Dry bags are almost essential gear in my book. We've never had water damage anything in the dinghy!

Dry Bags

If your boat is anchored or on a mooring and you’re taking groceries, laundry and electronics to and from shore in the dinghy, dry bags are almost essential gear in my book.

Sure, if it’s a calm day a garbage bag may do just fine. And the plastic grocery bags might keep your flour, sugar and oatmeal dry.

But most dinghies have a least a few drops of water in them, and once it gets blowing over about 10 knots, there will be some spray. At 20 knots, a lot of spray. And you can’t always wait for a nice day!

When I’ve just spent $20 bucks to do laundry, I don’t want it soaked with salt water. Groceries are expensive enough, let alone the time involved in walking a mile to the store. Wet toilet paper is pretty much useless. And let’s not even talk about the consequences of getting salt water in a laptop or tablet.

True dry bags aren’t cheap to buy but they protect so much better than trash bags. No doubt about it, they have saved me a lot of money over the long haul.

Basically, dry bags are made of a heavy-duty vinyl with welded seams (no needle holes to let water in). The top is reinforced and you fold it over a minimum of three times and clip the two side together to form a circle. Bottoms are usually made from a heavier material than the sides. The regular bags fold flat for storage; backpack-style ones also collapse but do take up more room.

Note: there are also some bags marketed as “lightweight dry bags” that are made from a much lighter nylon fabric. They are not nearly as waterproof as the heavyweight bags but are cheaper. I have a few small ones of these – I used to use one as a purse until I got a much better bag from Travelling Accessories Online. If you’re really tight on a budget, the lightweight bags are tempting but realize that they’re not nearly as waterproof or tough as the true dry bags.

I have six good-sized heavyweight bags and three smaller ones. Most I’ve had for close to 20 years – most good dry bags just don’t wear out.

My favorites are the SealLine brand.  They’re super-tough and yet the fabric is pliable, with bottoms that are even thicker than the sides. I have one made by a different company of a much stiffer fabric and it’s much harder to get it rolled down compactly. I use my bags multiple times a week – basically whenever I’m taking anything to or from shore – and the SealLine bags have taken a ton of abuse. I know that there are some other brands that look similar to SealLine . . . but I don’t know if they’re really as tough.

My favorite all-around bag is the 55 liter size. It holds a lot but I can still handle it – laid flat, it measures 13” x 25” (Amazon calls it 3” x 6” x 22” – I can only think that it’s folded up). SealLine’s “Baja” line is just a simple, straightforward bag – no outside pockets or anything fancy – that works well for laundry, groceries and electronics. In general, I’ve found that the fewer the bells and whistles on bags, they longer they last. Shoulder straps seem to pull out after a while and that’s why none of the bags that I still have, have straps.

I also have a 30 liter bag (11” x 19”) that is a good size for my laptop with a towel wrapped around it as padding. I don’t like this size nearly as well for groceries as it’s just sort of small.

Dry bags are almost essential gear in my book. We've never had water damage anything in the dinghy!

A couple of notes on the measurements: that’s with the bag laid flat. When stood up, the diameter of the bag will be less. And you have to turn the top down at least three times to keep water out – allow about 6 inches for that.

You can also get backpack-style dry bags. These are great if you have to carry laundry or groceries any distance. We don’t have one but I’ve looked at them in outdoor stores. I’d say that if you’re going to get one, get one of SealLine’s top of the line ones if you think you’ll be giving it a lot of use. The straps and attachment points are extremely strong – that’s the weak point on most backpack style bags. The 115 liter size is good but admittedly pricey . . . they do have a less expensive “Boundary Pack” but it’s not nearly as tough as the Pro Pack that I listed below. Knowing the way I abuse my dry bags, I’d opt for the Pro Pack – I think the tougher construction would make the bag last far longer and it’d be money well spent.

You can buy SealLine bags on Amazon:

Dry bags are almost essential gear in my book. We've never had water damage anything in the dinghy!

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  • Amy Burlette
    Posted at 14 March 2016 Reply

    Ha, I keep buying more as I forget where I have stashed them! If you shop at Sierratradingpost.com and have a coupon, you can get good deals on dry bags.

  • Jim Allen
    Posted at 14 March 2016 Reply

    ordered 🙂

  • Sherri Brenner
    Posted at 14 March 2016 Reply

    I love that your DH and your dog are so willing to pose for your posts! And just to say……Your info has been invaluable to me!

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 14 March 2016 Reply

      They’re pretty good about it — I’ve learned to snap quickly!

  • Pamela Douglas Webster
    Posted at 14 March 2016 Reply

    I was very thankful for a bag of supplies (light, portable VHF, etc.) when the current became too strong for me to row back from taking the dog to shore.

    Dry bag is now standard dinghy equipment.

  • Peggy Bjarno
    Posted at 14 March 2016 Reply

    Carolyn, some day I know our cruising paths will cross, and I can’t wait (with your permission) to actually SEE where you stash all your STUFF! We’re in a trawler. Forty-three feet. Should be LOTS of space to store four dry bags, right?
    Hm. I’m thinkin’ here. . . could be that my husband’s INCREDIBLE collection of tools is taking up all the storage space.

  • Luciana Hughey
    Posted at 14 March 2016 Reply

    Jeff Hughey

  • Jason Quick
    Posted at 15 March 2016 Reply

    I’m amazed at how many people still live WITHOUT dry bags. I have too many to count, heavy duty bags such as yours, to lightweight mountaineering bags, right through to custom cuben fiber bags from zpacks. You can never have enough dry bags.

  • Susanne Oldham
    Posted at 15 March 2016 Reply

    Carolyn, your recommendations for dry bags reminded me of our misadventures in Georgetown, Bahamas, taking our laundry in the dinghy. Thanks to you, that will never happen again!

  • Yvonne McRobbie
    Posted at 16 March 2016 Reply

    Great idea for birthday present for the man who has everything – except a dry bag

  • Linda Stevenson
    Posted at 16 March 2017 Reply

    We just bought 5 bags (2 of the largest and 3 smaller ones) a few weeks ago and we use them every time we transport anything to/from shore. We love them! Today we bought one that’s a backpack specifically for our electronics (easier to carry) but also for shopping excursions for ease of handling. Thanks for the information since of course, we referenced your posts for advice!

  • LaMarr Harding
    Posted at 07 July 2017 Reply

    They are handy to have. I keep a couple in the van as reusable grocery bags.

    Laundereez and Scruuba are dry bags advertised as laundry devices.

    I hate to admit it, but used a dry bag to clean up clothes from a bowel accident. Used 2 gallons of water for a wash and three rinses.

    Worked in an emergency,

    Still prefer a large salad spinner for small laundry batches.

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