Staying organized is key when you're moving from a house to the boat. Especially if you're going 1000+ miles from the house to the boat! You need to get everything to the right place the first time.

Organizing to Move Aboard

Sell everything and move aboard.

It sounds so simple.

The reality is that it’s not simple, and you really don’t sell everything. Some stuff you need every day, some stuff will get moved aboard the boat, some will go to storage, some will be given to family or friends, some sold and some donated to charity.

How in the world do you organize it all? Especially if the boat is over a thousand miles away? And if you’re not going straight from the house to the boat, but are going to spend some time visiting family first?

I don’t know that we have the perfect answer, but here’s how we’re doing it.

We started by getting a storage unit near us. Long term, we’ll transfer things to a storage facility in Florida where they’ll be more conveniently located if we need something (say camping gear for a land excursion or winter clothes to visit one of the kids for Christmas).

For now, though, the storage unit holds items that are going to family that we’ll be seeing near the boat, things that are going to the boat and things that are going to stay in storage. I’m trying to keep things for each destination together so that we can eventually load a trailer with some degree of logic. Items that we need to keep with us (say, the extra check books, medicines, dog supplies) are in a corner of our bedroom.

At first, I was just labeling boxes with a marker as to where they went. But after a few ended up in the wrong sections of the storage unit — and the keep-with-us financial file ended up with the items to be stored — I decided that I needed something more visual.

Color-coded duct tape labels were the answer.

I got several bright rolls of duct tape in non-similar colors (bright orange, lime green and chrome — nothing that could be confusing in low light such as green and blue or pink and orange), and use that to color-code the boxes. Orange for keep-with-us, green for the boat, chrome for items earmarked for friends or family, nothing for boxes just going in storage. And I write the destination on the duct tape as well.

On one hand, it seems like overkill — why can’t we just read the label written right on the box? I think that with everything going on right now, we’re just distracted. Anything we can do to make our lives simpler and get this right helps!

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  • Cathy Dunn Dreaper
    Posted at 04 June 2015 Reply

    We bought a utility trailer, installed a small solar panel and battery to power some vent fans and lights to creat a small, mobile tool shed/storage room. To move it, we just hook up and go. It is super convenient when we haul our boat as we can usually park it nearby. It’s a great solution if you have a vehicle that can tow a small trailer.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 04 June 2015 Reply

      Interesting idea! Hadn’t thought of that for the “sometimes we need at the boat” stuff.

    • Cathy Dunn Dreaper
      Posted at 04 June 2015 Reply

      Carolyn, it was THE idea that convinced hubby to sell the house. He could keep his beloved tools nearby “just in case.”

  • Linda F
    Posted at 04 June 2015 Reply

    Great organizing tip Carolyn. We downsized from a 5 bedroom home to staying between our 39 ft. Cruiser/Racing sailboat and our 30 ft. 5th wheel coach and the evolution was much longer and more involved than I thought possible. However we managed and it has been a wonderful change for us despite tight quarters. Thanks for sharing your tips. They are so helpful!!!

  • sherri Brenner
    Posted at 04 June 2015 Reply

    We are in the same process, although our boat is a bit closer to the house. We have deployed similar tactics of separating piles of keep,sell, store, and donate. We have a storage unit for long term and we also got a small storage unit in the harbor which allows us to stage items that will go with us while we do further work on the boat and get settled in. I really appreciate the tip with the color tape. We are certainly distracted these days.

  • Annette
    Posted at 04 June 2015 Reply

    I keep a detailed inventory of what’s in storage so we can address the inevitable question, “do we still have xxx?”

  • Liz
    Posted at 05 June 2015 Reply

    We moved aboard in a hurry after our house sold more quickly than we had expected, so we ended up with a lot of stuff in a storage unit.

    We’ve been living aboard while simultaneously doing a refit for the past year. Now that we’re about done, we’re facing the dreaded task of figuring out how to get rid of all of the stuff in the storage unit so we don’t have to pay that $150/month. I thought it was going to be really hard sorting through precious items, etc.
    Well, for me, it turned out to be easier than I had thought. After living aboard for a bit more than a year, when we slid up the door to the storage unit full of our precious things and started the sorting process, the thought that struck me almost immediately and stayed with me the whole day was, “About 95% of this crap is totally irrelevant to my life now.”

    It’s amazing how a year will change your perspective!
    Best of luck with the move…may it go as fantastically as the sale of your house went.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 06 June 2015 Reply

      We did it once before, so it is easier now both because we got rid of a lot of stuff the first time around and as you say, we can see what is and isn’t relevant to the new life. Still, it’s surprising how much stuff there is to go through!

  • Jana Ramin Kent
    Posted at 05 June 2015 Reply

    We are currently experiencing all of this. This past Monday we moved all our belongings that will go with us onto our boat. For the past month I have been sorting through all the stuff. Thank God we have downsized several times in the past two years. We have made several trips to our storage place which is actually at a friend of ours who has a large insulated barn. We will keep our belongings there (for free, yeah!!!) while we are on board. Most of our furniture was either given to our kids or will be given to Goodwill. I agree when you say make it easy as you can on yourselves. A move like this is like no other. It really is amazing what one can live without. Tomorrow is our final moving day and then we will be FULL TIME live aboards and our journey will start next Tuesday (weather permitting). Best of luck on your move and remember what’s waiting at the end.

    • Susan Creighton
      Posted at 10 June 2015 Reply

      We’re right there with you! Moving van is at the curb as I write. Boat is 1500 miles away in the Chesapeake and we’re moving out of our suburban Dallas home to start our live aboard adventure on a trawler. I feel like we should start our own support group so we won’t have to make the same mistakes individually, or at least have some acquaintances who don’t think we’re completely nuts!

  • Ellen
    Posted at 05 June 2015 Reply

    Your AMAZING! This will really help with the “overwhelm” feeling!

  • Lee Anderson
    Posted at 09 June 2015 Reply

    We are planning the move for Fall of 2018 and we live in Minnesota. Since we live above the “frost line” I worry about having a cold storage unit vs. something in a more climate controlled environment. Down in Florida it probably doesn’t make a difference but we aren’t sure where we are going to call home base as yet. So, things in storage may be in Minnesota for a number of years. What decisions did you go through deciding on the type of storage unit to rent?

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 09 June 2015 Reply

      Funny you mention that — it’s on my list of things to write a post about.

      The house we’ve sold is in Illinois, and the boat is in Florida and we plan to cruise Florida and the Bahamas. When we cruised before (Pacific Mexico) we left things in storage in Illinois . . . and discovered that it was pretty out of the way for things like the wedding/funeral clothes or cold weather clothing we’d left to use on trips back to the US.

      We also are storing all of our camping gear and we think we may do some extended camping trips each summer during the heart of hurricane season.

      So for us, getting a storage unit in Florida makes more sense. But while Florida doesn’t have the freeze problem, it does have a heat and humidity problem (resulting in mold and mildew) . . . not to mention the possibility of being hit by a tropical storm or hurricane. Talking to other cruisers and friends who live in Florida, I’ve learned that it’s worth the extra money to get a climate controlled unit (protection against mold and mildew) and one with an inside door as opposed to an outside roll-up door (less likely to be damaged in a tropical storm or hurricane).

      For you, I’d simply think about whether freezing would hurt any of the things you’re leaving in storage. Obviously, the things we left in Illinois storage the first time around went through freezing numerous times (and the summer heat) and did okay but a lot depends on what you’re planning to store.

  • chris jackman
    Posted at 09 June 2015 Reply

    We move onto the boat in 2 weeks time and set off on our travels in August. Luckily for us the boat is only a few miles from the house but we still have a storage unit. One tip about renting one. Work out what size you think you will need and add on at least 50% ! You need to be able to move around in the unit and find things easily. It’s no good if you open the door and are greeted by a huge pile of stuff !

  • Beth Lawson
    Posted at 22 July 2015 Reply

    So many great ideas, I wish I’d thought of (or read) four months ago. Generally I think we did pretty well, but one box went AWAL. The thing I miss most from that box is my white shorts. Now any time we can’t find something we thought we brought, I say. “Must be in the box with my white. Shorts”.
    After living on the boat for just 4 months last year, I was surprised what I realized I could do without. It made being ruthless with getting rid of “stuff”, so much easier.
    Love you website- thanks so much.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 22 July 2015 Reply

      Yes, we have a missing Thermos and can opener . . . and who knows what else was in that box?!

  • Kimberly Fain Ward
    Posted at 08 June 2016 Reply

    We are getting ready to do this in reverse! We’ll see how organized I was two years ago when moving onto Ally Cat when we get ‘home’ in a couple months 😉

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