Cruising quickly becomes less enjoyable as the temperature soars, especially at night when sleeping becomes difficult. Mix in some sticky humidity and things rapidly get uncomfortable. AC works well , if you don’t mind being tied to shore power and a potentially noisy dock scene (we prefer quiet anchorages, thank you). If your boat carries a genset, then you’re still stuck listening to its rumblings instead of the peaceful lapping of waves massaging your hull. Call us Luddites (we’re not), but we prefer quieter, cleaner methods of staying cool. Here are some easy ways to suppress the temperatures (and the bills) while you’re having fun on your boat during the hottest cruising months.
Ditch the dock
Rule Number One for staying cool without an AC unit is to spend your nights on a hook or mooring. This sets your bow into the wind, which in turn maximizes airflow through open hatches. Docks are often in the lee of hillsides, trees, and buildings and don’t enjoy as much breeze. Lying to an anchor or mooring is also usually quieter, more private, and you can barbeque, which is key, as cooking on deck keeps the cabin cooler. Anchoring out also facilitates swimming off the boat (provided the water is clean enough).
Switching from heat-generating halogen bulbs to LED or fluorescent lights can make a huge difference in cabin temperature. Since LEDs consume a fraction of the energy of their incandescent cousins, having a full suite of them aboard will also reduce engine-running time, which in turn also means less heat. This is especially nice if you recharge your batteries at night, right before going to sleep.
Aside from swimming, AC, and moving air, few things provide more relief from the heat than shade. “It’s all about great awnings,” says SAIL contributor and enthusiastic cruiser Jan Hein. “We even string sheets for side awnings to keep the sun off the boat and crew. We sail with a bimini over the cockpit and [we] drop cloths from it when needed.” Canvas is also great for keeping rain off sailors and the deck. You can make up your own awnings, or have one made for you. Few boats in northern waters carry biminis, but these are a good idea no matter where you sail.
There’s a saying that the three most useless items to have aboard a cruising sailboat are an admiral, a vegan, and an umbrella, but one expert cruiser we consulted told us about a charter company that used to provide each boat with a big beach umbrella instead of a bimini, and gave each charterer a bit of line and shock chord to tie the umbrella up at various strategic angles. True, an unexpected gust might quickly invert your umbrella, but $20 will usually fix this problem. Plus, you can take an umbrella ashore if you (or your kids) want to enjoy a long afternoon on the beach.
Move the air
Modern 12-volt fans draw little power and are great at keeping air moving throughout the boat. If you’re planning an extensive summer cruise in hot climates, equipping each bunk or berth with a small adjustable fan will make an enormous difference while sleeping. If you cook regularly onboard, a fan by the galley will help direct heat from your stove out through a hatch.
“I cruised the Top End of Australia during ‘the buildup’ — when the murder and suicide rates spike in Darwin because the heat drives everybody batty,” says Clark Beek, a SAIL contributor and world cruiser. “And the only way to sanity and sleep is a 12-volt fan [positioned] about two feet from your naked body at all times. I’ve found it takes about three weeks for your body to adjust to extreme heat or extreme cold. It does adjust somewhat after a while, but the hot and humid places of the world offer little respite.”
For really hot cruising, a spritz bottle is a great way to cool off. The best kind of bottles to use are those favored by gardeners, as they spray a thin mist of water (you just want to moisten your skin, not drench yourself), not a downpour. If you really want to chill out, a mist bottle and fan combo is the way to go. A few spritzes before you click off the reading light should help you fall asleep.
For the kids: If you sail with kids, don’t forget to pack the water pistols. This is a fun, harmless way of keeping cool while sailing, and it can give the little ones something to do while you try and chase that lazy lift that you know is just over there. Ideally, you’ll have two kids aboard so that you’re not always the target.
Open the hatches
A no-brainer, right? Not exactly. Plenty of sailors are reluctant to sail with their hatches open for fear of water coming in. This is a valid concern in rough weather, but if you’re sailing in calm conditions, keeping the main saloon hatch open while you sail is a great way to cool down your interior. If your cabin gets hot during the day, all of the interior furniture, cushions, and clothing will also heat up, and will stay warm even after the outside temperature has fallen. Keeping air moving through the boat also discourages mildew and mold from growing and helps your boat smell sweeter. Just be sure to keep a weather eye open for squalls.
Obviously, cooking below on a hot day is a bad idea, but if you’re planning on baking that freshly snagged fish or boiling those clams that you just dug up on the beach, your options are limited. If you can’t barbeque what’s on your menu, you should plan around the heat. “To keep things cool down below, we cook in the early morning or late afternoon, but not in the middle of the day,” advises Hein. Alternatively, consider serving cold foods, such as chicken salad or egg salad— foods that you can prepare at anchor and keep on ice while you sail—as these require no heat source to enjoy.
An important aspect to keeping cool and comfortable while sailing is staying hydrated. Sure, beer tastes better on a hot summer day than water; just make sure to stay on top of the hydration curve, as few things are worse than waking up to a hangover on a scorcher of a day. While some cruisers favor individual water bottles,
We advise buying water in big jugs that can be served to each crewmember in a reusable waterbottle. This is better for the planet and easier on your wallet.
Avoiding a sunburn is a must, especially on a multi-day cruise. The sun can feel like a broiler, and getting caught out sans protection is a bad idea, especially given the soaring incidence of skin cancers. Also keep your eyes peeled for clothing that offers good SPF/UV protection.
Polypropylene is your friend
Cotton clothing is not your best choice for sailing on a hot, sticky day. This year, treat yourself to some synthetic (polypropylene) shirts, shorts, and undies. These garments wick moisture away from your body far better than cotton, dry much faster, and are generally more comfortable for sailing.Many manufacturers offer polypropylene clothing with an SPF/UV rating.