Contain the Mess

Messes on boats have a way of expanding quickly.  Whether it’s a spill on the counter top or a broken container in a locker, the motion of the boat quickly spreads the area that needs to be cleaned.

Add in that it’s seldom easy to clean a particular locker, let alone two or three, or now the bilge as well, and there is strong incentive to “contain the mess.”

But containing the mess — at least for me — isn’t something to do once you discover a mess.  Instead it’s being proactive and thinking ahead.  To give a few examples:

  • Put bottles of honey in plastic bags before placing them in lockers.  If they leak or break, the mess will all be in the plastic bag, which you can just dump out or throw away.  Much easier than having to clean honey up from the entire locker, wash it off all the other bottles in there, and then clean out the next locker where it seeped, then deal with an ant infestation.
  • Put stocks of soft drinks and beer in solid plastic tubs with lids so that if one can or bottle develops a pinhole or breaks, it’s relatively easy to clean up.  Cans in particular are prone to developing pinholes from chafing due to the motion of the boat, and the carbonation in the can can spray a jet of sugary liquid 5 or 6 feet, where it will then run further.
  • Canned food in lockers can also develop leaks.  I used solid plastic bins in all of mine both in case of a leaking can and also as a way to sort cans.  This also makes it easier to wedge material in to keep cans from rolling or sliding and causing noise.
  • Cleaning supplies and anything corrosive need to be contained as well.  Dish soap, laundry soap and shampoo all make a monstrous mess to clean up as they just keep sudsing up.
  • Paint cans can rust, particularly in salt air, and leaks develop.  Paint or varnish can slowly seep out and make its way through a locker, effectively gluing other supplies to the shelf.  By keeping the cans in plastic tubs, you at least limit the damage.

I tend to take the “contain the mess” theme a step further and think about clean up as I’m cooking as well.  While many recipes will tell you to roll or knead dough on the counter top, I usually use a jelly roll pan (a cookie sheet with four low sides) for rolling dough and knead bread right in the bowl I mixed it in.  And using a spoon rest will keep counters clean.  (Be sure to turn off nearby fans before pouring flour out, too!)

Lots of non-slip materials under plates, pans, bowls and cutting boards can keep you from having a mess in the first place.  Covered drink cups and conveniently placed drink holders can keep liquids where they belong, too.

In the refrigerator, where I like using ventilated bins to allow cold air to move, I always make sure that bins have solid bottoms and that the bottom inch or so of the sides are solid.  Veggies outside the refrigerator also go in bins with solid bottoms so that if one does spoil, the mess is easy to wipe up.

I can think of lots of things that I’d rather do than clean up a mess, but I also know that if I do discover a mess, it’s best to clean it up immediately.  It won’t get better on it’s own; it will just spread and be more of a job to deal with.

Do you have any other “standard operating procedures” to prevent or contain messes on your boat?  Please share in the comments!

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14 Comments
  • Diane Cook
    Posted at 03 February 2014 Reply

    Don’t forget the olive oil! Mine fell over & drained into the bilge…yuk!!!

    • Barbara C.
      Posted at 25 October 2014 Reply

      I put my cooking/salad oils and pancake syrup in zip-bags. As with a lot of us, here, I learned “the hard way”.

  • Skylar Walker
    Posted at 03 February 2014 Reply

    Some good ideas, thanks!

  • Amy Kohl Hoag
    Posted at 04 February 2014 Reply

    I do some of your ideas already but you have inspired me to do more. I hate cleaning the bilge when a can leaks.

  • Dan W
    Posted at 04 February 2014 Reply

    We did the Transpac last year and needed to store some beer/pop in the bilge but didn’t want it covered in bilge water when we went to drink it. We used the XXXL Ziplock bags and they worked out great.

  • M L
    Posted at 27 July 2015 Reply

    Hi Carolyn – love all the tips on your site! Question: can you explain your “rolling pin” in the picture? Thanks 🙂

  • cheryl
    Posted at 01 July 2016 Reply

    So wonderful to have this connection for ideas with all of you. Fair winds!

  • Sonjashootingstar Wells
    Posted at 01 July 2016 Reply

    I especially love the part about turning the fan off before pouring flour, lol, from personal experience!

  • Becky
    Posted at 17 June 2017 Reply

    Good tip on the pop cans!– we had six packs in a locker for “too long” and they got the pinholes and leaked into the bilge via the drain holes in the locker…sigh.

  • Becky
    Posted at 17 June 2017 Reply

    I love to re-purpose, so any clear container that we buy things in gets my attention: I’ve trimmed screw packaging for putting under shampoos in the medicine cabinet and under small dishsoap containers. I’ve used the big, clear containers that salad greens come in as “trays” for under things too.

  • Brian Leonard
    Posted at 31 August 2017 Reply

    Hi Carolyn, we’ve experienced partly empty beer & cordial cans on the boat so now always store them upside down as the top rims are much stronger than the bases. Since doing this we’ve had no leaks.

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