This blog is part of a series for new boaters. To read more from the full article, see Boat Buying for Absolute Beginners, Part V.

One mistake first-time boat buyers can make is cramming their new vessel with every conceivable option when it comes to accommodations. We urge you to resist the temptation — too many of them can make your boat downright unaccommodating.

The larger the boat, the greater the number (and sophistication) of accommodations it can handle. A dinghy’s only amenity may be a hard plank for a seat, whereas a megayacht might have everything from a trash compactor to a home entertainment center.

The total volume of space inside a 30-foot-long boat is roughly equivalent to the master bedroom of a typical home. In these confines, less is more.


Everything that contributes to comfort in powerboats, from runabouts to megayachts, falls under the category of accommodations. (Photo courtesy Four Winns)

How Much Is Enough?

In general, it takes about 10 feet of overall length to create enough interior space within a cruising boat to sleep one adult. This provides enough space not only for a satisfactory bunk, but also for "personal space" in shared facilities like the galley or the head. That’s why it takes at least a 30-footer to provide enough space for three adults.

Cruising can be done aboard much smaller boats, but only if certain amenities are left ashore. For instance, a dedicated compartment for the head takes up a lot of valuable space. However, if everyone agrees to use shoreside facilities at fuel stops, a head isn’t necessary.

If you are planning to spend weekends aboard your boat as a cottage or expect to do extended cruising, stay reasonably close to the “10-feet-per-person” rule.

Sleeping Arrangements

Smaller boats tend to use the “great room” concept, in which the galley, dining area and even the bunks are all in one large cabin. As overall boat length increases, more privacy can be given by providing “staterooms” for the bunks and separating the dining space from the saloon. (A saloon or salon is the nautical equivalent of living room.)

Sleeping accommodations (berths) vary from boat to boat. Here a few common types:

  • V-Berth — All the way forward in a powerboat’s cabin, a V-berth derives its shape from the forward section of a V-shaped hull. This arrangement makes maximum use of space that would otherwise be wasted. Stowage lockers are often located in the structure that supports berth pads.

  • Dinette Berth — On most cruisers less than 30 feet long, the dinette table can be lowered between the bench seats to form a double bed. The backrest cushions fill in the table to make a soft sleeping surface. Some larger boats use convertible dinette/berths as “emergency” sleeping accommodations for unexpected guests.

  • Settee Berth — Built-in couches called “settees” are often designed to become single berths. The backrest may swing up to form an upper bunk, or the cushions may be used to pad a pull-out extension from the seat.

  • Playpen Berths — Designers often fill the deck of an entire space with a mattress to provide a “playpen” area for children. These spaces can be screened from the rest of the boat, which allows it to remain unstowed without being underfoot.

  • Stateroom Berths — This term is applied to any sleeping accommodation that can be separated from the main living area of the boat, usually by a bulkhead and door. Staterooms may have either single bunks or double berths.

Galley Basics

Fact: People work up a fierce hunger during a day on the water, even when that day has entailed zero physical activity. That’s where a galley, a boat’s kitchen, enters the picture.

Galleys can be as simple as a carry-on cooler and an alcohol stove or as complex as those found in luxurious homes. Stowage accommodations include:

  • Icebox — An icebox has the major advantage of not requiring electricity or other power to operate. Many boats have built-in iceboxes, but the recent trend has been toward using portable ice chests with padded tops.

  • Mechanical Refrigeration — Dormitory room-style refrigerators work well on boats but require 120-volt AC electricity. Dual-voltage refrigerators designed specifically for boats can use either 120-volt dockside power or the boat’s own 12-volt DC power.

  • Thermoelectric Units — These use an electric current to either cool or heat their contents. Portable units are excellent for carrying perishable food from home to the boat.

For cooking, options include:

  • Alcohol Stoves — Two types of alcohol stoves are available: pressurized and wick-type. Both come in single- and double-burner sizes.

  • Electric Stoves — All electric marine stoves use 120-volt AC power, usually from shoreside service. An electric stove cannot be used underway unless the boat is equipped with a generator.

  • Electric and Alcohol Stoves — These units combine both alcohol and electric burners into one stove that can function while a boat is dockside or underway.

  • Multi-Burner Stoves With Ovens — These are most often available for large power cruisers and motoryachts.

  • Microwave Ovens — Small 120-volt AC units fit most galleys and can only be used dockside. 12-volt microwave ovens use the boat’s 12-volt power, but draw lots of amps and are still relatively expensive.

Head Layout

Like other accommodations, head amenities vary with the size of the boat. Here are a few options you can expect to see:

  • Head — There are two basic types: dedicated (permanently installed in the head locker) and portable. Anti-pollution laws require that all toilet waste be retained the boat and pumped ashore later. Dedicated marine toilets flush into a holding tank for this purpose. Portable toilets can be carried ashore for disposal of contents.

  • Shower — A separate shower stall may be provided in larger boats. It is more common to make the entire head locker room into a shower stall on smaller boats. So much a part of bathing at home, hot water is at a premium on most boats.

  • Traditional Head — This mechanical contraption uses a double-acting pump to flush the bowl and remove the waste. Manual toilets are the most trouble-free, but those using electric motors are more like home.

  • Vacuum Systems — Even more like household toilets are those heads that use vacuum assist to remove the waste.

  • Portable Toilets — These units solve the problem in smaller boats where there isn’t space for a dedicated marine head.

Other installments in this series: