Sailing Totem: Holiday Gifts—What Cruisers Use

What do sailors really want for the holidays? Cruisers chime in with what’s at the top of their lists.

December 2, 2019
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Totem finds profound simplicity along the coast of Madagascar. Behan Gifford

The relative simplicity of cruising life changes the way we think about gifting on Totem. Living on a floating tiny home lends itself to cautious acquisition; over the years, minimalism becomes internalized. In a holiday season that emphasizes family rituals and experiences, however, there’s still very much a place for the thoughtful gift…and I love making useful recommendations. What everyday items– unlikely gifts perhaps, but practical additions valued to one in the tribe – would be welcomed under a sailor’s tree? Polling our TRU crew – the Totem Raft-Up coaching family – for favorites brought great ideas from fresh, newer-cruiser eyes. More than 100 responses later, here’s what bubbled up: it’s a great mix of handy tools, practical gear, and creature comfort items for your favorite cruiser’s, or cruiser-to-be’s stocking.

Everyday use

When Jen and her family moved onto Abeona this year, it was the rainy months of hurricane season, which may influence her top pick, this 30L waterproof backpack. “Perfect for shopping days, beach trips, day trips!” Every cruiser needs good dry bag. Jen notes that it’s too big for quick outings, but we all have alternates for that, like…

Grocert tote
Toting groceries down the dock Behan Gifford

LastBag. Chris Riley and family put these incredibly versatile everyday bags into practice during their cruising season loop through the Bahamas and back this past year. “We used them for everything from line storage, grocery runs, seashell collection, and we even used one for our shoes in the dinghy.” These bags look indestructible—like they really would be your last bag! In world of planned obsolescence, I place high value on well-made products that are designed to last.


If you want something more compact: Kristi loves her Ugo. “It fits my phone, credit cards and cash perfectly and keeps it all dry and it’s small!” My friend Carolyn (The Boat Galley) wears hers fanny-pack style, and loves it for SUPing. iPad sizes sold out when we were at the Annapolis Boat Show!

Motoring away from her Crowther 50, SOBAD. Kevin Black

Chiming in a favorite of mine: Flip & Tumble, another great everyday bag. I’ve carried two of their 24×7 bags around the world with taro in Polynesia, banana-leaf wrapped tempeh bricks in Southeast Asia, biltong in Africa, and a warm stack of corn tortillas here in North America.

Useful tools

Allan and Lavonne are southbound on their Morgan Catalina Vinyasa; it was their use of a wireless snake camera that prompted me to turn to the TRU crew for gifting ideas in the first place. This unlikely tool has found invaluable use most recently running replacement and spare halyards inside their mast while it was on cradles in a shipyard. Without it, the job would have been much more difficult! Allan likes this endoscope, which uses wifi to send the image to your phone.

Practical trumps sexy when it comes to gifts for cruisers! Sam Jobin

From the Moody 47 Pablo (and probably while sitting on the cabin sole and surrounded by tools) came Sam’s immediate response: a DC clamp multimeter of decent quality. “I can’t say enough about my Klein: it’s the one tool I’ve used at least twice a week, every week, since we bought the boat.” His second fave was echoed by Jason on Mimzy: a wireless oscillating multi-tool (Sam’s motto: never be afraid to cut apart your boat!). Why? “This is the one tool that will allow you to cut in tight corners, flush cut a bolt, cut in a tight corner and, did I say cut in a tight corner?” Jamie loves the corded version we got for the help it’s been with various projects in our haulout.

Travis and Sue closed on their Privilege 445, Motu, only a few months ago, but the Dewalt cordless screwdriver has already found a place in Travis’ heart. “I love it!! Seems like a splurge till you have to take that panel off with 20 screws, AGAIN!” We feel that Travis!

Galley goods

Given that a well-fed crew is key for a happy crew, no surprise there are winners for life aboard in this category. During their first year on Serendipity, the Ferries added an unexpected item they’ve fallen in love with after tasting results on another boat: a sous vide. Steph’s Breville model is one of the more compact sous vides available, a good match with limited storage; if you’re unfamiliar with sous vide cooking, she’s written a great primer (with a pic of hers in action) on Live the Voyage’s Facebook page.

Breville sous vide
Sous Vide aboard Stephanie Ferrie

I didn’t expect to put an Instant Pot on this list, but “Instapot is absolutely #1” for the Bizjak family. Interestingly, they didn’t have one before moving aboard their Irwin 54, Litha, last year—it was used in the trailer they lived in while boat shopping. “Best thing ever for small kitchens and passages!” says Kim! Just make sure your power capacity accommodates. Kim sticks it in the cockpit for cooking to help keep the galley cool.

Practical living

The Thornington family started south from Nova Scotia on Anjulia Sue this summer and arrived in Florida just yesterday, which probably explains why Matt’s immediate response was moisture-absorbing shoe liners to put inside sailing boots. “Total game changer. My feet would get so cold on overnight passages because of the moisture build up in the boots but this time stayed dry and toasty warm.” There’s one for the mid-and-higher latitude sailors! It’s hard to be happy when your feet are damp and cold.

Pablo’s chest cooler rounds out Sam’s top three: “It’s our dinghy seat so the rides are dry. It’s our icebox when we defrost the fridge. It’s our washing machine. It’s the place where we put our shoes in the dinghy so we don’t go ashore without them (for the ones that haven’t left yet; this will be your biggest struggle for a while!). It’s the bath for the kids. It’s our chair at the beach.” All cruisers know the more uses you have for an item, the better! You don’t have to spend $ on a Yeti, either.

Chest cooler
The cooler as washing machine: I admit, this is a new one for me! Sam Jobin

On the Dufour 455 Mabanga (it’s for sale!), Helen’s pick is a super-bright, rechargeable, rugged spotlight. “Turns night into day!” Useful for everything from late-night arrivals (where’s that mooring?) to investigating bumps in the night.

Kristi loves the Sena Bluetooth headsets that she and Kevin use on their custom Crowther 50’, SOBAD. “We use them a lot and makes anchoring, reefing, and going up the mast so much easier!” It’s priceless when you can dock/anchor without yelling (even if just to be heard) and share a peaceful drink in the cockpit instead of stomping to opposite ends of the boat.

Doug & Mary love the weatherproof notepads from Rite in the Rain aboard their Bavaria 46 Cassiopeia. We do too, but their use of the hardbound books for their ship’s log is particularly inspired. No worries about spray in the cockpit! Jamie uses Rite in the Rain’s spiral notebooks on rigging jobs to make sure measurements aren’t lost to the damp.

Creature comfort

Sue loves the folding chairs used in the cockpit of their C&C Landfall 43 North 45 (and sometimes on the beach, too). Her only complaint is having to fight their potcake rescue, Kash, for a seat! Couldn’t agree more about folding chairs: we love the Sport-a-Seats on Totem (use CYBER at checkout for $10 off and free shipping!).

Kash gets dibs Sue Fontanna

Best addition Dartanyon and Hong made to their Norseman 447 Lutris this year? Countertop clear ice maker! “Not just for adult beverages, tall glasses of iced tea, but we used it to fill our cooler when we had a bountiful crab catch with a full freezer!” Yes, they’re using it at anchor, and yes, that sounds even better for the tropics.

The Litha crew suggested, and I heartily agree, that boat-logo gear is a lot of fun too. We love our Totem tees, and the family printing business in Massachusetts that produces and fulfills orders for tees (and totes and caps) is all kinds of awesome. They use eco-friendlier water-based ink on organic cotton that’s deliciously soft. Great as gifts for people you meet along the way, while fun to fly your boat’s colors.

Totem tees
Totem tees on our good friends, the Waters family, celebrating Bee’s graduation Julian Waters

Still stumped?

Shoutout for practical giving that doesn’t include “stuff”—online courses, by cruisers / for cruisers-to-be, to help you get going!

The Boat Galley: I love TBG’s No Refrigeration book, offered- along with all TBG courses (including Get Ready to Cruise the Bahamas, Eating Well with a Tiny Fridge, and more) at The Boat Galley’s resource center. Save 20% on all with the code BLACKFRIDAYTOTEM through Monday, Dec. 2.

Fit2Sail: Crash Course on Cruising is designed with thoughtful questions to help evaluate if cruising is a good fit for you. Use FITFAN for a 20% discount, now through December 3.

Saving to Sail: offering a step by step guide to Downsizing for a Life Afloat, this course is full of practical information and tools for one of the hardest parts of cutting ties to land life! Through Fridy Dec. 6, save $20 with the code TOTEM20.

Browse through nine other gift guide posts from prior years if you’re still looking for ideas!


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