Before we start with our list of must-have boating accessories, let’s define what we’re talking about — and what we’re not talking about. First, we don’t consider essential equipment like your anchor or dock lines to be “accessories.” Gear that’s required by law — life jackets, distress signals, fire extinguishers, etc. — doesn’t really fit the definition either. We’re also ruling out personal items that aren’t technically boating accessories — stuff like sunscreen, towels and motion sickness medications.

Instead, at least for the purposes of this article, we’re defining “boat accessories” as non-essential add-ons and upgrades for your boat that make days on the water easier and/or more fun. We’ve also tried to make these accessories as universal as possible. For example, an electric trolling motor is a must-have accessory for bass boats and inshore saltwater fishing boats, but it’s useless for a wakeboard boat or cruiser. Here goes!

1. Stereo or Bluetooth Speaker

From wake boats to trawlers to poling skiffs, every boat needs some kind of audio system. That puts a stereo right at the top of the list of “must-have” accessories for your boat.

Having music on your boat used to require a conventional stereo system with a head unit at the console and permanently installed speakers. Now, though, there are several portable, waterproof Bluetooth speakers on the market that work great on the boat.

2. Drink Holders

Setting a drink down on a boat isn’t like setting it down on a table at home. If it’s not in a holder, it’s going to end up spilled. Most boats are built with at least some drink holders, but chances are you’ll want to add more right where you need them. There’s a dizzying variety out there, evidence that drink holders are among the most popular of all boating accessories.

Most boats are built with at least some drink holders, but chances are you’ll want to add more right where you need them.

There are drink holders that attach to vertical surfaces, drink holders that attach to horizontal surfaces, recessed drink holders, clamp-on drink holders that mount to rails, suction cup drink holders, even koozies with bottoms that grip onto any smooth surface.

3. Some Kind of Shade

It’s hard to think of a boat where having some shade isn’t a big deal, at least once in a while. Even in colder climates, you don’t want to spend hours on end in the direct sun. 

Even in colder climates, you don’t want to spend hours on end in the direct sun. 

The shade can come from a T-top or hard top, a folding Bimini top, or one of a number of fairly new retractable, folding or even inflatable shade devices that attach to existing tops, arches, outrigger poles, rod holders, etc. Heck, for small fishing boats and others that don’t frequently need shade, a simple beach umbrella stuck in a rod holder can do the trick.

4. Wireless Phone/Device Charger

Smartphones play all kinds of roles on boats these days. They’re used as cameras, stereo head units, chartplotters, mobile displays for other electronics, battery monitors, controllers for equipment like trolling motors, and much more.

But keeping them charged using just a 12V cigarette lighter-style outlet and charger cord isn’t easy.

Waterproof, wireless chargers made specifically for marine use are among the best boating accessories.

Waterproof, wireless chargers made specifically for marine use not only keep your devices charged but also do double-duty as secure, convenient phone storage, making them among the best boating accessories.

5. Boarding Ladder

If your boat doesn’t already have a boarding ladder of some kind, put it at the top of your list of must-have accessories.

Climbing aboard using your engine, outdrive, or trim tabs as a step is not only difficult but also unsafe.

Even if you never plan to swim from your boat, an emergency ladder of some kind is an important safety feature, allowing you to climb back in if you fall overboard. And if you use your boat for watersports, swimming or visiting beaches, islands or sandbars, a quality ladder is essential.

6. Marine Cooler

Not just any cooler can be considered a “boating accessory.” But a high-quality, marine specific cooler is among the most essential pieces of boating gear.

Marine coolers are built tougher than others, made with stainless steel hardware to resist rusting and corrosion, and keep their contents colder for longer than regular coolers.

For extra points, consider adding cool accessories to your cooler so it also functions as a fishing rod and tackle station, serving tray, drink holder or cutting board.

7. Boat Grill

There’s nothing quite like grilling out with friends and family on the boat or at your favorite sandbar, island, or beach.

And with a variety of mounting options, you can safely attach a marine grill to virtually any boat, from a pontoon to a sportfisher.

Add a folding table or rod holder mount cutting board/table to help prepare and serve your food.

There’s nothing quite like grilling out with friends and family on the boat or at your favorite sandbar, island or beach.

8. Deck Brush

Okay, this one isn’t particularly fun as boating accessories go, but it will make your life a lot easier on the water, especially on boats with non-carpeted decks.

Having a good quality deck brush stowed somewhere it’s easy to grab, like in an under-gunwale rack, makes cleaning up messes — from spilled salsa to fish blood — a snap.

No more sacrificing beach towels to mop up your decks. You’ll also know right where your brush is when it’s time to wash down at the end of the day.

9. Dedicated Trash Receptacle

Possibly even less fun than a deck brush but also an extremely useful piece of boating gear, a boat trash can helps keep our waterways unpolluted and speeds cleanup at the end of the day.

Without a trash receptacle, garbage on a boat tends to get stowed in various nooks and crannies to keep it from blowing out. Unfortunately, it often blows out anyway.

Boat trash receptacles range from inexpensive bags that attach to rails, to toppers that convert buckets into effective trash receptacles, to full-size pull-out and tilt-out cans.

10. Accessory Lighting

Navigation lights are legally required for night operation, but there are many other kinds of boat lighting that belong on the boaters’ must-have list.

Interior courtesy or accent lighting, for example, provides just enough lighting to make it easy to move around your boat at night without completely destroying your night vision.

Spreader lights are bright, overhead lights used for lighting up your decks while fishing or working at night. And underwater lights let you light up the water around your boat. 

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