Boat Camping 101: 8 Tips for Success
Boat camping is a great way to make the most of a weekend on the water. Boat camping can mean using the boat to reach a campsite on land or staying aboard a boat overnight. Either way, boat camping is so much fun and adventure.
Before we get started, you must know that you should file a float plan whether you camp with a boat or on one. Always let someone at home know where you plan to camp and when you plan to return.
Read this blog post all the way through for the full guide on boat camping.
Explore All Available Boat Rentals
Camping With a Boat
In this scenario, you are using your boat to reach a campsite that probably is only accessible from the water. Many national parks, recreation areas, and state parklands offer waterfront campsites.
Sometimes, the site will be a formal campsite with a fire ring, tent pad, and sometimes even a dock. Others may be less developed, and you may be allowed to camp anywhere along the shore and establish your campsite in some locations.
Camping with a boat is a lot like camping with a car. You simply pack your tent, food, and gear on the boat and motor to the site. Once camp is set up, you may be able to fish, enjoy watersports, hike, or simply soak up some solitude. Here are tips for a successful boat camp:
- Be water aware– If there’s no dock, you can secure your anchor or a sturdy bow line to shore or beach the boat if the shore is smooth and sandy. Even when beached, however, you should attach a line to shore. If camping in a tidal area, get a tide chart and secure your boat with the tide in mind.
- Loading the boat– Coolers and gear can add much weight to your boat. Distribute that weight evenly to maintain safe boat handling.
- Keep it dry– Gear piled on the boat deck could get soaked if it rains while you are underway, so plan to put gear that should stay dry – sleeping bags, for example – in a water-tight compartment. Another strategy is to pack this gear in plastic totes, which can also make it easier to carry small gear items ashore.
- Make a list– Use a list to help you remember key supplies. Once you’ve run the boat 30 miles from the marina, it’s going to be very inconvenient to run back for toilet paper, for example.
Camping on the Boat
Overnighting aboard a boat without a cabin will be like living on a small island (one that moves with you). Pontoon boats are your ideal choice for their flat deck space, which makes them ideal camping platforms. Here are some tips:
- Securing the boat– You can tie up to shore or drop anchor. You’ll want to choose a quiet spot out of prevailing winds and away from a busy channel. Be aware of tides and the potential for changing water levels in reservoirs. If you anchor, leave room for your boat to swing on the anchor if wind or currents change, and study up on your anchoring skills.
- Camper canvas– Many pontoons, larger runabouts, and fishing boats can be ordered with a camper top. Some pontoons have enough deck space to pitch a small tent, offering weather and insect protection, and may be more convenient than fussing with a full enclosure.
- Bathroom– A portable toilet is easy to pack and a great substitute. Many pontoons can be ordered with a pop-up canvas enclosure designed to offer privacy when using the portable toilet.
- Cooking– One strategy is not to cook. Prep meals like sandwiches, cereal, and fruit. There are propane grills designed specifically for boats, which usually clamp onto a rail. These are safe to use aboard. Don’t use charcoal grills; they can be dangerous on a boat. Any camp stove on the boat should always be used and stored in a well-ventilated area above the deck. Never store propane canisters in an enclosed space, or use a camp stove inside a cabin or confined space. Propane is heavier than air and will sink to the boat bilge, where it could be ignited by a spark from an inboard engine, for example.
Discover more to do on a boat, like water skiing, wakeboarding, and snorkeling at Boating Resources & Guides.
Boatsetter is a unique boat-sharing platform that gives everyone — whether you own a boat or you’re just renting — the chance to experience life on the water. You can list a boat, book a boat, or make money as a captain.
Let your boat pay for itself. List, rent, earn — Only at Boatsetter.
Charles Plueddeman is a self-employed writer and photographer based in Wisconsin. A staff editor and contributor to Boating Magazine since 1986, he is the author of its “Off My Dock” column. In the marine realm he specializes in engine technology and trailerable boats. His editorial work has appeared in many national publications, including Popular Mechanics, Men’s Journal, Playboy, Popular Science, Cycle World, and Harley-Davidson Enthuisast.