Avast, ye mateys!  Before you pull out the wheeled suitcase and pack everything but the kitchen sink, take a moment to consider what you’ll truly need on that tall ship voyage-of-a-lifetime.  Packing for a trip overseas is hard enough, but you if you’re packing for a trip on the seas, you’ll have a bigger challenge.

You probably won’t have your own spacious cabin or even a cabin at all.  Sometimes you do have a cabin, but you’ll share it with one or more people.  If you’re lucky, you might have a small cubby with a couple of shelves where you can store shoes and other small items.  But oftentimes, you only have a bunk to put your things on.  How do you pack for such a voyage, keep your junk on your bunk and still have room to sleep?

Here are some things to consider when you pack for a tall ship voyage.

No hard-sided luggage.  There’s no room on a tall ship for your big suitcase.  You’ll need to store luggage on your bunk, so you want to be sure to have enough room to sleep.  Soft-sided luggage, such as duffels and backpacks, are best.  If you can get away with using only one, even better!

No wheels.  Consider what you’ll be on; the deck of a ship that moves on water is an unstable surface.  Wheeled luggage will roll with the tides.

If you have a cubby to put things in, store what you can there.  Then your duffel will take up less space on your bunk.  You can bunch it up and shove it into the far corner, so you have some legroom.

Deja Vu

Expect to wear things multiple times.  You won’t have room in your duffel for a change of clothes for each day of your voyage.

Think layers.  It can get very cold out at sea, especially at night or if the weather turns south.  It can also be blazing hot during the day, especially if there’s no wind.

Bring along a couple of T-shirts, a tank top, one long-sleeved sweater (Polar Fleece is great), one set of PJs (sweat pants and T-shirt work), one pair of shorts, one or two pairs of long pants (loose-fitting), two pairs of athletic socks, one bathing suit and enough underwear to get you through the voyage (an exception).  This list will vary a bit, depending on where you are and the season.

Additionally, you’ll need jackets and hats (see below under “Wind and Weather”) and appropriate footwear (see below under “Sea Legs”).

As much as I love natural fabrics, man-made is better for sailing.  If your clothes get wet, synthetic fabrics will dry faster than cotton.

Wind and Weather

On your voyage, you may not always have fair winds and following seas.  It’s best to be prepared for all types of weather when you’re sailing, as it can change quickly from sunny to chilly and more.  Wear a wide-brimmed hat with a chin strap for sunny days, and pack a knit “fisherman’s” cap for chilly days and nights.  Hoodies work well, too, for warmth.  If your brimmed hat does not have a chin strap, put it on a leash; use a hat clip.

Although some tall ships do provide foul-weather gear, you should bring a light-weight waterproof/windproof jacket, light-weight wind pants that slip over your regular pants and a fleece jacket for warmth.

An Ounce of Prevention

In addition to your wide-brimmed hat, don’t forget to bring sun block and sunglasses.  The sun can be intense on the water, and even on an overcast day, can cause severe sunburn.  Bring insect repellent.  Although you may not encounter mosquitoes on the ship, if you go for a trek on an island, you’ll likely need insect repellant.

High and Dry

Since you’ll be on the water and may take an excursion or two via small boat or kayak to a beach or an island, it’s likely you’ll come in contact with water.  Keep your camera, towel and other items dry inside a dry sack.  When not in use, the sacks lay flat in your luggage and take up little, if any, space.  I pack several sizes so I can choose which one is best for each situation.  Protect your iPhone or other Smart Phone in a waterproof case, such as the DandyCase.


Take Charge

When I’m sailing, I bring along a Powermonkey or two, as there isn’t always a place to charge electronics on a tall ship.  The Powermonkey is a self-contained power source that will recharge a camera, cell phone or other small electronic device.

If you’re on a ship that’s not from your home country and there are electrical outlets available for you to plug into, you’ll need a converter, adaptors and surge protector.  When I was sailing in the Canary Islands, I brought adaptors for both Spain and the UK.  The Canaries are a Spanish territory, so the hotels I stayed in used Spanish electrical outlets.  However, the ship I sailed on was British and had outlets typical in the UK.

Since space is at a premium, I use devices that serve multiple purposes.  I love the Travelon Universal-3-in-1 Converter, Adapter, USB Charger.  It’s compact, easy to set up and can plug into standard American outlets, which are used in some parts of South America.  Additionally, it comes with the grounded and non-grounded adaptor plugs that are commonly used throughout Europe and parts of South America, but you can use any international adaptor with it.

This may seem like overkill, but electrical current in other countries and on ships can vary and spike.  Don’t risk ruining your expensive electronic devices; use a surge protector.  The Belkin 3-Outlet Mini Travel Swivel Charger Surge Protector with Dual USB Ports is compact and will allow you to charge up to five devices at one time.  This is NOT a converter.  If you’re traveling internationally, you’ll need to plug your surge protector into a converter with an adaptor that fits the electrical outlet.  I use this surge protector in combination with the Travelon Universal-3-in-1 Converter, Adapter, USB Charger when traveling abroad.

Keeping It Clean

Taking a shower on a tall ship can sometimes be tricky.  The smaller the vessel, the smaller the fresh water holding tanks.  Depending on the ship size, you may be instructed to take a shower every other day and/or you may be limited to only a few minutes to: wet down; turn off the water; soap up; turn on the water; rinse off.

Tall ships do not supply bath towels, so you’ll need to bring your own.  It will serve double-duty as your beach towel.  Towels take up a lot of space in luggage, so pack a thin, cheap towel, not your great big plush one.  It will pack easier and will dry faster.

Tall ships do not provide shampoo or shower soap, though they do usually have hand soap to wash your hands after using the head.  You can pack shower gel, but it’s probably easier to travel with a bar of soap (a sample size is perfect).  Be sure to bring a plastic soap container to store the bar in when it’s wet.  For washing your face when you can’t take a shower, bring along a pack of moistened towelettes, such as Burt’s Bees Facial Cleansing Towelettes with White Tea Extract.

Tall ships do not provide hairdryers.  If you bring your own, you may not have a place to plug it in.  Check with the voyage organizer to be sure.  If you’re sailing in a warm location, you may not need it, anyway.  Your hair can air dry.


Everyone gets seasick at one time or another.  I’ve seen even seasoned sailors get sick when a ship is rolling side to side all day.  If you think you might get seasick, don’t be embarrassed.  Be prepared.  There are a number of over-the-counter medications for seasickness, including Dramamine and Bonine.  Just remember, you must take them at least an hour before you sail.

If your stomach is upset, eat some ginger candy.  It helps to settle things down.  You might also try putting a drop of lavender oil on the tip of your tongue to settle your stomach.  If you do feel sick, stay above deck so you can get some fresh air and watch the horizon.  It will help you feel better.  Going below deck to your bunk will make it worse.  If you need to vomit, do so over the side of the boat and be sure the wind is coming from behind you.

Sea Legs

In general, it’s best to pack things that serve multiple purposes to conserve space.  However, shoes are an exception.

You’ll need deck shoes or sports sandals with rubber soles for walking around the ship.  Boat decks are often wet and can be slippery.  If you climb aloft or out onto the bow sprit, you want a shoe that will stay on your feet and provide some support.

If you go to the beach or an island in the small boat, chances are it will be a water landing.  It can be rocky when you wade to shore, so it’s a good idea to wear water shoes, such as the Speedo Women’s ZipWalker Water Shoe and the Speedo Men’s Surfwalker Pro All-Purpose Water Shoe.  If you go hiking on an island, you’ll need hiking shoes.  A pair of cheap flip-flops worn in the shower will help protect your feet from infection.

Leash It

You’ll definitely want to take your camera or iPhone with you to capture the many wonderful moments of your voyage.  But if you’re going to climb the shrouds to get that great photo from aloft, you need a lanyard on your camera that you secure to your belt loop.  Then if you drop it while climbing, it won’t smash on the deck or injure someone.

It’s a good idea to keep any cameras or phones on lanyards, even if you’re not going to climb.  You could easily drop it in the water unless it’s tied to you.  It’s better to be safe.  Even if you have a waterproof camera, such as a GoPro HERO3+, you should still keep it on a leash so it doesn’t plunge to the bottom of the ocean.

If cameras can fall to the deck or into the water, so can sunglasses.  Secure those shades with a strap, such as this sunglasses retainer.  Hats, too, can blow off into the water.  If your hat does not have a chin strap, get a hat clip that attaches to both the hat and the back of your shirt.

Let There Be Light

Whether you call it a flashlight or a torch, you should definitely bring one on your voyage.  You may need to come up on deck at night after the lights are out.  Perhaps you’re on anchor watch.  You’ll need a flashlight to read gauges and record information.  Even if you get to stay cozy in your bunk all night, you may need to use the head.  It’s a huge no-no to turn on lights in your cabin when your mates are trying to sleep.  They won’t appreciate it.  A flashlight will help you find your way without stubbing a toe or angering crew.

A flashlight that is operated by both battery and solar is ideal.  Check out these: Hybrid Solar Powered Flashlight with Emergency Battery Backup – Black (2 pack) and Soladyne Solar Waterproof Flashlight.  One has battery back-up.  The other has dynamo power (crank charger) and is waterproof.  Both are solar-powered.

Hands to Sailing Stations

Most tall ship sailing adventures invite their “voyage crew” (that’s you, the tourist) to participate in raising sails and other ship’s business, though it’s never mandatory.  But after all, what’s the point of sailing on a tall ship if you’re not going to have the fun of being part of the crew?

If you’re not used to this kind of thing, you may want to bring along a pair of sailing gloves, which are open at the tips of the fingers.  Be sure to get sailing gloves, not work gloves.  Full coverage gloves are a safety hazard, because the finger tips can get caught in the hardware that the lines run through and pull your fingers into it.  You can injure or lose a finger before you know it.

On small sailboats, the sail lines (they’re called lines, not ropes) are thin and can easily cut your hands, so you definitely need sailing gloves.  But lines on a tall ship have a larger circumference, are easier to grip and are less likely to cut your palms, but they can still burn.  If it’s cold on deck, sailing gloves will keep your hands warm and allow you to work at the same time.  Experienced tall ship sailors don’t use gloves (probably partially out of pride).  It’s up to you, if you want to use them.