When most of us think of upgrading our boats, we tend to think of the big-ticket stuff — stuff like rewiring, painting, updating electronics, installing outriggers, adding foam decking, switching from cable to hydraulic steering, upgrading the trolling motor, even repowering completely.

Major upgrades and additions like that can of course make your time on the water easier, safer, more productive and more fun. But there are also plenty of smaller upgrades that can give a much bigger boost to your boating quality of life than you might expect.


Our Favorite Low-Cost, High-Impact Life Upgrades

The small upgrades often have the biggest impact, since they tend to address the minor issues that inconvenience or annoy you every day. 

In fact, strictly in terms of bang for your buck, the small upgrades often have the biggest impact, since they tend to address the minor issues that inconvenience or annoy you every day.

In other words, a $5,000 rewire is a great investment in the long-term reliability and value of your boat, but a $50 wireless phone charger will likely have a bigger positive impact on your boating experience on any given day.

Keeper Strip 

Why don’t more builders of center console boats add a raised lip along the aft edge of the console top to keep phones, wallets, charts, lures, drinks, reading glasses, sunscreen tubes, sunglass cases, etc. from sliding off?

Without one, that often large horizontal surface is more or less useless while underway. With one, it’s a handy catch-all for small, frequently used items.

keeper strips installed to the front of the helm to keep items in place when underway

Fortunately, it’s easy to add your own with a custom Starboard keeper strip. Just spec your width and height (1/2”, 1”, 1-1/2” or 2”) and screw or bolt it in place. For even better usability, you can also add a piece of foam decking on top of the console to keep stuff from sliding around.

Wireless Phone Charger 

Like it or not, smartphones are integral to boating these days, serving not just as communications devices, but also as cameras, chartplotters, audio head units, fishing regulation looker-uppers, trolling motor controllers and much more.

But keeping them charged the usual way — plugging them into a 12V outlet and sticking them in a cupholder — is less than ideal.

wireless phone charger installed on the console of a boat for better efficiency

A dedicated, permanently installed wireless charger is invaluable. They range in cost up to a couple hundred bucks, but there are several quality options available for under $100, including the ROKK Wireless Cove, which provides a handy cubby to keep your phone secure and shaded while charging.

Leader Spool Holder 

There’s no way around it: leader spools are a pain. They’re hard to store, taking up way more room in a tackle box or bag than they should. If not secured, they’re light enough to blow out of the boat at speed. If you drop one on deck, it will inevitably roll away, trailing leader material behind it.

leader spool holders installed behind a door for efficient fishing

A leader spool holder is one of those things that you don’t realize you need so much until after you have it. 

The 2 Spool Leader Holder can in fact hold four typical 50-yard spools or eight 25-yard spools, plenty for most freshwater and inshore anglers, and can be either permanently mounted with screws or bolts or attached to any smooth flat surface with suction cups.

Bucket Grip 

The good old-fashioned 5-gallon bucket has myriad uses on a boat, serving as a near-perfect container for cast nets, bait, chum, trolling lures, deep drop weights and trash, just for starters.

The problem with typical buckets, though, is that they tend to slide around — or, worse, tip over — when underway, no matter how hard you try to wedge them securely in a corner. 

bucket grip added to a 5 gallon bucket for better and softer grip

A bucket sliding across the cockpit is not just noisy and annoying but can also, depending on the contents, be a safety hazard and, over time, wear your nonskid.

The simplest, least expensive upgrade on this list, the Bucket Grip is a pliable, non-marking ring that slips over the bottom of your bucket to keep it from sliding and tipping. For anglers who regularly have buckets on deck, this might be the best $15 you can spend on your boat.


Okay, so this one isn’t necessarily boating-specific, but it’s still an easy, inexpensive quality-of-life upgrade for boaters.

The problem the Subsafe solves is as old as iceboxes: how to keep dry foods dry in a tub full of slowly melting ice.

subsafe containers keeping sub sandwiches in a cooler while at the beach

No more trying to balance your lunch on top of the beer only to find it marinating in cooler water two hours later.

That includes not just subs, but all kinds of unsealed goodies you don’t want getting wet or smooshed. Another option for keeping food dry in your cooler is a stick-on mesh storage compartment for the underside of the lid. 

ComfortGrip Strips 

Judging by the number of bare stainless steel and/aluminum rails found on the average recreational boat — windshield frames, Bimini bows, T-top legs, swim ladders, bow rails, etc. — you’d think they’re great for holding onto.

But in fact they’re pretty terrible, ergonomically speaking — slippery, not contoured, and often too skinny to grab comfortably.

comfort grip added the railing of a flats boat for better grip and comfort

Edson ComfortGrip Strips address the problem with cushy, contoured slip-resistant grips that adhere to your rails with easy peel-and-stick adhesive, significantly improving your boat’s ergonomics in a matter of a few minutes.

Cup Holders

You almost never see a boat with enough cup holders. And when you do, they’re not where they should be. That helps explain why there are seemingly thousands of different aftermarket boat cup holders on the market.

Just at Boat Outfitters, we stock 63 variations. Having the right size and shape cup holder, right where you need is a bigger deal than you might think.

robocup cup holders attached to a boat rail for easy accessibility

Among the simplest and most affordable add-oons are the RoboCup Clamp On Cup Holder ($25), which holds two drinks and clamps in seconds to any round or square vertical-ish rail; the Rod Spike Cup Holder ($25), which instantly turns flush-mount gunwale rod holders into cup holders; and the Angled 2 Cup Holder with SeaSucker Mount ($100), which attaches to any smooth, flat surface and adjusts to any angle with a clever ball-and-socket stem.

Caddy Can 

On the water, daily trash like empty cans, snack wrappers, lure packages and so on tends to end up tucked all around the boat — back in the cooler, in the splashwell, in an extra grocery bag, in an empty compartment somewhere or, worst of all, loose on the floor where it can blow out. 

transportable caddycan trash can attached to the rail of a leaning post for convenient trash storage

After all, a convenient trash receptacle isn’t going to sell a boat like diamond-stitched upholstery. But having a usable trash receptacle makes everybody’s life easier. 

That’s because trash management is at best an afterthought on boats.

Guests know what to do with their trash and boat owners can just empty a single container, rather than gathering up individual pieces of trash from half a dozen different places on the boat. The CaddyCan addresses the problem very well, strapping quickly to any rail and collapsing for easy storage when not in use. An innovative, auto-closing top keeps trash from blowing out.

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