I skipper charters around the world and I never know what I’ll have when I get onboard for equipment. In many cases, I’ve not even met my crew ahead of time, so I pack for a variety of scenarios to minimize surprises.
Over the years, I’ve learned to pack two bags – a “crew bag” filled with personal items like sunscreen, sunglasses and hats, and a “captain’s kit” that includes a bevy of backup essentials. The following items always make it into my second bag.
Most charter yachts will have a fixed VHF, but a handheld serves two purposes. First, it will be a back-up if the one onboard fails. Second, if it’s waterproof, you can give it to anyone taking the dinghy out for exploration so you can always call them back to the boat. Or they can call you if the outboard fails, which is when you tell them that’s what the paddles are for!
Chartplotters are also pretty standard these days, but a handheld GPS will serve as a back-up if the shipboard plotter stops working. It will also be a foolproof way to figure out where you are in the unlikely event that you can’t figure out how to work the brand of plotter aboard.
Most companies will supply you with charts and some will provide a cruising guide of the local area. Sometimes those charts and guides have had heavy use and are not in good shape, and depending on where you charter they might not be in English. Purchase a cruising guide and charts to study the area before departure, and then bring them along. Tourist guides won’t tell you about anchorages, prevailing winds, and provisioning opportunities.
I like to use a roller plotter, so I bring one. Most places provide dividers and parallel rulers, but if you have equipment you’re comfortable with, bring it along to make the navigation more headache-free.
I’ve seen the tool inventory on charter boats run from a complete kit to a single rusty knife, so I bring my own multitool. That way, I know I’ll at least have the basics: flat and Philips head screwdrivers, pliers, assorted knives. And for a real emergency, my multitool has a corkscrew.
First aid kits are required on charter boats and some are quite good. Others have expired meds and slimy Bandaids that have been aboard since the boat was built. I bring some basics, including seasickness medicine; invariably, someone in the crew only thinks they don’t get seasick because they haven’t experienced the right conditions yet.
Just about every charter boat will supply binoculars. Some of the ones I’ve been handed would not focus, would only let you see out of one eye, or were covered in something sticky that I preferred to keep away from my face. They’re heavy and bulky but also indispensable, so BYOB.
I bring an LED flashlight that I can hold in my mouth so I can use both hands to fix that… fill in the blank here…. genset, pump, leaking hose, etc. I also bring a headlamp because it comes in handy when you’re barbequing in the dark.
Recently, my crew wanted to practice standing watches with regular hourly changes. The only problem was, nobody else had a watch. I always have a dive watch on my wrist and I loan it to no one. However, I also provided a cell phone (not to be moved from the nav desk) for all those who are filling out a log or who just want to know if it’s time for lunch.
A crew stuck in a small space for two days due to rain or engine trouble gets cranky. I bring along a deck of cards and a game kit. These kits are small and usually have multiple games to choose from including chess, checkers, backgammon, etc. The kits are cheap so you can always buy another when enough of the pieces are lost. Also, an engaged crew drinks less rum.