The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Clear The Decks For Action


I’m a big time fan of the Aubrey/Maturin series about the days of sailing warships. As often mentioned in these books, the best captains, the ones that brought their ships home in one piece and vanquished their foes at sea, were holy terrors for clear decks. Times have changed but the sea has not and stuff on deck still has the potential to cause trouble offshore, even if you won’t be faced with a fleet action.

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Good points, all. I keep my deck clean, and I pay the price of having my folding bicycle, bbq, big fenders, and inflatable below decks. The only thing that frustrates me is the lack of a decent, rowable dinghy. I used to have a wonderful 10′ Trinka, lashed to the deck, but went back to a very simple Avon inflatable for two reasons: I don’t like such a big object on the foredeck, and with a bit of wind I found it hard to move it around, despite the fact that I could easily lift it with the halyard. I am a singlehander, so storage below deck is not an issue, but even there I want the boat to be shipshape. Thus, I have the bicycle, etc. tied down securely. If ever you come across an inflatable Trinka, I’d be interested. Thanks for the great advice!


I have an inflatable Tinker Traveler, rows pretty well, but I still prefer the hard dink. Excellent article and good advice, though I do like my staysail booms, as long as they have separate sheets port and stb to control them.

Matt Marsh

Regarding fully enclosed cockpits: I’ve never quite understood this one. Surely, looking at the moving world through distorted “clear” plastic / isinglass can’t be good for seasickness, or for situational awareness. A bimini, sure. A dodger, sure. But if you need side enclosures, it’s time to trade the aft-cockpit sailboat in for something with a solid pilot house.

People will instinctively think that anything that is placed where you might want to grab on is a hand-hold. Thin-walled 1″ tubes supporting a bimini look like hand-holds, but they aren’t; they’ll buckle if you put your weight on them. This strikes me as a rather dangerous design flaw. You should not have to tell crew “don’t grab the bimini”, it should either be strong enough or not be there at all.

Regarding heavy RIBs on transom davits- not only are they at increased risk of being damaged in a storm, but hanging several hundred kilograms so far aft of the centre of gravity isn’t doing anything nice for the moment of inertia tensor. Don’t be surprised if the mother ship’s pitching motion suffers as a result.


As a canvas designer…sure we could build 1.5″ framework that could support body weight…talk about the price and people balk . They’ll go for the cheap version 8 out of 10 times…
Having made 2 Transats…even the 1.5″ frames should come down for the short time of crossing.
Great article John. Thanks for insight and the pictures.

David Nutt

We carry a 13′ Whitehall dinghy on our fordeck and an 11′ RIB athwartships just forward of the cabin house. I agree that it is a lot of gear, at times in the way, on the decks. We’ve seen plenty of water across the decks but never in a life threatening way. As the passages are so short compared to the time at anchor we feel the risk is worth it. We often use both boats simultaneously or take the RIB off for diving and use the Whitehall for short hauls and just plain exercise. Neither wrong nor right but this has worked for us on Danza during a 42,000 mile circumnavigation and a summer in Greenland.



Indeed, a lot of gear, but great once at anchor. How long is your boat? Mine is 39′ and is pointed at both ends (Corbin). That pretty much takes care of davits. Also, I simply don’t want the hassle of an outboard, and row most of the time. I tried a kayak, but find it nerve-wracking to get into from a fairly high freeboard. I really like the Portland Pudgy, but would not store it right-side up, as it would be even more vulnerable. I have also been looking at the Portabotes and would like to try one, just to feel how it works. That I could store flat on the foredeck. I share the misgivings about inflatable liferafts, and have my Avon half-inflated below, and I carry a really good immersion/survival suit. The downside is that once I have that on, I am as nimble as a concrete mixer with arthritis. I would be grateful for experiences with Portabotes, and what lengths people have used.

Jean-François Eeman

Great article.
John, we at Boréal share your philosophy !
The article might sound “radical” but it is not !
It should be handed to some boats leaving for long passages.

Colin Speedie

Great post, John.

I totally agree with the need to keep the decks clean and clear, and as always the wealth of experience out there has raised all of the reasons why – and more.

Best wishes




An excellent piece. I could not agree more. I won the argument with my mate over fuel jugs on deck but had to give in on the RIB on the foredeck rather than an inflatable on the cabin top.

Hans Jakob Valderhaug

Regarding dinghy:
We have had our UK made Seahopper folding dinghy for 12 years, and it has served us superbly. Stows flat on the cabin top of our 31′ Hallberg Rassy Monsun when sailing inshore, tied to strongholds belowdecks in the forepeak when offshore. Rows well, no need for outboard. Ours is the plywood version, needs varnishing every now and then. There is now also a fibreglass version.

Hans Jakob Valderhaug

Hi John, No, we have never tried our dinghy with the sailing rig, but I understand it behaves much like the Mirror dinghy.

Nick Kats

Really good John, especially with those pics of boats awash in rubbish on deck & around the cockpit.

Have a 8′ hard dinghy lashed on the cabin top, over the skylight, to very strong handholds, & a Tinker Traveler inflatable folded & secured out of the way between the front of the cabin & the mainmast.

Have an absolute fetish about clear decks, & keeping topsides clear.

It really is your comment on the Aubrey/Maturin series that brings me in here. I was mad about this series – took reading the entire series about 5 times (yes, five) to get this behind me. Master & Commander, Nutmeg of Consolation, Desolation Island, and Thirteen Gun Salute are among my favourites. Perhaps the one most shocking episode is the destruction of the Wazaamzheit (sp?), the Dutch warship, in the South Atlantic.

I also have the complete set of Admiral Mahan’s works here, inherited from my father, but lost steam half way thru the biography of Nelson. It just is not as good.

Ben Smith

Hi John,

I fully agree with all you said, I was raised as a fisherman (commercial) and a sailor and I have a moto which is as follows: a clean boat is a happy boat, a happy boat is a safe boat and a safe boat is all that matters..

Basically translates to keep the decks clear and your load well secured and you “should” be o.k. (if you have a bit of common, no Sea sense that is)..

Oh, and great posts, keep them comming.

Best regards

Marc Dacey

After having had a davit fail with only an unloaded RIB on it in mere five-foot waves in Lake Ontario, we reviewed every aspect of our tender needs…and decided to ditch the davits. The half-inch steel pads that supported them now have a small crane on one side and will have a wind generator on the other. Throw in a windvane on the centerline, and there’s still a lot of gear on the stern, but it not heavy and it is not on deck.

Our decks are cambered to shed water into scuppers. The design does not allow a lot of deck clutter. Whisker/spinnaker poles are secured vertically. The tender is no longer a Zodiac C310 RIB, as this was awkward to deploy even from the foredeck in any kind of a wind, and it spoiled the view and made foredeck work problematic as it tended to foul the staysail.

Rather, we went with a 10 foot rowing/motoring Portabote, which can be lashed to the rails, and a 10-foot nesting dinghy capable of motoring/sailing/rowing, which covers the foredeck workshop hatch (we are creating access through the salon’s forward bulkhead anyway). We feel that the disadvantage of having to assemble the tenders is more than compensated by a) the clear decks which aren’t cluttered by either “form factor”, and b) the fact that having TWO tenders simplifies trips to shore and need not leave any one of our crew of three “stuck aboard”.

We think of the nesting dinghy as the people mover and the Portabote as the “cargo dink”, because the latter is pretty rugged and you can lower bikes and toolboxes and fuel jugs into it without fear of making a hole.

Having been warned by RIB fans that we are crazy and that open boats are unworkable, we remain open to the possibility that we may need to modify our views, but it’s pretty easy to find a RIB. We may try to incorporate the various foam and/or inflatable aftermarket “gunwhale collars” that give extra buoyancy and, arguably, stability to folders like the Portabote. Those are also items that pack away well, unlike a 12 foot 55 kilo RIB, which, deflated to reduce height, takes longer to make ready than the 30 kilo Portabote or the four-connector, 40 kilo fibreglass nesting dinghy. It’s actually nice for the sailboat to have its own sailboat, too, for exploring, or even as a potential “escape pod”.

Regarding inflatables and RIBs: We like them and understand why they’ve become the cruiser’s choice. They have their costs, however, in space and handling requirements, that we found less appealing. We found when researching these sort of decisions, that it’s too easy to follow the herd thinking, although I will admit sometimes the herd has to be right, or it wouldn’t be a herd!

Justin Bonar

I have a new 2014 Jeanneau 53. One of the reasons I selected this vessel is the relatively flush deck, absent hard edges and protrusions that might be damaged or torn off by green water. I need to select a dinghy and I am adamant not to have enormous stern davits. There are 12 feet of clear deck forward of the mast to the aft edge of the hatch to the large sail locker, 17 feet to the windlass, almost 20 to the bow, so there is plenty of space potentially to stow a 8′-11′ dinghy. However, I’m wary of Lin and Larry Pardey’s caution and other evidence, for example, in Adlard Coles Heavy Weather Sailing, about deck mounted life rafts, dinghies and other gear being washed away and/or doing serious damage to the deck, particularly if they are secured too well to fittings that rip out! With a roll-up, I could probably store it in the forward sail locker or down below via the companionway. But a RIB with a hard bottom is a very attractive option, just that it would have to go on deck when not being towed. One other option would be to install the swing-up davits on the transom. Thoughts?


Been saying this for years.Glad someone finally wrote a great a presentation of the common problems..

Dick Stevenson

Hi John and all,
I was wandering through some old writing and find you mention Patrick O’Brian and his Aubrey/Maturin novels which are also among my favorite. I would heartily recommend a second (or third) read of them and a delightful way to do so is to listen to them on audio. If you listen on the second go round while doing busy work or on watch, then if you miss a paragraph or so, you will still know what is going on. The narrator captures the language (even enriches appreciation) of PO’B superbly.
Also, Aubrey was based on an historical sailor, Admiral Lord Cochran, whose “Autobiography of a Seaman” is not only an excellent read on its own, but will tickle the fancy of any Aubrey fan.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Rob Gill

Hi John, thanks so much for the guided tour. As the late Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by just watching”. I was admiring your clear wide decks and cabin tops – something we will absolutely follow, however we have a problem with our dinghy being stowed below decks unless we change it.

We are preparing for our first offshore cruise in the 2017 season, which will involve North South passages between the South Pacific Islands and NZ. I have done one delivery voyage to get some offshore experience. We own a Beneteau 473 – 47 foot aft cockpit sloop. For coastal voyaging we successfully carry our inflatable dinghy sitting on its side, inside our wide “sugar scoop” stern and securely lashed back to the cockpit coaming. The top side tube rests about one foot above the aft cockpit coaming, so any windage is limited. This configuration encloses the cockpit from following seas, making it feel more like a centre cockpit, just not so high up! It leaves the dinghy ready to launch in seconds if needed and plenty of gaps to shed any uninvited big waves that make it aboard. I am pretty confident in the tie down system we have right around the outside of the dinghy to massive cleats, and the fit within the scoop is so snug that there is little chafe or overhang.

Does anyone have experience with this stowage position offshore, or any thoughts please? Are we giving our cockpit an inflatable wall of protection from storm conditions and following seas, or creating a bigger problem I don’t yet understand?

Thanks, Rob

Rob gill

Thanks John, Eric, Dick for your excellent responses,
I use truck style ratchet tie downs with wide nylon webbing ( we can buy them with stainless mechanisms). These work well in equalising the loads and reducing chafe, but the main advantage is enabling easy and instant tightening. In my experience, things come loose at sea because we don’t take the care to go around each lashing and work it up once the deck stowage has worked and settled; waves love a sloppy stow.

I do like the idea of deflating the tubes / cradle, and could run the tie downs to my redundant genoa tracks. However I am unsure about stowing even the deflated dinghy behind the mast as I like John’s clear decks ahead for visibility from my days as navigator on ships.

I have been in plenty of storms at sea but never in a yacht offshore and it is hard to really know until you’ve collected the box set of scars.. Having access to so many sailors on AAC that clearly have, adds so much value above the usual forums where the advice is a lottery. Poor advice can be costly at best, and downright dangerous at worst. So John, the moderation and care you take over our posts and questions, particularly on points of safety are noted, and really appreciated.
Keep up the great work guys, I will give this some more thought but I have a feeling the right answer may be expensive!


HI John ,
Assuming that the RIB can be strongly secured forward of the mast (like you said with pad eyes etc) by leaving the tubes inflated will not they provide for reserve buoyancy forward where it can prove beneficial in extreme weather situations?

Jeff Totman

Inflated tubes will also make it impossible to secure the RIB in place because as the temperature cools at night and the tubes soften, the tie downs will become loose which will allow the RIB to move around when waves hit it, causing chafe and further loosening.

Eric Klem

Hi Rob,

A few thoughts in addition to John and Dick’s good replies. I really like carrying the dinghy the way you describe when sailing coastal. It is a very popular method in the pacific northwest but I almost never see it on the east coast of the US for some reason. The Saga 409 is even set up from the factory for this type of mounting. However, I would not be at all comfortable doing it offshore. It would be fine for the majority of passages but it could be a major issue when you get a good gale or storm and I wouldn’t want those odds. I am sure that John has seen much rougher weather than I have but I have seen plenty of stuff thrown around that is far better secured than a dinghy in this position could ever be.

My recommendation would be to deflate the tubes and lash it into a cradle on the cabintop. It is very tricky to do lashings tight enough with the right angles to prevent a RIB from moving a small amount which will slowly damage it and your deck. If you have a cradle which constrains the fiberglass or aluminum hull of the RIB, you can largely eliminate movement. Just make the verticals on the cradle high enough to allow for the dinghy to lift several inches in a big wave with lashings that have loosened. The cradle doesn’t need to be at all fancy, it can really be a set of 5 chocks that you should be able to make yourself and then install when adding the pad eyes. Alternatively, you could go to something like an air floor inflatable. On our last boat we stored a dinghy between the mainmast and the traveler and it worked quite well once I worked out appropriate chocks.

We have ended up with a compromise on our own boat where we have davits which we use and love in most situations but if there is any chance of bad weather, the dinghy goes below before we head out.


Dick Stevenson

Hi Rob,
When we carried our rib offshore, we used to back pump it and it was impressive how much of a difference it made. We did the back pumping while positioning the tubes optimally on the fiberglass hull. In the end our rib (Caribe 10+ feet) was not much larger than a bit bulky surfboard and rode quite nicely under our boom nose down, bottom up, so it shed water. Also agree that handrails are not a good tie down. I have observed people using nylon dock lines which I would not think is wise because they not only stretch, but stretch even more when wet.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy


Hi John, just wondering where do you keep your diesel jugs for the odd occasional where you need to transport diesel to and from the boat. Unless you have a good below the deck space, one is most definitely going to put it up on deck.


Hi John, thanks for your advice. A thought just occurred to me; if one should keep the transom of the boat relatively clear as well. I do not have any off shore sailing experience but I am wondering what will happen if a wave hits the boat hard at the transom. I have a similar massive strut for my solar panels (as in your photo) which also doubles up as a davits (1.5 inch diameter stainless construction). I am sure the strut will hold but I am not sure if the solar panels will hold as the retaining bolts/solar panel aluminium flanges doesnt look strong enough to take a big wave hit. Then again, unless one builds a cage (casting shadows??) around the panels, it would be difficult to secure them sufficiently for the big seas. Of course the RIB will have to go somewhere and not at the davits…


Hi John, would you know how Colin mounts his solar panels on the strut? Thanks, Rob


Hi John, i had a closer look. The swivel joint and the frame looks strong. But the bolts that is holding down the solar panels to the frame seems to me M4 screw/bolt to an aluminium solar panel OE outer frame? That appears to be the weakest link…

Rob DesMarais

Cool to see our new boat made the positive list!! I’ll try to keep Cadence as captured in this photo!


Rob Ramsey

Hi John. I currently have an inflatable dinghy with a hard bottom. Still takes more space than my car and it is constantly in the way! So I am considering a dinghy which folds and stows easily.

P D Squire

I wonder why we see so many solar panels mounted high on various types of frame? Surely the seakindly option is to build them into the cabin top. Is it simply that solar panels were invented after most of the current cruising fleet was built so the cabin tops weren’t designed with this in mind?

Andrew Craig-Bennett

Just to add that if you look at old photos of working sailing vessels of “yacht size”, from Colchester snacks and Friendship sloops via pilot cutters up to Grand Banks schooners, the decks are universally kept as clear as possible.

Niels Rasmussen

Just came across this picture

Niels Rasmussen

Ups! Probably not.
Can’t even remember where I found it on the internet.
Please delete if that is required.

George Haselton

1st attempt at a comment here, hopefully I’m applying to correct article. Its about clear decks. I’m presently faced with challenge of a transatlantic delivery Maine- Azores and beyond. Boat is old 1978 NY 40, Palmer Johnson built. Pretty solid for IOR era as it was intended for Bermuda races as well as inshore events. Stickey issue is the 12 gallon fuel tank! I don’t like lashing 5 gallon jugs on deck nor approve of diesel storage anywhere below without approved design tankard. In larger(80ft) boats I’ve used flexible fuel bladders on deck in protected locations not available on a 40′ boat. Barely considering propulsion, just battery charging for auto pilot and house loads, probable 14+ days at a stretch, 40 gallons seems minimum. We’re fitting an old Navik wind vane, so if light conditions, if it doesn’t break we can augment the Garmin auto pilot. 4 on board so hand steering is also an option. I have a 20 gallon approved for diesel, can be installed below deck flexible tank. Thinking about installing that under aft bunk. I’d still need 4 more 5 gallon jerry cans & suitable plumbing for safe fuel transfer to main tank. Any words of wisdom? Thanks for the great article.

Rob Gill

Hi George,

Your question resonated with me, as we only have the one 260 litre (70 gallon) diesel tank for passage across the SW Pacific on our 47 foot (14.5 metre) sloop. Having read this article, I too discounted conventional deck stowage using 20 litre (5 gallon) jerry cans.

I also considered using a bladder, but guarding against chafe, having to rig temporary fuel lines with possible unintended issues, and finding a way to secure a large bladder against knockdown and complete inversion, discounted this option.

What we settled on was shallow Canadian made fuel (yellow) Jerry cans (jugs) that fitted under our main saloon floor in the bilge space. You may not have such an option, but I thought I would share how we made this work for us.

Each plastic can was topped to no more than 20 litres. With a can against a wall, I pressed with my leg against each can in turn until the diesel approached the lid and then sealed the breather and tightened the lid using a plumber’s wrench. This ensured we had not only a perfect seal but also a vacuum in each container – we gave each 24 hours laying on its side to check for leaks.

And we had no leaks in our 6 month SW Pacific circuit despite some hot 35 degree C days in Fiji and Vanuatu.

We managed to stow 6 x 20 litre cans in our bilge (we have screwed down floorboards for Cat 1) and 2 under a screwed down quarter berth and 2 in an aft lazarette, all placed carefully on home store type rubberised shower mats to guard against chafe.

Transferring fuel into the main tank at sea was accomplished on fine days whilst hove-to, using our deck filler which is cleverly raised above any deck wash. We never let the diesel tank level drop below 1/3, so we could chose our times to transfer fuel.

Using the can’s flexible plastic filler nozzle, I can keep my thumb over the end, rest the can on a cockpit seat, and tip the can until the nozzle is entering the opened filler cap, simultaneously removing my thumb. With practise, I now hardly ever spill a drop and used the technique just before Christmas when the rumour went around that our home marina had diesel bug in their fuel.

When offshore, having jerry cans provides for refuelling in the Islands where marina fuel berths are few and far between, and the island gas station is likely in the centre of the village. When not offshore the empty cans live in our loft.