Rupert Holmes shares some top tips on how to maximise the useful space and increase stowage on board any boat

Few boats are well organised when it comes to stowage, which can quickly lead to an appearance of chaos after a short period on board. Yet very few designs – even among the more expensive brands – are fitted out inside to make the best use of available space.

This is a long-standing problem. When boat interiors first became brighter and more spacious during the late 1970s and ‘80s a common refrain was that the feeling of space was gained at the expense of stowage, for instance by pushing the saloon settees out to the side of the hull.

Another issue is that creating good stowage is time consuming and expensive for boatbuilders, with the result that space is often used very inefficiently. Yet improving stowage is an easy way to make your existing boat feel larger and more civilised.

For those with sufficient time, or the budget to pay others to do the work, one option is to add wooden shelves and lockers. Adding more joinery is a time-consuming skilled job, though, that also adds extra weight to a boat. It’s therefore not realistic for most owners beyond making one or two useful tweaks. On the other hand, a great deal can be achieved quickly with simple materials such as netting and pre-made pockets for smaller items.

If there’s not sufficient stowage for small items around chart tables they can easily become a dumping ground for a whole host of stuff including handheld VHFs and GPS, hand-bearing compasses, iPads, phones, torches, tools and pilot books.

A quick and easy neat solution is the white pouches IKEA sells as shoe tidies, for as little as £6 for 16 pockets. Use a hot knife – a sharp knife heated in the flame of the cooker will work if you don’t have the electric version – to cut them into the relevant sizes and shape.

When I first started using these I stuck them in place with strips of self-adhesive hook and loop fastener, but that proved to be a mistake and waste of time – screws or bolts are a much better bet. A similar approach can also work well inside hanging locker doors and around the galley.

Fitting coat hooks might sound obvious, but most boatbuilders seem to expect everyone to put their jacket or fleece top in a cupboard every time. That may work on some boats, but all too often it’s inconvenient and doesn’t allow damp kit to dry easily.

On Ammos, my 30ft Discovery 3000 in Greece, I fitted a pair of hooks on the forward side of the heads door and the adjacent bulkhead, plus two more in corresponding positions on the aft side of the door to the aft cabin.

This allows four sets of foul weather gear to hang up well out of the way of everything else. It’s an obvious and easy solution to a stowage problem, yet I’ve rarely seen them in other boats.

Another option I’ve seen is a removable bar in the heads compartment on which foul weather gear can be hung as if in a wardrobe. This can offer enough space and ventilation for kit to dry overnight. A similar set-up could work well on a boat with a full cockpit enclosure, with the added advantage of not needing to bring wet clothing inside the boat in bad weather.


Serious cruisers have long used fine-mesh netting for stowing fruit and vegetables, but it’s much less common to see nets used to improve the stowage in a sleeping cabin. Yet a netting shelf above the foot of a forecabin bunk, for instance, can easily more than double the available stowage there, with minimal reduction to the feeling of space. And it can be installed in half an hour at a cost of about a fiver.

Galley stowage

Huge numbers of boat owners are lumbered with galleys that were quick to build, but designed with very little thought towards ergonomics or efficient stowage.

Galleys are often made to be quick to install, not efficient and ergonomic

Southampton based company GN Espace recognised this many years ago and has developed a range of efficient storage, sinks and cookers based on the Gastronorm catering industry standard container sizes.

It’s intended as a fully integrated cooking, food preparation and storage concept that maximises working space in confined quarters and gives greater flexibility, safety and convenience. For instance, the company’s Compact 600mm wide 1.5 bowl sink has a three-level main bowl designed as a practical workspace for washing, preparing and cutting food.

It comes with a beechwood chopping board, perforated stainless steel colander container and waste strainer, and a wide range of options is available.

A complete GN Espace system won’t be a cheap upgrade, but it may be a better option than selling an existing boat and ‘upgrading’ to one with a slightly larger, but still badly organised galley.

Alternatively, it’s possible to create your own system with some of the same benefits from a supplier such as IKEA.

An easy way to reduce stowage requirements for those spending more time on board is to eliminate bottled water. A sub 0.4 micron filter, such as the General Ecology Seagull IV sold by ASAP Supplies, will even remove viruses from a dodgy water supply.

Alternatively, water bottles with similar built in filters are widely available – one for each crewmember would eliminate the need to stow and carry bottled water at a modest cost even when cruising areas without reliably clean fresh water.

Other ideas

Quarter berths on older boats can be used for efficient and dry stowage

A simple idea is to split berth cushions in line with the lockers beneath them to make the under-bunk spaces easy to access. Few, if any, boatbuilders bothered to do this until recently.

Quarter berths are often poorly used spaces, especially as many are not used for sleeping. A couple of large plastic crates can turn this space into easily accessible clean and dry stowage. Don’t be tempted to put a large number of smaller boxes or bags into a quarter berth – in my experience that simply creates a jumble of stuff that’s rapidly becomes disorganised.

It’s also important to make sure all heavy items will stay in place even if the boat is knocked down by a wave. For offshore sailing everything should also be able to withstand a complete inversion with heavy items remaining in place. This means under-bunk lockers need lids that can be secured, while removable netting to keep everything in place in galley or saloon shelves can be important.