Packing for your bareboat charter in the British Virgin Islands
Updated: Feb 7
Packing for any vacation is a challenge, even more so when packing for a sailing trip on a boat with limited storage! Below is our suggested packing list with explanations for a 10-day trip. At the bottom of the page, you can download the free checklist and share it with your crew (or find it here in the store).
What to pack in?
A duffle-style soft-sided suitcase that can collapse
Traditional luggage cannot be collapsed down and crammed into a small locker. Sailboats have minimal storage, and provisions will use most of the available storage. Unless you want all of the open floor space in your cabin taken up by a suitcase, opt for a duffle or backpack-style bag.
Bare minimum essentials:
On a 10-day charter, we want a minimum of $600 in small bills ($5s, $10s, $20s) for the boat's mooring, trash, and ice "pot." In our case, each individual contributes $150 to the "pot." $600 should be more than enough, but it's always best to have too much!
Most places take credit cards, but we've heard of credit card machines going down, and some smaller establishments only take cash. In 2022, I brought a total of $650 in cash for myself and my husband.
The $650 included our $300 contribution to the "boat cash pot." If you have a lot of guided tours planned, have a captain, or check-out captain, you will need to bring extra cash for tipping.
We had plenty of cash and even had to let our friend borrow some for the return fees!
There are ATMs, but they aren't everywhere. You will mainly only find them in larger towns and anchorages like Road Town and Trellis Bay.
You'll be okay if you make it to the islands with the above! Below are the rest of the essentials:
You need to bring your own shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, etc., or you can add those items to your provisioning if you don’t want to pack them (but they will be more expensive!).
Sunscreen on the islands is very expensive. We always bring our own in a checked bag. I am a HUGE fan of Supergoop sunscreens and especially their pump bottle. It is reef-safe, water and sweat resistant, great for my sensitive skin, and feels great.
Packable beach towel(s)
Minimum of 2! We had a crewmember lose a pair of swim trunks.
UPF Rash guards/swim shirts/sun shirts
Minimum of 2! This is a must, and you'll be happier. Swim and sun shirts will save you from needing to reapply sunscreen constantly. We especially love wearing swim shirts while snorkeling since our backs are exposed for such long periods of time.
You can find rash guards and swim shirts in tons of brands and all over Amazon, Academy, and Dick's Sporting Goods. I'm a particular fan of the HIHO brand swim shirts because they have UPF protection but are made of a mesh-like material, so they are very lightweight, breathable, and easy to swim in.
Columbia's PFG collection is excellent for sun shirts. Their fishing shirts are also perfect for onshore activities and dinner.
At least one, but having an extra in case you lose one is wise. There will be hats and shirts for sale at most places too.
Minimum of 2! Both times we have broken or lost at least one pair on the boat.
Shoes that can get wet
There are times when you'll be stepping out of the dinghy into the water or needing to swim to shore, like at The Baths.
I'm a fan of Reef's Water Vista sandals and Floafers, and my husband loves his Chacos. Flip-flops are acceptable for simple onshore outings like going to beach bars and dinner, but I would not recommend hiking places like The Baths in them. Also, flip-flops are a no-go on board the boat; they are too dangerous.
You don't need many shoes; you'll probably be barefoot most of the time!
Refillable water bottle
Drinking water will be in gallon jugs, so an insulated water bottle will be your best friend.
Lightweight and packable rain jacket
Small daily showers are common, and we've been rained on before while sailing.
For men: 2-3 shirts, similar to button-up fishing shirts, and 1-2 pairs of shorts will be more than enough.
For women: similar to the above, or a couple of sundresses or swimsuit cover-up-type dresses.
Most dinners are casual and have a very island vibe.
Creature comforts! Below are some extras to make your trip more comfortable:
Sunglass strap and hat clip
It will be windy while you sail, and you'll find yourself looking over the boat a lot, so invest in a hat clip and sunglass strap.
You can check out the list of Basic must-have sailing gear for suggestions in different hat clips and sunglass straps.
FYI, you won't need to bring your own PFD and likely won't need sailing gloves during your bareboat charter.
Earplugs or headphones
This is mainly for those sensitive to sounds and sleeping beside the generator. Most charter boats will have the generator in the stern of the boat, so if your cabin is in the stern (back) and you plan on having air conditioning at night, it will be loud.
Cameras, batteries, chargers, etc. You will be able to plug in your electronics on the boat just like you would at home, no adapters needed. However, to conserve battery power, your items will likely only be charging while connected to shore power or while the generator is running. If you use your phone a lot to take videos, photos, and play music, consider bringing a battery pack.
Headlamp & small flashlight
Great for fixing your raw-water strainer in the middle of the night when your generator stops working (more on this in a later post!) and for investigating any concerning noises you may hear at night.
A phone lanyard
I've seen phones miss pockets, drop out of hands, and slide off decks while sailing, even from the most seasoned sailors! If you plan on taking photos with your phone, invest in a phone case with an integrated lanyard so that you don't risk donating your phone to Posiden.
Waterproof phone case
There may be times when you need to swim to shore (like when visiting The Baths); if you want to bring your phone to take photos, then find a waterproof case or a dry bag (see below).
Not everyone on the boat needs a dry bag, but there should be at least one on the boat that everyone’s phones and wallets can fit in.
Beach bag or backpack
Again, not everyone on the boat will need one, but it is good to have a couple handy, so you bring sunscreen, water bottles, etc., to the beach.
In 2022 I used a canvas beach bag with a zipper as my personal item on the airplane, and I highly recommend it.
Cooler backpacks also work great and are a bonus for hauling cold drinks to beaches!
Since we bring a lot of frozen meat to BVI (more on that in a later provisioning blog), we have a cooler backpack that has worked great for water, beers, and sunscreen.
Your charter company will have plenty of masks and flippers to choose from, but it can be nice to have your own well-fitting mask.
Small card games
The sun sets early, so it's always nice to bond over some friendly competition. Our crew loved Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza last year!
Some things are impossible to find on the island or extremely expensive. If you have a favorite snack (looking at you Dot's Pretzels) that will make your trip more enjoyable, pack it!
The best way to keep the boat energy up is to ensure everyone is adequately hydrated!
If you're prone to motion sickness and/or are worried about becoming seasick, I suggest packing some Gin Gins if you begin to feel a little queasy and also having some less drowsy Dramamine on hand if the seas become rolly. BVI is usually very calm, so you'll probably be fine, but it's better to be prepared!
For your boat. Are you the skipper? If so, in addition to the above, consider packing the below or designating different crew members to bring certain items for the entire boat to use.
Your boat will probably have a version on board, but if you've highlighted and taken notes in yours, bring it!
Cooking and cleaning supplies: You can provision for most things, and your boat will have all of the basic cooking supplies, but below are cooking items we have packed in the past:
Kitchen scissors: This is a must for me!
Knife: "Sharp knives save lives." Your boat will have knives, but they probably won't be very sharp.
Ziplocs and a couple of Tupperware containers for snacks and leftovers
Some boats are well-stocked with these things, and some are not.
Extra small plastic bags
Grocery bags, dog bags, or diaper waste bags to be used for toilet paper.
Nothing except human waste can go down the toilets on your boat. NOTHING. So that means all toilet paper needs to be thrown away. There will be a small trashcan in your head ("head" = bathroom on a boat) to deposit all bathroom trash into; it's nice to have extra plastic bags to tie up the trash frequently.
Health & First Aid: Your boat will likely have a basic first aid kit, but for peace of mind, pack the below for the boat:
Allergy eye drops
The Saharan dust was very heavy during our last trip and killed me!
Benedryl itch cream
In the past, we had a crewmember get pushed into some fire coral and had a bad allergic reaction.
Triple antibiotic ointment
If the water is a little choppy, it's better to be safe than sorry, especially if sailing to Anegada!
We have only encountered bugs in Great Harbor on Jost. Foxy's had cans of bug spray out, but it was used up in no time.
You will need less than you think, especially for clothes, so try your hardest to pack light and remember you are going to the islands, where the vibe is very chill and relaxed! If you're looking for some beach reads, go check out the Top Must-Read Books for Sailors for some on-theme ideas.
With that, I will leave you with some common advice on packing from our friends in the "BVI Charter Chat" group:
“Take half of the clothes that you think you will need and double the money. And just go enjoy!!!”
“Pack and then take 90% out and leave home. Suits, flip flops, t-shirts…”
“Pack less, take less. A couple of bathing suits, a couple of pairs of shorts, a sundress for the ladies, and a nice bright Hawaiian shirt for the men (celebrate being a tourist, lol), and you’ll be set. A tether for your glasses/sunglasses.”
“Pack, then unpack at least half, and you’ll still bring too much. Less is better.”
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