Gearing up is no easy task. In fact, it is probably the hardest thing for me to do when leaving for work. I should be a world champion when it comes to packing by now, but my habit of procrastinating seems to really kick in when it comes time to pull out the sea bag. No matter what I do, my bag inevitably ends up weighing fifty-four pounds. Whether I am going on a thirty day hitch or ninety day hitch, my bag is always fifty-four pounds. The airport baggage weight limit is fifty pounds… You would think by now that I would save myself the embarrassment of having to unpack a few items at the airport to meet the fifty pound requirement, but I always seem to roll the dice. Sometimes the person at the check-in counter will let the four pounds slide, but most the time they don’t. My advice (which I have yet to follow) is to buy a baggage scale.
I typically get all my toiletry shopping done a week in advance, but without a doubt I am always up late the night before trying to shove it all in a bag. I then take it out, contemplate if I really need that much stuff, and then put it back in the bag. A few years ago I found this handy note pad:
which helps me in the packing process. You can purchase one at Barnes and Noble or online for $7.00. This REALLY helps me to not forget a single item. I highly suggest getting something like this, or coming up with your own list that you save and use as a guide every time you have to pack for work.
I work on a tugboat so listed below are a few items that are job essentials:
A good knife. I have a stainless steel Spyderco with a fully serrated blade. This is a nice heavy duty knife that has helped me in many situations; however, being fully serrated it is hard to sharpen. I usually send it in for sharpening after I get off the boat.
Rain boots and rain gear. This is annoying because it means that I have to bring two pairs of heavy, steel-toed boats (which makes my bag that much heavier), and rain gear in general can weigh a lot. I prefer slip-on high-top leather boots, so I usually wear these to the airport and get all sorts of great looks while wandering the terminal. I usually get some pretty good comments as well. Then I pack my American-made, insulated, steel-toed Xtratufs for working on deck. These “Alaskan slippers” are not only a staple on deck, but they will last for years; just don’t get the Chinese made ones (if you can still find them American-made; the company sold out recently and now they are being manufactured in China, and the difference in quality is noticeable)!
A flashlight. This isn’t as important as it used to be to me, but I can’t seem to go to work without my Pelican flashlight. I used to be an AB-Tankerman and this was crucial when looking into tanks. Nowadays you will find a flashlight in every room and can probably get away without one, but a pocket-sized flashlight is typically a good thing to have in the wheelhouse.
Long johns, base layer, and a good jacket. I don’t know what I would do out here without these items. I have two sets of Hot Chili brand long johns that I wear often. When it is extra cold I have a fairly thick Patagonia fleece that I will wear too. I also have an insulated Carhartt jacket that I cannot live without. This might be overkill depending on where you are working.
Coffee mug and water bottle. This one is crucial! I have the wide/weighted/non-skid base coffee mug. They sell these at West Marine for $25. After having your cute Starbucks mug hit the deck one too many times and spill coffee everywhere you will quickly make this investment. It withstands plenty of abuse and will stay put in all types of weather. The water bottle is a new one, but now is so important to me. I recently purchased the Brita filtered water bottle. Typically the water quality on tugs is not good, so get used to seeing brown water when you turn on the faucet or shower. I am used to the boats stacking up on crates of disposable plastic bottled water, but the folks I work with don’t like to do that. We do have a water cooler onboard, but I am still paranoid about the water and the filter water bottle makes me feel slightly better about drinking the boat water.
External hard drive. If you don’t have any movies it’s OK, because someone on the boat does and is usually willing to share the goods. I have two 1-TB drives; one I use for movies and the other I use for important documents. There are many things on the boat computer that will assist you with your work in the future. If you are tasked with doing the voyage plan, you might want to save sample voyage plans to your drive with all the needed chart numbers to save yourself a lot of work in the future. Speaking of electronics: if you have an iPhone, bring extra charging cords. I am not sure why the cords suck so much, but they break often and you don’t want to be stuck on the boat with a dead phone! (My phone is basically my lifeline; I’m sure most people can relate).
A good bag with wheels or shoulder straps. I am always in search of the “perfect bag.” I currently have a Dakine bag with wheels that is pretty good, but not perfect. The problem with bags that have wheels is that they tend to weigh a lot and impact how much you can pack. This bag is nice because it has different sections within the bag that you can zip up to keep things separated. I have been in a few situations where I had to walk a long distance with my sea bag so I will never be caught without wheels again. I compromise the weight for comfort on this one.
Linens!! Linens are so important to me. The first time I crewed up on a tug boat I was so sad with the linen selection: mystery stains and smelly pillow cases almost made me cry. OK, maybe I didn’t cry but I was pretty grossed out and didn’t make this mistake again. I always bring my own flannel sheets and pillow; I will bring an extra bag if that’s what it takes for this comfort.
The items listed above are definitely the essentials, but there are so many other items that I cannot live without. I have turned into one of those crazy “Crossfitters,” so I highly value my workout equipment. My boat has a broken stationary bike that doesn’t cut it for me, so I bring various items along. Some items are: a jump rope, kettle bells (you can’t fly with these, but I was fortunate enough to get some onto the boat before crewing up), TRX bands, foam roller, and those big rubber bands. You can do so much with these items, and it really helps your sanity to do something physical every day. Between the jump rope and burpees you can get a fairly good cardio workout.
Another comfort that I cannot live without is my toiletries; I’m a sucker for good face lotion! My toiletries are the heaviest thing in my bag. Luckily, I have this section down to a science. I know how much shampoo/conditioner I use in one month, which makes it easy for me to know how much to pack. I envy the simplicity enjoyed by guys: an all in one shampoo/body wash usually covers it for their toiletries. I wish it were that easy for me.
As far as clothes go, you don’t need much because you can frequently do laundry: three pairs of pants, five shirts, and tons of socks and underwear should have you covered. If you are fortunate enough to crew up on the same boat every hitch you can usually leave a lot of this stuff on the boat.
I hope this information is useful for you because it has taken me a few years to master the art of packing for work, and I like to believe that I have finally perfected my sea bag.