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There are so many little tools on boats that we cruisers take for granted. Many of these items would likely seem of little importance to those who haven’t spent a lot of time on the water. For example, the boat bucket. We first learned of this important implement during the live-aboard portion of our Fast Track to Cruising course. In that particular case, we were using the bucket to pick up sea water to wash down the anchor and bow roller, and because we lack a washdown pump on ZTC, that’s exactly the same system we use today. But that’s obviously not the only time we bust out the bucket. Every time we need a bit of sea water to wash something off, it’s there to serve.

So how is a boat bucket different from an ordinary pail? Well, assuming it’s not a fancy one sewn by hand like I wrote about here and here, typically you’ll find that a boat bucket is a plastic pail where the handle has been replaced with a length of line, which is important for a couple of reasons. The first is that the metal handles, common on buckets purchased from hardware stores, tend to rust in salt air or bend. Additionally, they have the potential to scratch the hull as they bump into it, and bump into it they will! The rope handle has another purpose though: it allows you to pick up water from deck level. On a catamaran, with steps on the stern, it’s not super difficult to get right down to the water’s surface to scoop some up, although it wouldn’t be convenient if you were on the bow. On a monohull though, with a lot of freeboard (that is the distance from the water’s surface to the deck), the rope is a necessity.

The bucket I sewed which has yet to have a line attached to it, or see water.
It does make a nice storage basket though.

Our boat bucket, which came with the boat. It may look a little rough but has had over three years of near daily use! If you’d like something a bit more esthetically pleasing, during a quick Google search this morning I found two online stores which sell boat buckets for real money. Seriously! Search it yourself if you’re curious. Us, we’ll just stick with constructing our own. 🙂

There is a bit of a trick to the whole water-scooping process though, and even with the amount of practice that we’ve had, we still sometimes flub it, coming up with less water than we had hoped.

Warning: You should be a bit careful when trying to do this while underway at any significant speed. When the bucket fills with water, you had better be pretty well braced or you may find yourself swimming!


  1. Will the canvas bag even work for getting water….Will it hold water?

  2. Other boat bucket uses:
    *barf bucket
    *pee bucket (offshore only)
    *get-the-dog-some-water bucket (freshwater sailors only!)
    *bail-the-dinghy bucket

    The possibilities are endless!

  3. We wash down our anchor the same way (and you remember how funky and gross the Bay bottom is). One good place we score nice buckets are marina or construction site dumpsters. Those awesome buckets that this or that come in get tossed at the end of the project. A little washing and voila! A really strong free bucket. Never underestimate the power of dumpster diving!

  4. It will be interesting to see if you CAN get water in your nicely sewn bucket. I can’t with ones like this. They are too light to sink and fill.



    • The instructions in the Pardey’s book, which I link to in the original post, showed to instal a lead (?) weight on one side of the bucket’s rim to facilitate filling. It was a pretty good idea but I never got that far in the project.

  5. Canvas is no good for “Bucket and Chuck-it”!


  6. These boat buckets come with munchies inside them. The ideal boat bucket will be filled with ice and Caribs.

  7. Here is a round canvas bag sold by harbor freight

    It cost $18 pluss shipping. Do you think this would work?

  8. A simple trick for water “every” time. (you must know this by now) drop the bucket in upside down, the quicker you pull back, the less water you bring up.

  9. Yes, the wieght on one side helps.

    Another thing about canvas buckets:
    a. Not too big, so that it doesn’t rip your arm off under way.
    b. A canvas bucket collapses if filled underway, or at least the mouth closes, which helps too.

    We use them both, about 50/50. But I haven’t removed the metal handles; that seems like an OBVIOUS up-grade I sould have figured out years ago!

  10. 5-gallon plastic buckets double nicely as beach chairs if you just don’t have room for a couple of folding chairs . . . took ours to many beach BBQs!

  11. My boat bucket is a left over pool chemical bucket – about 4 gallons AND it has a plastic handle!

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