10 Essentials

10 essentials for your next sailing adventure.

As sailors there is an awful lot we can learn from other adventure sports.  As climbers, paddlers, hikers, adventure runners and other backcountry enthusiasts have done for years, sailors of all kinds can benefit from a systemic approach to the gear they bring with them on the water.

The point of the Ten Essentials list (developed by The Mountaineers) has always been to help answer two basic questions: First, can you respond positively to an accident or emergency? Second, can you safely spend an extended period of time out in the elements? The list has evolved over time from a list of individual items to a list of functional systems; the updated Ten Essential Systems list is included in Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 8th Edition.

As someone who is often jumping aboard other people’s boats (OPB) I try to come prepared with my own Ten Essentials.  Here is an outline of my system that is in my “coaches pack” or PFD nearly overtime I step aboard:

Ten Essential Systems


  • I always carry a detailed chart of the area I am sailing in.  These days, I often don’t pack a paper chart, but rather use the very accurate electronic charting apps I can use on my phone.  I use Navionics, iNavX and nvCharts as my primary nav tools.  I also will research a sailing area using actual paper charts and MacENC before going if I it is a totally foreign place
  • I still always carry a compass.  I use a hand bearing compass such as the Weems and Plath hand bearing compass.
  • In addition to all of that, my iPhone is a useful GPS.

Sun protection

  • I live in sunglasses and a baseball cap.  Sunscreen for lips and skin are crucial.  Recently I’ve started wearing a long sleeve shirt too.  My favorite sun protecting shirts are made from Patagonia.  The Capilene® Lightweight shirts last forever, never stink, wash well and take logo’s and even dye sublimation better than most.  Many sailors are wearing buffs these days too.  They make for good neck protection.

Extra Clothing

  • The coldest I’ve ever been has always been on a day when it started off hot.  Add a summer thunderstorm and rapidly decreasing temps and wet clothes and wammo… hypothermia.  I rarely leave the dock without a soft shell and a lightweight hardshell such as the Marmot Precip.  They don’t weigh much and mean I can be on deck no matter what the weather throws our way.  Further, if someone is rescued from an overboard incident we have what we need to warm them up.


  • Digging into engine compartments and bilges means having an good headlamp is crucial.  On small boats it can also mean not being run over by the late night fisherman when the running lights stop working.  Batteries and bulbs do not last forever, so I use headlamps that make it easy to carry spares of both.  Inspire of its bulk I really like the Black Diamond Icon.

First-Aid Supplies

  • This spring I took a NOLs Wilderness First Aid course.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.  The course inspired me to have my own personal first aid kit.  I’ve inspected enough customer’s first aid kits to know they get slowly denuded one band-aid at a time and the ointments and pills are probably expired or mislabeled.  So now I carry and know how to use a first-aid kit that includes gauze pads in various sizes, roller gauze, small adhesive bandages, butterfly bandages, triangular bandages, battle dressing (or Carlisle bandage), adhesive tape, scissors, cleansers or soap, latex gloves, and paper and pencil.
  • I also use the NOLS SOAP NOTES app – which helps me to remember the training.


  • I am hopelessly inured to my iPhone.  But as a communications tool, it is an impressive tool for note taking, texting, phone calls, taking photos of sails, people, cool places.  Greg Brown wrote in a song, “there’ll be one corporation selling one little box it’ll do what you want and tell you what you want and cost whatever you got” and I think we are pretty close.
  • On the water though, I rely more on a VHF radio than I do the phone – at least for communicating with other boats, race committee’s, shore bases, coaches, etc.  They have gotten pretty sophisticated, but I think long battery life and durability are the biggest considerations.  I have long used the Standard Horizon HX850s, and the features including DSC, GPS etc. are great – but I don’t often use them.  The ICOM M73 is in the running for my next VHF.  The small size and big battery are attractive.

Repair Kit and Tools

  • As for as essential go, my repair kit is my multi-tool.  The Leatherman Wave has long been the best thing going, although I love the light weight, sharp blade and generally usefulness of the Skeletool has made it a daily carry for me too. I tend to bring extra shackles, 10′ of spectra (5mm), an assortment of ring dings and the white tape.  Frankly if I had to pick one… it would be white tape.


  • A Cliff Bar has made its way into my bag (or PFD pocket) as a permanent addition.  Even if I don’t need it, it is there to give to someone else in a pinch.


  • Two quarts (liters) daily is a reasonable minimum; in hot weather or if you are really active (like when racing), 6 quarts may not be enough. I have been shocked at the number of boats I get on that have plenty of beer but NO water.  Bring your own and bring plenty of it.

Personal Flotation Device

  • It is a PERSONAL flotation device.  I don’t rely on the owner have a good lifejacket for me, so I make sure I bring my own.  I just can’t imagine getting on a boat without my PFD anymore.  In fact, most of what is listed on this Ten Essentials list lives in or on my PFD.  I have been wearing Astral PFD’s for 10 years or more.  They are durable, have great features and come from a very cool company (I’ve started wearing their shoes religiously too.). My current favorite model is the Sea Wolf.  It’s front pocket hold almost everything listed here so it is a no brainer.  I miss some of the technical features of their burlier PFD’s, but the lightweight and cool wearing Sea Wolf has been a real winner in my book. In the end though – get whatever PFD you will wear all the time.  All the features in the world don’t matter if you don’t wear it.

OK, so there are Ten Essentials that you shouldn’t leave the dock without.  There are plenty of things I add when I go racing or cruising, but the list above doesn’t change.

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