In a quest to make life aboard a little easier, safer, more efficient and comfortable, sailors and boat owners are always looking to make upgrades to their vessels. We’re no different.

And even though Yahtzee was well kitted out for blue water cruising when we bought her five years ago, she always needs work and upgrades, and we’re happy to do them. From the moment she became ours, we’ve constantly worked to improve our home and adventure mobile in big and small ways.

Here are five upgrades that we’ve made in the past year that have made life aboard easier, safer or just a bit more comfortable. (Beware, some of this is very heavy in sailor jargon.)

Reef Snap Shackle – This first one derived from a tip I got from my friend Carol Hasse from Port Townsend Sails and it has made reefing the mainsail quicker and a bit safer.

Amazing the difference one piece of metal can make.

It’s no secret that we like to sail downwind in heavy weather and we’ve done our fair share of it over the years — especially while cruising during the winter in the Pacific Northwest. With Yahtzee’s sails reefed to an appropriate size, she does well in a blow and can be easily handled by Jill and me. But one thing that long frustrated us was how the new tack gets attached to the reefing (rams) horn at the gooseneck when we’re reefing the mainsail. Enter Carol’s tip.

I don’t have good images of our setup, but what I did was attach a stainless steel snap shackle to a Dyneema strop at the gooseneck. When it’s time to reef the main, instead of putting the dog bone that runs through the sail at the new tack around the reefing horn — which can slip off if the sail is flogging or looses tension — we simply snap the shackle to it and we’re done. We can then tension the halyard and reef lines from the safety of the cockpit. With this setup, we no longer have to stand and tend the tack at the mast while reefing, and we know the new tack will be secured firmly while finishing the reef. Once clip and it’s set! 

Ram Mount iPad holders  Though we have charts and a chartplotter at Yahtzee’s nav station down below, we bought an iPad and Navionics (plus a LifeProof case) for easy navigation and piloting in the cockpit. The problem was, fumbling with an iPad in the cockpit is not fun. Add rain, a heeling boat and strong wind, and it can get downright tricky to navigate safely.

The iPad on its Ram Mount is well protected  by the dodger.

Looking for a way to mount the iPad for easier use, we found Ram Mounts (a Seattle company!) to be the perfect solution. The spider-looking mounts are simple to attach to stainless rails, and we put one at the helm and another under the dodger. We can now use the iPad while steering or keep it protected and out of the elements. 

Nesting Cookware  Finding perfect cookware for a boat is tough. Small storage areas, narrow stovetops and inadequate sink space can all combine to make having the right set of pots and pans a tall order. Yes, there are boating specific nesting sets on the market, but we’ve never found the quality of them to be that high for the price you pay.

Tefal Ingenio Non-stick Induction Starter 4-piece Cookware Set

After going through several sets of non-stick pans and trying cast iron, Jill found a set for Yahtzee that strikes the perfect mix of affordability and functionality. The Tefal Ingenio non-stick set includes a removable handle, two pans and a pot that all fit inside one another. (Tefal makes other combination sets, too.) Made in France, they are a perfect size for our three-burner Force 10 stovetop, the non-stick is superior to any other we’ve used, and because they don’t have fixed handles, the set is easy to store and clean in the sink.

Preventer  Besides going overboard or sinking, there’s nothing scarier on a boat than an accidental jibe. Accordingly, I’ve always been a big advocate of a good preventer setup. But for some unknown reason, it took me awhile to finally find the best way to have a permanently fixed preventer on Yahtzee that can be rigged and un-rigged quickly and safely.

This spring, in anticipation of sailing downwind to Alaska, I finally got around to rigging our perfect preventer. To make it happen cleanly and functionally, I spliced a length of Dyneema, attached it to the bail at the end of the boom and then ran it three quarters of the way forward to a small cleat. When not in use, it stows out of the way on the boom and then when we need to rig it, we have a designated length of line that can be quickly attached to it and then run to a cleat or block at the bow. The nice thing about having it setup this way is that it can be rigged or un-rigged even when the boom is out over the side of the boat. Plus, we can easily switch it to the other side after a jibe. 

Vesper Marine AIS Transponder  In all the sea miles Jill and I have done over the years, whether on our boat or others, having a functioning AIS system and radar aboard has become a must in the safety department. Having the ability to track ships and other recreational boaters, to know where they’re going, on what course and at what speed, is invaluable. And when the sun sets or fog fills in, there’s nothing better than knowing who’s out there.

This little blue box has a big job.

When our old Raymarine AIS started acting up this winter and fixing it became laborious and not cost effective, we started researching an alternative. What we found to be the best for Yahtzee was the Vesper XB-8000 Transponder. Installing the unit was relatively simple and it works well in conjunction with our chartplotter. But one of the biggest selling points on the new versus the old was that with the Vesper, we can also receive the AIS information on our iPad, phones and computer via a WiFi network — which means we use it a lot more.