Houseboat Vacation Packing List: A Definitive Guide

In this article I will cover 12 main categories of items that you NEED to pack for your next vacation on a boat.

Packing for a vacation can be a stressful time. I’ve been on many different vacations with my wife and children and the hardest to plan for are those that are on the water or in the wilderness!

Often, the lake or river you will choose for your houseboat vacation will be quite a ways away from “civilization” and that’s before you even leave the dock. Many of the most popular houseboat lakes are 50-100 miles away from the nearest Walmart or Target!

Running to grab a forgotten toothbrush or pair of socks isn’t really an option at those distances so planning ahead for your vacation is vital. In this article, I will give you some packing tips that help me and my family make sure we get everything we need without leaving things behind (most of the time anyway). 

The first thing to do when making a packing list is stop. If you leave for your trip tomorrow or in 2 years take the time to stop and sit down. Find a quiet place where you can think to create your vacation packing list. 

Far too often when getting ready for a vacation we run around like crazy throwing in things at the last minute and you don’t realize what you have forgotten until it is too late. 

I know vacations are exciting but the first thing you should do when planning your vacation is STOP! 

Vacation Packing List

Knowing what to bring for your houseboat vacation calls for a packing list. Having a list on what to pack is vital to make sure you don’t forget anything. 

Making a list is something I do for just about everything. My wife often makes fun of me as I don’t go to the store without a list on my phone! Why? Because I don’t want to forget anything! 

After finding that quiet place and stopping to think, the next thing you should do is make a list. Your packing list can often make or break your vacation. If you continually find things that you forgot to pack you will get more and more frustrated as the trip goes on. 

On your houseboat vacation packing list you will want the following main categories:

  • Average Temps
  • Clothing
  • Health Items 
  • Electronics
  • Swimwear
  • Games/Toys
  • Fishing/Camping Gear
  • Meals
  • Supplies
  • Sleeping Items
  • Toiletries
  • Activities

I will normally write the average temps on the first page and then have a page for each category to write the lists on. Below I will go into more details for each category. 

1. Average Temps 

At the top of your list write down the place where you will be vacationing. Below that write the average high and low temps. If your vacation is only a week or two away then you can usually find extended forecasts online that will give you a good idea of the temps during your vacation. If you are a couple months out you can often search online for average temperatures at the time period you will be going. 

Look at what those average temps are and plan for the extremes. If the average high is 90-100 degrees then plan for it to be at the higher of the two. If the average low is 40-60 degrees then plan for the lowest temps (hopefully those temps aren’t at the same place at the same time lol). 

You are going to write the average temps down first because it will help dictate the clothing you are going to pack in the next step. If it’s 80 degrees during the day but 50’s at night you will want to bring sweaters and hoodies. You wouldn’t know you needed to pack those things if you didn’t check the temps first. 

2. Clothing

The next thing to do is write down how many outfits each person will need for the trip. If you are planning on being on a houseboat for 5 days I would take 5 changes of clothes for each child and then only have them change clothes every other day. 

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That will ensure you have twice as many clothes as you need. Twice as many is a bit overkill (now you see why my wife hates my lists) but the last thing you want to do on your vacation is have to go back to the dock so you can spend all day doing laundry. 

If it’s just older teens or adults for the trip then 1 extra change of clothes will most of the time be ok but being on the water things are bound to get wet or dirty accidently. 

Some houseboats are equipped with washers and dryers (often one single unit) if the boat you bought or are renting has that then you would just need to bring a couple changes of clothes per person and you can wash the other clothing while the clean ones are being worn. 

If you are planning on docking for a fancy dinner then make sure you bring appropriate clothing for that as well. Planning ahead is very important to make your houseboat trip go well. 

3. Health items

For this you will want to write down anything you might need relating to your health. That would include:

  • Mosquito repellant
  • Sunscreen
  • Pain meds
  • Neosporin
  • Aloe vera
  • Bandaids
  • Etc.

This is where you will list all the meds or vitamins that your family takes regularly as well to ensure you don’t forget them. WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING. I know you think you won’t need to write down sunscreen but I can’t begin to tell you how many times my family has forgotten something because it wasn’t written down. 

4. Electronics

For this I would write down any extra electronics you plan on bringing on board. Tablets, phones, chargers, cameras, DVD players, music players, speakers, etc. Anything and everything that you will want to take on board the boat that counts as an electronic will go in this section. 

Always be sure to include chargers separately on the list as well so you don’t forget that charger that is different than the rest of them and you aren’t able to charge a device the entire vacation. 

5. Swimwear

Depending on the season of your trip you may or may not need swimwear. Assuming you do need swimwear, write down specifics of which items each person in your party needs. I always include in this section swim related items as well so goggles, flippers, snorkels, floaties, etc. would all get listed here as well. 

If it has been since last season that swimwear was worn make sure that each person tries on their swimwear before packing it. One sure fire way to ruin your trip is to have one person who can’t get in the water because their shorts or one piece doesn’t fit anymore. 

Trying swimwear on applies to adults too. Over the course of a year our bodies can change A LOT so make sure that what was worn last year on vacation still fits this year. 

6. Games/Toys

In this section of the list you will need to write down every game or toy that you want to bring. Balls, board games, cards, legos, coloring books, and more should all get written in this section. 

What my wife and I always do is let our kids pick out a certain number of toys to take with us for the car ride or to go in the cabin. These aren’t water toys but just general toys/games that they want to bring. That helps us make sure that we bring back the right number as well as it’s much easier to remember to pack up 5 toys each when you are leaving the houseboat than it is searching for an indefinite number. 

7. Fishing/ Camping Gear

Fishing gear is obvious as one of the best things to do on board a houseboat is fishing all day long. Camping gear might surprise you however. Depending on which lake you go out on you will often beach your houseboat for the evening. We love to bring camping gear along as the older kids often want to camp on the beach instead of staying on board the boat. 

Bring a tent, canopy, etc and make an evening of fun on the beach. Make sure to leave enough time to pitch your tent before it gets dark as setting up camp in the dark is no fun at all. Also make sure to pitch the tent far enough away from the water’s edge that a stray wave doesn’t get everyone soaked (but that’s why you bring extra clothes). 

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8. Meals

Planning your houseboat vacation meals ahead of time is super important as food in the small towns that are often nearby will be far more expensive than your favorite store at home. Now, planning meals ahead of time can be difficult but if you write it on your list then you can easily plan them out as well. 

Ideally you want items that are easy to fix on board your houseboat or on the shore (if you are beached). What we like to do is make hamburger helper type meals that are super easy to throw together and doesn’t require a lot of cooking time. You could bring the ingredients for a 4 course meal but then you aren’t going to be vacationing you are going to be a chef. 

Now if you and your family love cooking then maybe this will be different for you but in our family we would rather be enjoying the water or lazing around rather than preparing a meal for a few hours every night. 

Assuming you don’t want 4 course meal our menu when vacationing is normally 

Night 1: Hamburger Helper Meal

Night 2: Hotdogs, brats, etc over an open fire

Night 3: Hobo Dinners (yes, it’s a real thing and has tons of options)

Night 4: Chicken Helper Meal

NIght 5: Leftovers

For breakfast we normally just do eggs, bacon/sausage, and hashbrown. We sometimes also just do cereal and pop tarts if we get up late or if it’s the last day. For lunch we always do  sandwiches with either lunch meat or peanut butter and jelly. 

That is what works for us as we are pretty simple and prefer to spend time relaxing rather than creating 5 star meals. You don’t have to go as basic as we do but whatever you choose, plan it out ahead of time.

 If you have never heard of a hobo dinner look it up on Google or Pinterest as there are tons of different options. We let our kids get in on the fun and make their own in their special way too. 

We try and keep it simple so we don’t have to bring a bunch of different food on board for the evening meal. Always be sure to bring tons of snacks as well as being in the water will work up an appetite quickly! 

9. Supplies

Supplies is definitely a pretty broad thing to add to your packing list but all houseboats are going to be different so I couldn’t really get any more specific than that without leaving some things out. 

Some of these supplies might already be on board your boat and others won’;t be so if you are renting be sure and talk to the people that you are renting from and ask them. 

  • Cooking supplies

Some boats will have pots, pans, etc on board for you to cook in while others won’t. If you are planning on making more than just some sandwiches while on board you will need some larger cookware that you can use. 

  • Matches/Lighter

Again, some boats will have this item but if you are going to have a fire on the beach or if there is a grill on board the boat you will need a way to light it. Make sure that you have either matches or a lighter on board. 

  • Paper plates, napkins, and utensils

Have you ever tried to eat a meal with a bunch of people eating out of one pot? Not only is it unsanitary but it doesn’t work very well. Make sure that the houseboat you are using has these on board or bring your own. 

  • Cleaning Supplies

At the very least you will want some disinfectant wipes that you can use to regularly wipe down food prep areas, but you will also need dishwashing liquid, and other common cleaning items to keep the boat ship shape while you are on board. 

10. Sleeping Items

Some boats will come with blankets, pillows, etc and some won’t be sure to know if they are provided on the houseboat you will be using for your vacation. If you or your kids are planning on camping for part of the time then taking sleeping bags is a great idea. 

For all of the above mentioned items, make sure that there is enough quantity as well. If you have 10 people on board but only 5 pillows are provided or only 5 sets of utensils then it would be best to know that ahead of time than to find out when you are on board and ready to eat or go to bed. 

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11. Toiletries

The last thing to write on your list is all of your toiletries that you will need for your trip. Write down all the toiletries you will need for your trip. Of course that would include toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, soap, shampoo, makeup, hairspray, razor, etc. 

Some people won’t want to shave or wear makeup at all during the trip so you wouldn’t need to bring those items if that applies to you. Only bring what you need so decide what you do and don’t need and then make your list. 

12. Activities 

If you have kids aboard your boat or even adults then you will need things to do on your houseboat vacation. Having a variety of activities to do will help make your vacation much more fun. Even when I take a trip with my wife and I, we enjoy having things to do and don’t want to just sit around all day. 

When on the water there are many different things to do including

  • Swimming
  • Snorkeling
  • Building Sand Castles (on the beach)
  • Collecting rocks or shells
  • Reading a book

And many many more. I created a list of 84 activities to do on a boating trip that goes into more details and will give you tons of ideas of what you can do while on your trip. That list can be found by clicking here

Based on the activities that fit your age groups and that you like, you will then need to pack the items to be able to do those activities as well. Again, make sure you write down everything that you need for each activity so you can make sure that you don’t forget anything.

Many of the activities on the list don’t require you to pack anything so those are great activities to start with and then add in a couple that require some supplies. That way you don’t have to pack for everything that you are going to do. 


Now, here is the important part. Make sure you write down EVERYTHING that you need or want to take on your trip. I mean E V E R Y T H I N G!!! Don’t trust your memory as the excitement and last minute preparations will always push those things right out of your mind until you are on the boat or hours away from home. 

Once you have everything written down that you need, only cross it off the list when it is packed and not being used again. So for example, many electronics and chargers you won’t pack them until the day of travel so don’t mark them off before that point. The same thing for toiletries that are used daily. Don’t mark them as packed until they are in the bag to go out the door.

For items that can be packed in advance such as swimwear, toys, games, clothing, etc mark them off as they are packed. What I do is make a spot in the garage where the packed items go so everything is in one place once it is ready. Then on the night before vacation I will load up everything from that spot into the vehicle. The following morning, all that is left is the few remaining electronics and toiletries and we are ready to head to the water. 

Doing it that way helps to make the first morning a little less stressful which helps get the vacation started on the right foot. If I’m running around like crazy in the morning trying to gather last minute items and don’t know if I have everything or not it will stress me out for the rest of the day and can sometimes carry over into the entire vacation. 

That wraps up the things you need to pack for your boating vacation. I hope it has been of some help to you in planning for your next vacation on the water.

Matthew Robbs

I love the outdoors and especially spending time with my family. Whether on a boat or at the beach, my happy place is near the water.

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