Inventory: Practicalities by Andrew Bray

Orderly stowage of equipment and supplies is an important aspect of seamanship.

Most methods and options are applicable to anything from a day sailing harbour racer to an international cruiser.
The philosophy of ‘A place for everything, and everything in its place’ applies, but doesn’t require that every item’s exact location be individually known ‘ storing ‘like with like’ is sufficient for most things that won’t be needed frequently or urgently ‘ tubes of silicone, adhesive, and Loctite, for example, in one place, fishing gear in another.
Some larger categories need to be stored in several places, or sub-categorised. Also, it’s often convenient to have a ready-use locker in which a selection of foods, for example, are stored before going to sea. This reduces the need to open several lockers for different ingredients, or to periodically decant a bulk store of outboard oil or olive oil into smaller in-use containers.

Two important aspects are noise minimisation, and ensuring items will stay put and not break no matter how violent the motion or steep the heel. More generally, things that will be needed frequently, or in an emergency, should be readily accessible. Heavy items (anchors, scuba tanks etc) should be secured and as low in the boat as practical and water-vulnerable items should be stored in containers or where they can’t be soaked. And if the inventory is extensive, there should be some sort of stowage plan.

Lockers containing safety gear or first aid equipment are often externally labelled, but the key to a more extensive system is to allocate names (or numbers) to every storage space, and label containers within them, if their contents aren’t self-evident. Various levels of searchable inventory are possible using computers ‘ from simple tables or lists, through spread sheets to full databases ‘ but a notebook and pencil are simple and effective enough. Inventories for consumable stores (food, fuel etc.) and the boat’s gear (spares etc.) are probably best kept separately.

Storage spaces
Boats vary enormously in their in-built storage capacity, and prime locations are sometimes obstructed by gear that could have been installed elsewhere or more compactly. There are broadly six types of primary storage ‘ top and front opening lockers, drawers, shelving, deck lockers (lazarette , anchor etc.), and for some gear ‘ brackets or clips.
Top-opening lockers under bunks and seats are accessible when heeled, carry weight low, and may be densely packed with plastic boxes, bags, and larger items. Hinged lids and integral hold-open props or cords are useful, as are pivoting catches against rollover, and Velcro to attach overlying seat cushions.

Front access lockers are often relatively high in the boat with hinged or sliding doors – netting closure (tensioned by shock cord) suits lightweight items. Internal fiddles or netting helps, but access on one tack may be problematic. Doors need robust catches and sliders must not simply lift out from their closed locations.

Shallow drawers with internal dividers suit small items ‘ eg cutlery and kitchen tools. Deep drawers on wheeled runners can be an alternative to top opening lockers, and suit saucepans, for example. Catches are essential, and must be secure against inversion or internal blows.

Shelving against hull or bulkheads particularly suits books and other small individually similar items such as CD cases, sEPIRBS, handheld VHF radios and compasses are usually sold with mounting brackets. But the concept can extended to other portable gear such as torches, boat hooks, binoculars etc., even allowing vertical or overhead surfaces to be used. Stainless and plastic clips secure cylindrical objects, and shock-cord loops over cup-hooks suit irregular shapes.
If completely separated from the cabins and well-ventilated, lazarettes are usually the best place to store paints, oils and other potentially smelly products (sneakers!), as well as bulky, wet, or dirty items, such as fenders, mooring lines etc. Plastic crates or boxes may help sub-divide the space, and coiled ropes may be hitched to a horizontal rail. Anchor lockers are sometimes suitable for stowing other deck gear, but gas bottle lockers should not be used for other purposes.

On-deck stowage is usually limited to flammable liquids (including outboard motors and generator sets containing petrol). Other times include safety gear such as life rings, liferafts, MOB strobes etc., sails, and items such as dinghy masts that are too long to take below. Complete bagging may delay the deterioration of non-marine gear such as bicycles.

Storage aids
The efficiency and convenience of stowage can often be improved by minor customising, such as installing a shelf for engine oils and a rail for hanging ropes inside a lazarette, or pegs to secure crockery on a shelf. There are also various storage aids worth considering.

Plastic storage containers are available in many sizes and proportions, and being insect-proof and watertight, are ideal for containing dry foods. Rectangular shapes stack more densely than cylindrical containers when used to sub-divide a larger storage volume, and can be racked or clipped into front-opening lockers too. Transparent containers may allow contents to be distinguished, but labels or colour coded lids can also be used.

Some foods are sold in reasonably durable containers that can be re-used for other purposes, but thin ‘fast-food’ containers and supermarket plastic bags are not durable. The portability of hinged plastic cases with carry handles and sub-compartments or trays suits things like tools, sail repair kits and first aid kits.

Soft netting is useful for temporary hammock-style fruit stowage, and with cup-hooks for at-sea closure of shelves, and inside ventilated lockers for vegetables. Netting sacks (even re-cycled orange or onion-bags) are useful for cordage oddments and other crush-tolerant items, including socks and underclothes.

Dry bags are increasingly common, being flexible in themselves, and also in what they can contain, which may include clothing, gear, bulk or packaged foods; and with care, even water. They don't bang about, are available in a range of sizes and colours, have a handle (which can be lashed to something), and allow things to be stored in potentially wet locations (or carried in a wet dinghy). They’re also lighter than installed cupboards, allow a spare bunk or a netting hammock to be used for storage. Dry bags are also ideal for use as emergency grab-bags, or to contain flares, or diving gear.

Close packing is surprisingly effective at minimising movement and resulting noise. But rags and a range of flexible foam plastic off-cuts are useful for muffling (and securing) crockery, jars, and sliding locker doors. Loose, round or cylindrical objects (fishing sinkers!) are common nuisances. Individual glass jars can be silenced and padded with foam netting ‘ also protects soft fruits such as papaya.

Vacuum pre-packaged foods often require less or no refrigeration and being flexible can stow efficiently. On-board, food-vacuum packing gear allows, say, a large tin box of olives to be subdivided into a dozen bags, but probably more universally useful are vacuum bags for stowing clothing and bedding. Some vacuum systems use a pump, but even those in which the air is expelled manually by rolling up the bag achieve significant bulk reduction, and keep out salty air.
Flexible tanks are often a convenient way to extend fuel or water storage capacity, above or below decks, on a temporary or permanent basis. They can make use of areas that are otherwise difficult to use for storage.

Small cloth bags (labelled) are useful for containing shackles, spare blocks, fasteners, and hose clamps because they are portable, quiet, and mould themselves to the available space. Collections of hose off-cuts and other sundries can be kept in larger bags.

Storage volume can often be reduced by nesting ‘ by choosing say tapered cups, storing one bucket inside another, by choosing flexible rather than rigid items (eg. small flexible tanks rather than jerry cans for ferrying water or fuel to the boat), or by dual-use items such as an inflatable fender or a dry bag that can also be used to store or ferry water.

Special categories
Comprehensive medical kits such as the illustrated Ocean Medical International Class A kit (for 150nm+ offshore), are subdivided into smaller sub-units for convenient stowage, such as splints and fracture kit, sutures and wound kit, oxygen kit, refrigerated medicines, first aid grab-bag, manuals and guides etc.

Yachts visiting other countries generally have suitable spaces for bonded storage of alcohol, restricted drugs, firearms and ammunition. Customs’ sealing methods vary from paper stickers across opening joints, to crimped wire loops through hasps or holes in the locker lid/door.

In bulk, charts are heavy, and collections are usually stowed folded once, in folios. Folding twice is preferable to rolled storage (except for laminated charts). Shallow drawers or racks with hinged fronts are preferable to lifting the chart table to access a chart locker.

Some reference information (eg. the Bowditch navigation guide) is now available on CD, but shelves with lockable fiddles are the best option for books referred to frequently. Separate shelves for navigation, cooking, saloon, children, and bunk areas helps organisation. And a carry bag for swaps. Plastic document folders or shallow lidded boxes are useful for equipment manuals, accounting and other loose documents. Scanning these with a digital camera and storing the images on CD saves weight and volume.

Ropes in bulk are heavy, but locker organisation benefits from having at least some coils suspended from rails or loops around the edges or along the hull. If coil size is varied with rope length, longer and shorter coils can be more quickly distinguished. Larger ropes may be seized at intervals around the coil, and really long lines (such as a spare anchor warp) may be stowed on portable reels.

Terylene and Nylon sails are quite tolerant of careful folding and even vacuum compaction, but fibre-reinforced-mylar sails may need to be rolled or flaked into fairly long packages that are more difficult to stow.

Engine and equipment spares that may not be needed for many years should be particularly well protected to ensure they remain serviceable. Rubber and plastic components may still deteriorate, so it’s prudent to check spares from time to time.

Tools are heavy and often rust quite quickly. It’s worth having a small, ready-use kit, and protecting less frequently used tools by spraying them with a water displacing oil and storing them low down, in a sealed plastic box or dry bag. Don’t store oily rags with the tools, as spontaneous combustion is a remote possibility.

Vacuum bagging is useful to reduce clothing, towels and linen bulk, and even ordinary plastic bagging avoids salt dampness. Otherwise ventilation is the best defence against mildew, except perhaps for good shoes and other expensive leather items that might benefit from sealing with a desiccant. Any hangers should be aligned fore and aft, and clothing restrained to avoid chafing at sea. Dirty laundry should be ventilated as much as practical, in a cloth or netting bag, for example.

Unless there is a specially provided locker, wet-weather gear and harnesses are often best stored on hooks or hangers in a heads/shower area. A belt or shock-cord can be used to restrain movement and reduce the space they occupy. A system that allows sea boots to drain inverted is useful.

Except for refrigeration openings in bench tops, galleys generally have front opening storage only. Ideally, at least a ready-use cache of frequently used foods should be stored there, plus cutlery, cups, bowls, plates, washing-up kit, and cooking tools, including some saucepans.

It’s often worth customising the storage to retain items compactly and quietly – eg. racks with catches for containers, pegs or other restraints for plates, bowls etc. Also, install drawers to make lower storage more accessible. Glass and ceramic crockery are heavy, noisy, and potentially dangerous if they break – Melamine plasticware is more practical. Bottled wine and spirits is reasonably robust, but flexible cask wines with a tap suit cooking use, and the bladders removed from their box stow anywhere, and after rinsing/drying can be used as flexible stowage for other liquids, and grains.

The safe storage life of foods varies enormously, ranging from just a few days, even under refrigeration, to a year or more without refrigeration for many dried and aseptically packaged foods. Storage conditions can affect the outcome, but an ordinary locker is quite alright for most non-refrigerated packaged foods, provided they can’t move around and stay dry. There are exceptions (such as cabbage wrapped in paper) but fruit and vegetables generally last longer if kept cool, well-ventilated and protected from mechanical damage. So, several smaller baskets, racks, and nets are better than one big one. This also aids inspection, limits contamination from spoiling items, and allows for items like potatoes and onions to be stored in a darker area than fruits.

On cruising yachts, it’s common for durable supplies to be distributed through many lockers, so an inventory system that keeps track of what was put where, and when, is useful. Felt-tipped pens can be used to write the contents on visible ends of cans or lids, colour-coded for purchased port if you like.

Insects often attack dried foods (especially those containing grains), which are better stored in plastic rather than paper or cardboard containers to prevent cross-contamination by those already carrying weevil eggs. Dry ice may be used to expel oxygen from bulk containers, thus killing the eggs, and some say bay leaves have a similar effect. However, where occasional re-supply is available, it makes sense not to over-stock initially, and to use the oldest first.

Problem categories
Unless specific provision is built-in (eg. a tube opening at the transom) stowage for long items such as one-piece awning battens or sailboard masts is problematic, although they can be lashed to a cap shroud. Boat hooks, fishing rods, gaffs etc. that are telescoA firearms canister made from 100mm PVC protects against salt air, and can be bonded on board or taken ashore discretely if necessary for servicing or Customs bonding.

Most laptop computers are not designed for the marine environment. Separate flexible waterproof keyboards and mouse devices reduce corrosion and potential moisture exposure. If not required for frequent use, laptops (and other non-marine electronics including cameras) should last longer if stored sealed with a desiccant.

As it’s illegal to dispose of plastics into the sea (and more stringent restrictions apply in coastal waters), yachts must accumulate at least some of their garbage until it can be taken ashore. Dry bags with a disposable liner are a better option than a conventional garbage bin. Odours will be less offensive if food is rinsed from bags and tins etc., and volume reduced by compaction of tins, nesting of jars (or stuffing cleaned plastic etc. into them), and separation of non-contaminated cardboard and paper products.

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