Space Utilization on Small Boats

By West Marine Staff, Last updated: 7/29/2020

If you are new to boating and the proud owner of your first boat, congratulations! Now is the time to deck it out with the gear you’ll need. Along with personal sundries, clothing and beach towels, this might include fishing tackle, diving gear, wakeboards, and water skis; and if your boat has a galley, perhaps even cookware, drinkware and eating utensils. But looking around, you might have noticed that there is not a lot of space. Indeed, the “floor space” in the average 30-foot sailboat is less than many household bathrooms! The average 26-foot cuddy cabin powerboat has even less. While storage on small boats can be a challenge, sooner or later you’ll find a place for everything and have everything in its place.

Boat Geometry: Sailboats versus Powerboats

The type of boat you own will have a bearing on what storage solutions you select. Compared to sailboats which are curved from stem to stern, powerboats tend to have straight sides. This means that in many cases, rectangular plastic storage bins fit better in powerboats, whereas duffel bags are often a better choice for sailboats, since they fit better up against the curvature of the hull. Bear in mind, that when it comes to gear bags versus plastic storage bins, no single solution fits all.

Stackable and Nestable is Better

Nesting Cookware

Nesting pots and pans sit inside one another to take up the least amount of space when stored.

On a small boat, every millimeter of storage space matters. If your boat has a galley and you are in the market for cookware, consider a set of nesting pots and pans, which take up a fraction of the space of standard cookware. For the same reason, collapsible food storage containers are also a great choice. Ditto for storage boxes and bins, designed to sit inside each other or completely collapse when not in use.

Secure Your Gear

Do you want to secure gear and supplies in a visible location within reach? You can work wonders with inexpensive items like gear ties, carabineers, bungee cords, cargo nets and hook and loop fasteners. In the galley, cargo nets are a great for overhead storage of fruits and vegetables, ready for the chef to grab. Bungee cords work well for securing wind breakers up against a bulkhead. Want to set your coffee cup down on the table and not have it tip over? Try sticking hook and loop material to its underside with the corresponding hook and loop mating surface located on the table and in other strategic locations around the boat. Have fun, use your imagination and you will find interesting ways to secure all kinds of gear.

Teak Cup Holder

Teak is a timeless boating material that adds class to your stowaway, foldable, and visible installations.

Quiet Your Cabinetry

On a rolling boat, rattling cabinet doors are super irritating. To quiet the din, consider replacing worn out cabinet latches with marine-grade cabinet hardware from top-notch manufactures such as Perko, Southco and Whitecap Marine. To keep items from sliding around within cabinetry, consider installing non-slip drawer and shelf liners.

Foldaway and Stowaway

You may be surprised just how much usable room is actually on your boat—it just isn't usable 100 percent of the time. Take for example a table. A table is highly convenient onboard, but only part of the time. There are a variety of folding tables and stowable tables available. These allow you the convenience of a table as well as use of the space when the table is stowed. Folding seats and swingback seats offer an opportunity for dry storage underneath their cushions. On a smaller note, fold-up cup holders, or even cup holders that you hang from lifelines can keep drinks within reach and make a difference when every iota of space matters.

Organized Anglers Catch More Fish

If you have a fishing boat, organizing your tackle onboard will help you to catch more fish. Where not already installed, consider a set of flush-mount rod holders. Offshore fishing boats benefit by installing a set of "rocket launcher-style" rod holders to keep rods out of the way but also rigged and ready for action. Rod holders can also be installed overhead inside the boat's cabin. Depending on how your boat is configured, a super-slick storage solution for terminal tackle can be found in ready-made polyethylene storage cabinets designed for flush mounting inside the gunnel of a boat. These cabinets accept terminal tackle storage boxes that you can pre-assort with the terminal tackle you will need.

Fender Holders

Fender holders keep your fenders off the deck and out of the way, but ready for use when docking.

Outfit your Dock

If you wet-store your boat in a marina, consider outfitting your slip with a dock box. This is where you will keep maintenance supplies and extra gear. Things like cleaners, engine oil, washdown hoses and more can be kept there to save space onboard.

Get Ready to Fend Off

Installing a set of fender racks is another great way to save space and keep your fenders ready to deploy when you approach a dock. Cruisers can also deflate their fenders and flatten them for compact storage during long passages where you won't meet a dock for days.

Multi-Use Products Save Space

Choose products and gear that serve multiple purposes or are designed to take up less space. For example, multi-tools, many of which include a pliers, cutting blades, screw drivers, files and more save a ton of space by putting a virtual tool box in the palm of your hand. For boat washdowns, consider a self-coiling hose, preferably one with a dedicated storage compartment, to keep it out of the way but ready for use.

Self-Coiling Hose

Self-coiling hoses shrink to store in as little space as possible.

Roll-up inflatable dinghies are another example. When deflated, most will fit into a cockpit locker (or your car's trunk) ready for use. West Marine brand throwable cushions are another example of an item that serves two purposes. They can be used as seat or back cushions and are also USCG Type IV approved as throwable flotation


The greatest advice we can give you is to look at everything you have on your boat and decide if you absolutely need it or not. Remove all the "nos" and "maybies" and only keep the items you need and those which will bring you the most enjoyment on the water.