How To Have Nautical Celebrations: Unforgettable Holidays on Your Boat

How To Have Nautical Celebrations: Unforgettable Holidays on Your Boat
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Anchoring the Holidays: Innovative Ways to Celebrate on Your Boat

Throughout our cruising lives, holiday celebrations on boats often become a delightful norm. We tend to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays aboard our boats. Sometimes we do so because we have no choice—when we are delivering the boat from one place to another over a holiday or when we live aboard—but more often, we choose to celebrate holidays on board our vessels. As with land-bound holidays, most are delightful celebrations, often with new boating friends and traditions that provide meaning and continuity in our lives. 

It can be challenging to recapture and replicate land-bound holidays on a boat. Some of these challenges are physical—limited space, lack of equipment, or absence of specific ingredients may curtail traditional “sit-down” dinners—while others are emotional. Liveaboard cruisers may yearn to be surrounded by family and friends when they are far away. Vacationing cruisers may find themselves in circumstances or environments that differ greatly from their memories of childhood holiday celebrations—hot weather at Christmas, New Year’s in the islands, or bundling up for the Fourth of July in Alaska!

While we may long to reclaim childhood memories and traditions, celebrating holidays aboard offers terrific opportunities to create unique and exciting celebrations of your own. Blending cherished customs or rituals with new, exotic experiences makes for good times and vivid memories. In other words, if you can adjust your expectations and adopt a new attitude about holidays aboard, it will pay off in spades! 

What follows are some ideas for celebrations aboard your boat to get your creative juices flowing.

Seas the Holidays: Creating New Traditions Aboard Your Vessel


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. My birthday and our wedding anniversary are on the same day, which usually falls during Thanksgiving week. The year I turned 50, we flew into Miami to celebrate aboard at Dinner Key. Our flight was very late, and we arrived at the marina to find out that all the nearby restaurants and grocery stores were closed for the night. We made a sad little pre-Thanksgiving meal out of canned tuna, a package of boxed mac and cheese, and some cheese crackers. However, my sweet husband surprised me with a vintage bottle of my favorite French Burgundy (packed in his luggage), and we opened it and toasted cruising life, our anniversary, and my birthday under a full Miami moon.  

I asked our cruising friends, who have sailed their 39-foot boat throughout the western Caribbean for several years, how they celebrated classic holidays aboard their boat in foreign ports. Their festivities usually involve getting together with nearby cruisers and creating gourmet potluck dinners. Each cruiser makes a very special dish, presented beautifully. While they found most ingredients nearby (poultry, squashes, potatoes, greens, bread), there are no cranberries outside the U.S. Knowing this, our friends stashed a couple bags in their freezer and made a delightful Cranberry Tart for the potluck. 


While our cruising friends celebrated Christmas aboard for several years, their first year they were both feeling a little blue missing Christmas morning with their families. Suddenly, a nearby cruising vessel came over and delivered freshly made hot cinnamon buns, tied with a Christmas ribbon to their boat. This generous little gesture really got the day off on the right foot. 

If you plan ahead, there are lots of fun little gifts you can make aboard—baked goods, cocktails, fruit or herb vinegars, flavored salts, sugars, spice mixes—and they are always appreciated by friends and strangers alike. 

That afternoon, they gathered with friends on another boat. It was decorated with a small lit Christmas tree and colored fairy lights. As they were welcomed aboard with hot buttered rum, they saw that Christmas stockings hung on the boat rails, filled with goodies for each guest. Following a surf and turf dinner with potluck side dishes and desserts, they all sang Christmas carols and toasted the boating life.

New Year’s Day

In Florida, it was easy to adapt our New Year’s Day celebration aboard our Grand Banks 42. We invited friends and family to enjoy the great weather, go for dinghy rides, and watch the Bowl games. We introduced them to Cuban food (widely available in Miami) along with Mojito, Daiquiri, and Cuba Libre cocktails and soft drinks, Cuban pork, moros y cristianos (rice and beans), slaw, avocado and tomato salads, and flan. This became our standard New Year’s Day menu.

Festive Tides: Crafting Memorable Holidays on the Water

Planning, creativity, and spontaneity are the keys to success. Consider local customs and traditions, and participate in celebrations and events. Experiment with seasonal and locally available foods when designing your menu. Bring along “must have” ingredients and cherished decorations and lights, along with music to make the celebration complete. Use your senses and resourcefulness to create a festive and attractive environment for your holiday celebration aboard.  

Sight: If you want a casual and cozy environment, use candles and oil lamps, linens and flowers in yellows, golds, and reds to make your cabin glow. If the mood you seek is cool and sophisticated, use fairy lights, greens, plants, fruits, vegetables, and other natural things in your environment as décor (for example, votive candles sitting in seashells or driftwood).

Smell: Bring in scented flowers, fresh herbs, candles, and naturally fragrant items like oranges, vanilla, apples, and lavender to create the ambience you want. Heat herbs in hot water, or microwave a small bowl filled with sliced apples, vanilla, and cinnamon for the holidays. Nothing is as inviting as the fragrance of cookies baking or steaks grilling—so use your menu to entice your guests.

Sound: Think about what kind of music you want to play—rock, big band, or reggae for a more casual holiday, or sophisticated jazz and piano for a refined dinner, or simply use the sound of waves and water. You can change the tone and mood of a celebration by the sounds you choose.

Touch: Use a variety of textures to create the right environment. Pashmina shawls, soft pillows, and knit blankets on settees and chairs if the weather is cool. If the weather is warm, handheld fans, iced drinks, and chilled fruit on cool linens provide relief from heat. This sends the message to guests that you care about how they feel. 

-by Lori Ross

The post How To Have Nautical Celebrations: Unforgettable Holidays on Your Boat appeared first on Southern Boating.


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