No matter what size boat you have, you have probably experienced the “incredible shrinking boat syndrome.” This can happen at the beginning of a trip when you bring on extra guests and equipment, but it almost always happens by the end of an expedition. No matter how organized you try to be at the beginning of a trip, it doesn’t take long for a boat to get cluttered. Eighteen feet of fiberglass doesn’t do you much good if you only have five feet of usable space!

This happens everywhere in life — houses, cars, garages, everywhere. On boats, however, it can be dangerous. A fishing net left out becomes a tripping hazard. A carelessly tossed fishing lure on a console can end up in someone’s foot. An empty water bottle, a towel, or clothing can fly out of the boat while underway. In a compact, moving, and slippery environment, equipment gets broken, people get hurt, and bad things happen. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Key to Minimizing Clutter

The key to minimizing clutter is to have a place for everything and to keep everything in its place. But on a boat, it isn’t always that simple.

Many boats seem to have a place for everything, but they don’t make it easy to keep everything in its place. Let’s face it, hatches and consoles may hold a lot of stuff, but they’re not easily accessible. Storage that isn’t convenient doesn’t get used.

When the fish are biting or guests are enjoying themselves, you don’t have time to go in and out of hatches to keep things perfectly organized.

When you are out on the boat, you need temporary and easily accessible storage solutions that match the way you use your boat.

custom tackle box installed with cooler slides for convenient console storage

When out on the boat, you need temporary and easily accessible storage solutions that match the way you use your boat.

The good news is that, with a little forethought, you can customize your boat in ways that will dramatically minimize clutter while out on the water. There are some simple solutions that take up very little space and are easily accessible to stow items temporarily and keep them out of the way until you are ready to reorganize them back at home. Even better, these solutions are relatively inexpensive, easy to install, and extremely durable. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

Follow the 80% Rule

There’s an age-old recommendation to choose your boat based on how you will be using it 80 percent of the time. You probably did that when you initially bought it. Use that same bit of wisdom when considering how to customize your boat’s organizational systems.

If you use your boat the majority of the time to fish with one or two other people, build your organizational system around that. If your boat is primarily used for bringing friends to the local sand bar, that activity should guide your modifications.

While it’s not a bad idea to consider the “other 20%” usage, it’s probably not wise to do major modifications for it.

removable cup holders for a YETI cooler for convenient drink holders

Study Your Mess

The good thing about humans is that we’re amazingly predictable. Next time you go out on your boat and do what you typically do, pay closer attention to what happens. 

That sunscreen bottle rolling around on the deck is probably the same one that rolled around last time you were out. The beach towel that just flew over your head as you got on plane has probably done that before.

Those fishing lures stuck randomly all over your console probably always end up there. That net handle that someone just tripped over probably always gets in the way. These annoyances are your clues to the customizations you should consider.

The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of time, money, or effort to make your boat work better for your needs.

Cutting board rod holder for convenient fishing storage

Start Simple

Plastic tote bins, storage boxes and crates can go a long way towards keeping your boat organized. Towels can be rolled up and stored in milk crates, sunscreen bottles can be stored together in small, closeable bins, and plastic grocery bags can be hung on the inside of console doors to keep trash in the boat and out of the way. A quick trip to the storage aisle in your local Walmart is a great start on your journey towards total boat organization.

Keep in mind, though, that although these items may be fine for the short term, they aren’t made to hold up to the marine environment.

Do It Right (and Do It Once!)

Advancements in marine fabrication materials have opened up an entire universe of possibilities when it comes to functional and customizable boat storage and organizational options. 

HDPE sheet material like King Starboard is relatively simple to work with and doesn’t require maintenance like other marine building materials. That means that it can withstand even the harshest marine environments and continue to be durable and cosmetically pleasing for years to come.

A small investment in the right solution will make your boating experience more enjoyable now and long into the future. 

tilt-out box installed for additional convenient tackle storage

In many cases, your needs are shared by others who use their boats like you do. For those common problems, off-the-shelf solutions are readily available. From simple drink holders, cell phone holders, and trash receptacles to more complex additions like tilt-out storage, there are a multitude of functional, convenient storage options for your boat.

Customize Your Solution

Look at your boat with a fresh set of eyes. Think of those things that never seem to fit, that don’t seem to have a good place, or that you wish were more accessible.

Now, look around your boat. That unused space in your console could be used for a glove box to contain sunscreen, car keys, kid sunglasses, and the other incidentals that are always occupying your drink holders. Your T-top can hold a wide variety of items up and out of your way. Even the backside of a console door can house additional storage. With a little imagination, just about any vertical or horizontal surface on your boat can lend itself to a better use of space and more convenient storage. 

custom built glove box installed under the helm for convenient storage

With a little imagination, just about any vertical or horizontal surface on your boat can lend itself to a better use of space

If you need a more unique approach, you may need to consider a customized solution. Whether you are a diver, spear fisherman, wakeboarder, or just have unusual storage needs, there are some clever ways to add additional safety and organization to your boat.

In some cases, this is simply a matter of modifying the dimensions of an existing solution you have seen, based on the space you have available. (Boat Outfitters offers a “build your own” option that allows buyers to spec popular accessories like glove boxes and net storage in custom dimensions.)

More Creative Solutions

For more creative solutions, don’t be afraid to think outside the box. A little imagination, a tape measure, and a rough sketch is all it takes to start the process. If you are handy, you can build your own organization or storage solution. If you’re not ready for that level of DIY, custom fabricators like Boat Outfitters’ Design & Engineering shop can help. Custom tackle stations, scuba tank storage units, or just about anything else you can think of can move from “idea” to reality easier than you might think. 

Simple modifications can go a long way to keeping your boat organized and your decks clear for the activities.

Maximizing your boating experience often means maximizing the space available on it. Simple modifications can go a long way to keeping your boat organized and your decks clear for the activities you and your guests want to pursue. Looking at your boat with a fresh lens can guide you to some practical enhancements that will not only minimize clutter, but keep you and your guests safe on the water.

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