10 Steps for a Successful Boat Camping Trip

Camping onboard your boat will make memories for a lifetime, whether that means you beach your bowrider and pitch a tent by the water’s edge, or you anchor your cabin cruiser in a quiet cove and kick back for the evening. No matter what type of boat you own, camping on the water is sure to bring new adventures and excitement that landlocked people will never get to experience—so grab your gear and get ready to enjoy a trip to remember.

tips for boat camping trips

These simple steps will help make sure that boat camping vacation is a winner.

  1. Pick out an ideal location.
  2. Make a list of all the gear you’ll need.
  3. Make a list of provisions you’ll need.
  4. Gather everything together, and get it ready in advance.
  5. File a float plan.
  6. Make sure all your personal electronics are fully charged.
  7. Do a series of basic pre-trip checks to ensure your boat is ready for action.
  8. Fill the tanks up.
  9. Load the boat wisely.
  10. Cast off the lines, and get ready to have a great time!

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1. Pick an Ideal Boat Camping Location

What this means to different people will vary quite a bit, depending on where they live and the type of boat they have. In this day and age, one must also consider the effect of boating during COVID-19 and social distancing, which will be fairly easy when camping with the family in remote areas, but could expose you to other people in popular areas.

Be sure to check with your local campgrounds and state officials if you are planning to beach your boat in a public area, or if you plan to launch from a public boat landing. Visit our Public Water Access Map for detailed information on specific water access points in your state.

What’s important is simply that you have your destination confirmed before you leave the dock. Whether you’re anchored out, beached on public lands, or tying up in a marina will obviously have a big impact on what you’ll need to bring to be prepared. So the first order of business is nailing down that destination.

2. Make a List of Gear

You probably do this, at least mentally, before any trip out on the boat. But when you’ll be camping aboard there’s a lot more to keep track of since you’ll likely want both your usual boating gear plus the items needed for sleeping aboard.

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3. Make a List of Provisions

A sufficient selection of food and drinks for the entire crew will naturally top this list. But along with that, don’t forget to add things like ice, suntan lotion, insect repellent, and anything else you’ll want to have aboard.

4. Prepare in Advance

Serious campers know to get all their gear ready and verify it’s in good working order at least a day in advance, and this goes double for camping by boat. If anything is in need of repair or replacement now’s the time to find out—not when you’re 20 miles from civilization.

As you prep and pack up all that gear, be sure to check items like battery-operated flashlights or camping lanterns, to make sure they have fresh batteries and/or are fueled and ready for use.

planning a boat camping vacation

5. File a Float Plan

You should let someone dependable know your float plan (a basic synopsis of where you expect to be and when, so a friend or relative knows the approximate location you should be in, in case you don’t come back to the dock on time), every time you go boating. But when you go camping on your boat this is more important than ever. If you make a real boat camping vacation out of the trip, you may be gone for days at a time. So if you need assistance for any reason, it’s imperative that someone at least knows your general location and when you expect to be back home.

What Should Be Included in a Float Plan?

6. Charge Your Electronics

While it’s true that most modern boats have USB charging ports, it’s smart to start your trip with items like cell phones and rechargeable flashlights fully charged. On some boats the charging ports only operate when the boat’s running, and you certainly won’t want to interrupt the peace and solitude of camping on your boat by starting up the engine in the middle of the night because your phone died.

7. Use a Pre-Departure Checklist

Part of ensuring that your camping trip goes well is making sure the boat itself is running properly. To that end, there are a few very basic boat maintenance checks you should make.

These will vary from boat to boat, but on just about any type of vessel you’ll want to...

  • Check the engine oil to make sure it’s fully filled;
  • Ensure that the batteries are fully charged;
  • And test other critical items like plumbing and electrical systems to make sure everything is in tip-top shape before you shove off.

Pre-Departure Checklist

8. Fuel the Boat

Naturally, you’ll want to top off the fuel tank before you head out for your boat camping vacation. If your boat has them, this is also a good time to fill up the freshwater tank and pump out the holding tank.

9. Load the Boat Strategically

One thing that’s almost always at a premium on boats is space (learn more in Boat Storage Ideas: How to Stay Organized Onboard). And since you’ll be bringing extra gear and provisions aboard for a camping vacation, maybe for an entire family, how you load your boat is rather important.

camping on a boat
  • You’ll want to prioritize the items that require frequent use for the stowage spaces that are most easily accessed.
  • Also pay attention to how you distribute the weight. Heavy items should be placed as low and as close to the center of the boat as possible to minimize their effects on trim and stability, especially if you have a small boat.
  • You’ll also want to be sure you don’t weigh down the stern so much that the bow rises too high when you apply power, or the boat may not get onto plane properly.
  • And of course, you also need to know how just much weight you’re adding to the boat. Boats have a capacity plate that states the maximum load, so give it a look and be careful to never overload any vessel.

10. Cast Off the Lines & Enjoy

Okay—you’re ready to go on the boat camping vacation of a lifetime! Stay safe, have fun, and always remember: life is better on a boat, and that goes for camping trips, too.

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