motor. I have another tank that is not airtight and fumes easily escape it. Because of that and because the First Mate is especially sensitive to those fumes, I don’t use that tank when we anchor out overnight.

      Carbon monoxide generated from cooking or heating appliances in enclosed spaces is also a hazard as well as leaks from propane canisters or tanks that are connected to them. Those equally or more dangerous and require different precautions.

      It would take more space than I have here to cover this subject adequately and others who are more knowledgeable about it than me have done so already. The best advice I can give is for all owners to educate themselves on this issue, use common sense, and remain vigilant.

      I recommend everyone read these and related sources:
      Preventing Explosions Aboard by BoatUS, one of the leading marine insurance companies
      Fuel System Safety Tips by Boating magazine

  2. Halfpint says:

    Great ideas, I ❤️organization!

  3. Richie says:

    Excellent tips and sound advise on the fuel issue. Thanks.

  4. STEVE WALLACE says:

    Like always, great info.

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