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Cloth Diapering Onboard

I've been meaning to write a post for some time now on cloth diapering on a boat. I think that cloth diapering already gets a lot of searches on Google, just because it seems to be resurging in interest due to some benefits... I mean, I know that I was researching it a lot before I gave birth. Why do I think it's popularity?

  1. Times are tough, it saves you money! Washing diapers for a fraction of the cost rather than constantly buying boxes of diapers does end up saving you a lot of money. Apparently, disposable diapers for a single baby will cost around $70 a month and $840 a year! I'd rather spend that on food!

  2. Going shopping is a larger feat post arrival of Covid-19, so if frequent trips can be avoided, why not? Now you don't have to go out quite as often.

  3. Fabric is supposedly a more gentle option for your baby's skin. I don't know if this is the case for other people's babies, but I know it to be true for my son.

  4. Less trash to worry about. This is a huge thing when you're on a passage, because you may have to carry that stinky trash bags for over two weeks in a confined space. So the less trash we make, the better

  5. Sustainability! If you want to adopt a more sustainable practice for diapering, start cloth diapering today. Disposable diapers apparently take at least 500 years to decompose, and according to this site, 92% of disposable diapers will ultimately get buried in landfills. That's MOUNTAINS a stinky baby poo piling up in our landfills. I'm game to do my part in trying to slow down how many I contribute for a little extra responsibility.

*statistics above here referenced from the article, Diaper Facts and Statistics in 2021, found at

So why do I cloth-diaper on a boat? It is definitely much less convenient if you don't have a washing machine, and most sailboats don't have washing machines. Despite this, many people still cloth diaper and simply go back to an older method of hand-washing. So, is it really worth the extra effort to cloth diaper on a boat?

For myself, it is. It still saves us money as it would on land too, it's still a much more sustainable practice than buying a bunch of disposal diapers that then build up in landfills. The trash takes much longer to fill up, which is nice when you don't always know when or where you can dump your trash. And it really is the best and easiest material on my baby's skin; he actually prefers cloth diapers.

And believe it or not, cloth diapering was actually easier while we are underway!

So, what's my process?

The process slightly changes when we are either docked, at anchor, or underway. For this reason, I will explain the general process, and then specify how the process slightly changes in these three separate cases.

General Process

  1. Pre-soak diapers in a bucket.

  2. Rinse once and soak again, or rinse two times and then fill bucket for wash. (Dependent on the dirtiness of the diapers)

  3. Vigorously hand-wash each article in a soapy water bucket. Wring dry and set aside.

  4. Refill bucket and rinse everything thoroughly by agitating the submerged wash.

  5. Wring out and hang to dry.


When we are docked, we are spoiled! While docked, we have unlimited access to fresh water. Since I don't have to be conservative about fresh water, I pre-soak, wash, and rinse with fresh water.


At anchor, we have to be a little more conservative with our water use, unless of course we want to make frequent jerrycan runs to refill the tanks. Therefore, I do the initial pre-soaks, the washes, and even one rinse (if two are required) with saltwater. I save the freshwater for the final rinse, just to get that saltwater out of the fabric, so it can properly dry.


We are most conservative with our freshwater use while underway on a passage. On a passage, we normally have more people aboard crewing, so every bit of water has to go even further than if it were just us. During these times, I normally do the entire process with saltwater. I'm sure you're wondering if final saltwater rinses are bad of the diapers, or not. Well, in my experience it hasn't degraded the diapers any faster than normal wear. The diapers may not feel completely dry, even after hanging for a couple of days, but they were dry enough to be absorbent, and not so much wet, just slightly damp. And my son would go through several a day until I'd finally put him into a disposable at night, so his but was never salty for too long with all the butt wipes.

The soaking method was a little different while underway as well. Instead of soaking the diapers in a bucket on-deck, I would toss all the diapers into a mesh bag and then toss it overboard to trail behind the boat. This would always give the load a nice soak, and if we were moving fast enough, this method would also provide enough agitation to work as the washing method too!


So there you have it, a quick look at my experience using cloth/reusable diapers while living full-time on a sailboat. I hope my experience helps readers in one form or another, and PLEASE leave your methods in the comments! Maybe you have tips or tricks that could make my life easier...sharing is caring! :)

Oh, and before I go, one more fun thing about hand-washed cloth diapering is the quality time with my baby boy that's come with the washing sessions. Washing diapers has become a game, and my baby is always game to help mom wash clothes now. It can sometimes be annoying, but it's mostly pretty adorable...

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