The Better Bucket

The Better Bucket

Seamless Sailor is delighted to provide this guest post by Lin and Larry Pardey – world cruisers, authors, and speakers. They inspire other cruisers by generously sharing their experience and knowledge.  I love how Lin and Larry find just the right solution in self-reliant Seamless Sailor style. Here’s one solution that all Seamless Sailors can use…

The Better Bucket
The Better Bucket

By Lin and Larry Pardey©

From – The Cost Conscious Cruiser


It is such a simple chore, lifting water from the sea. Seems like any old bucket should work. But at sea, nothing is ever that simple. You’ve just caught a glowing, leaping, 18-pound mahi-mahi (dorado). Your luck holds and you land it flapping, glorious gold and royal blue. The battle over, the fish subdued, reality hits – blood and scales litter the battlefield. You are moving at 6 or 7 knots and you want to sluice the decks with salt water quickly before the sun turns scales into sequins that will stick like barnacles all along your side deck. You grab your plastic bucket with a rope spliced around its metal bail, but when you toss it overboard, it skips and bounces and refuses to dip its brim. Five tries later, it finally fills and almost jerks you overboard. If the bail doesn’t pull out, the metal handle quite often scratches your topsides. We know the drill, because we’ve tried all sorts of buckets over the years. Canvas ones with wooden bottoms are designed so the wood floats to tip the rim – great, but in a seaway, the wooden bottom swings wildly as you pull the water on board and thumps threateningly against everything in its path. So get rid of the wood, but then the rim won’t dip and scoop up water. After a dozen years of trying, we think the perfect deck bucket has evolved, one that can be made by hand in about an hour or two. For materials, you’ll need ½ yard of sail-cover cloth (Sunbrella or the like), 3 yards of 3/8-inch or ½-inch line (new or used, three-strand or braid), and 2 or 3 ounces of lead (fishing weights or old wheel-balancing weights will do).

To make the bucket, form an 8-inch (20.3cm) diameter grommet using 28 inches (71.1cm) of line. You can make a proper long-spliced grommet, or simply overlap the line and stitch it together to form a circle (Fig. 23-1). Next, fold a 27-inch-by-20-inch piece of fabric, as shown in Figures 23-2 and 23-3, and stitch the end together. You can use a machine, but it’s just as fast to hand-stitch the material using a running stitch and waxed sail-repair twine. Open out the tube and fold it through and over the rope grommet, with die raw edge of the seam hidden from view in what are now the double sides for your bucket. The double-layered sides help hold the water even as the canvas ages.

Next comes the only slightly difficult part of the project – stitching in the double bottom. [Seamless Sailor note:  A Seamless Sailor from the Facebook page “Sewing on Boats” suggests the finished diameter of the double bottom be 8″.  Add a 1″ seam for a total cut diameter of 9″.] In sewing parlance, you pin one edge of the bottom fabric to the sides of the bucket. Ease the sides and bottom together, working slowly around and pinning it every inch. Use spare sail needles if your regular pins are too short. When you are halfway around, start from the opposite direction. The fabric will have puckers in it, and you may have to re-pin it two or three times to get it to lie nicely. But once you sew the double bottom to the sides and turn the bucket right side out, the final product will look and work fine.

Next step is to run a line of stitching just below and parallel to the rope brim (Fig.23-4) to hold it in place.

To fit the rope bail, form two small grommets out of 3/8-inch nylon three-strand twine and stitch them on each side of the bucket. This works better than metal grommets, as there is nothing on the bucket to scratch topsides or varnishwork on deck, Just before we splice the rope bail onto the bucket, we add the secret ingredient.

Melt the 2 ounces of lead in an old tin can. A stove burner works fine for this, but make sure the tin and the lead are absolutely dry before you begin the meltdown, or the lead can blow all over the stove. Pour the melted lead into a big soup ladle or a beer can to form a slightly rounded, pancake-like shape. When the lead is cool, it will drop right off the ladle. Now drill a hole on each edge of this weight, using a heated sail needle or awl or a small drill. Then sew the weight inside the bucket – just below the rim and midway between the grommets for your bail.

Splice a short, three-strand rope bail in place, or tie a handle onto the bucket using bowlines if braid is your rope choice. Then splice or tie 8 feet (2.4m) of line onto the bail as a hauling line. We prefer three-strand line for the hauling line of the bucket, as its natural finger-holds make it easier to grip. We also like to use line that is 3/8-inch or ½-inch in diameter, as it is easier to grip than smaller-diameter line.

When you are sailing fast, clove-hitch the inboard end of the hauling line on deck, just in case the bucket is jerked out of your hands. The lead-weighted bucket will tilt and fill on the first try, whether at anchor or sailing at speed.

Nothing on the bucket can scratch or dent the topside finish, and die bucket squashes flat for storage. Don’t be tempted to make it much larger than the given dimensions, or it becomes too heavy to pull on board when you are moving fast.

The Better Bucket makes a perfect gift for a friend’s boat launching. And if you keep your boat on a swing mooring, far from a dock hose, the easy-to-use bucket makes it far easier to remove birds’ messy calling cards. The final reward: You’ll smile with satisfaction each time you use something you made on board with your own hands.

Lin Pardey & Annette at SSCA
Lin Pardey & Annette at SSCA

This Seamless Sailor met Lin Pardey at a Seven Seas Cruising Association Gam outside Annapolis, MD. I always learn valuable information when I hear Lin speak or when I read her books. She presents their hard-earned experience in a down-to-earth manner that everyone can relate to – especially relative newbies like us who soak up their knowledge like a sponge.

The Pardey’s series of books (which are also available as ebooks) and videos, including The Cost Conscious Cruiser, are available at Check them out! And get on their email newsletter list for cruising tips delivered to your email box.

The Pardeys
The Pardeys

2 thoughts on “The Better Bucket

  1. Thanks for the instructions – this looks like a great bucket. I am a little confused about the bottom panels. There are doubled sidewalls and a doubled bottom, right? Do we wrap both of the bottom panels over the sidewalls? Or do they slip between the two sidewalls? Any chance you have a closeup photo of the pin job before you start sewing?

    1. Hi Adam,

      With the side of the bucket inside out, I would match the right sides (the sides will be the outsides) of the bottom layers and the bucket sides together. Use a lot of pins or staples to ease the bottom layers in place.You could baste the bottom layers together first if that helps. You can mark the bottom in “quarters” and mark the sides so you can line it up better when pinning (like you might for the top of a winch cover). Then sew the bottom layers to the sides. I wouldn’t try to slip the bottom between the two sides. Sorry, I don’t have a picture of this step.

      Gook luck with your bucket!

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