Canvas Bucket

Some people hate them.  I don’t think I could live on board a boat without one.  The traditional yachtsman’s canvas bucket is an essential on Cay of Sea.

Canvas Bucket Uses

Anytime you wish to draw up water from the bay/ocean/river/lake.  For us, this means washing mud off the foredeck after retrieving the anchor.  But I also use it to wash down the cockpit, deck – anytime I want water.

Why Canvas – Why not Plastic?

Canvas doesn’t scratch the topsides or deck (to be fair, neither does plastic).  It’s easy to store because it collapses.  The handle won’t break or come unattached.  You can leave the retrieval line attached to the handle and it doesn’t foul anything else – it stores in the bucket.  It’s reasonably water tight, but you can take advantage of the slow leak through the fabric if you just wish to dribble water on something.

Where to buy a Canvas Bucket

I didn’t know until minutes ago when I googled them.  For $33 you can get a “Klein” canvas bucket. Hmm….  I didn’t see anything much cheaper through google.  Are you kidding me?  We’re talking about a bucket made out of rope and canvas.  $5 worth of materials at best.  This one (below) features some leather at the handle splices, and a polyethylene ring around the rim.

Some leather bits, polyethylene ring at the rim and 35 inches of canvas cost $33.

Admittedly, a polyethylene ring would be okay.  Leather at the splices?  Well, it gets wet all the time and stays out in the weather.  Maybe not.

Build Your Own

We made our last 2 canvas buckets about 6 years ago.  They last a long time, especially considering that they live out in the weather most of the time.  When they are wet, we hang them to dry on the stern rail.  We could – and should – bring them in after drying, and that would make them last longer (out of the sun).  Both of our buckets are UV rotted, and it’s time to replace them.


Before I go further, let me say that the design and most of the sewing you see here was done by Ruth, my very talented wife.

So how are they built?  We start with 10 ounce untreated canvas approximately 10 x 30 inches, and add seam allowances.  This rectangle is sewn into a circle, or tube about 9 inches in diameter and 10 inches deep.  Then we cut out a 9 inch circle of canvas and sew it to one end of the tube.  This is the basics of the bucket.

Here is the rectangular panel sewed together into a tube, with the rim turned down in preparation for the bolt-rope rim.


The way we’ve done this in the past is to splice a piece of 1/2 inch three-strand polyester line into a circle.  You end up with a splice that is about half the distance around the rim, which is okay.  This provides one side of the rim that is heavier, and it will sink and fill more rapidly.  If unsatisfied with the way it fills, you can lash a couple ounces of fishing weights into one side of the rim.  Technically, any rope that runs through a sleeve in canvas to strengthen it is called a bolt rope.

This is a spliced rim that I’ve bound with thread to make it more compact. This splice is so strong that you could tow a boat with it. A bucket rim doesn’t need to be anything like that strong.

This time, though, I think I will stitch the ends of three-strand together.  The reason being, that splicing both ends of a piece of line at the same time is unwieldy and time-consuming.  I think stitching will be faster and neater.  Besides, the rim doesn’t really need the strength of a splice.  That’s over-kill by a long shot.  It just needs to stay together.

Here’s a stitched rim. Very ugly with the rope ends melted to prevent unraveling. I’m away from home at this point, and don’t have access to all my resources. Ordinarily I would use a hot knife to melt and cut the line. It gives a much neater terminus. I will also tape over the joint to provide a smoother transition in the rim – not that it will make any difference once assembled.

After the rim line is joined into a circle (either stitched or spliced), it gets sewn into the rim.  So the line is placed just below the top of the bucket, and the top is folded down over it, then the top is sewn down to form the sleeve that contains the rim rope.

Finished rim. Now it needs grommets and the spliced rope handle.

Use a grommet setting tool to both cut the holes for the grommets, and set the 1/2 inch grommets into the rim below the rim rope, 180 degrees apart.


Handles are made up of a continuous piece of 3/8 inch three-strand polyester line.  Each end is passed through a grommet in the rim material underneath the rim line, and spliced onto itself to form a loop. This leaves you with an eye splice on each end of the handle.  And that’s it.  Takes about an hour to put together.  If you don’t have a sewing machine, plan for about 2.5 hours to include hand-stitching.

Grommetted with the handle spliced through.

Marking the canvas for the bottom. Just find a circular item that is the right diameter and use as a template.

Bottom sewn into place.

Finished product.

Filling a Canvas Bucket

Here is the main criticism of using canvas buckets.  They don’t fill immediately, or they are hard to fill with water.  Okay, this is a valid criticism.  There is a technique that works every time, but it isn’t instant filling, regardless.  You have a line 10-12 feet long tied to the handle of the bucket.  You drop the bucket overboard and… it only fills about 25 percent.  Now what?  Now  you lift it up just clear of the water and drop it back in.  As you lift it again, it’s filled 50 to 75 percent.  If you want it absolutely brimming with water, drop it back into the water again.  Third time is the charm.

So I still hear an objection:  This takes too long… too inconvenient… I just have to ask, what is the hurry?  You’re on a sailboat, after all.  You aren’t going to get there fast regardless.  Slow down.  It only takes an extra 30 seconds to get a full bucket of water.  I hear objections still, though… It can’t be used one-handed, like a hose.  And, I can’t direct the stream like a hose.  Both of these objections are true.  If you want hose-like capabilities, you should install a wash-down pump.  But – they use electricity, and I don’t want that.  They are infinitely more complicated than dipping up water from over the side, and I don’t want that.  They will eventually break, and I won’t want to fix it.  They are very convenient.  I’ll absolutely grant you that, but there is a price to pay that begins with purchase, installation and plumbing fun, and continues right through to repair, electrical usage, and periodically unclogging the through-hull strainer to keep it supplied with water to pump.

Think I’ll just dip up another bucket of water.

  1. And canvas (“duck” at the sewing store) comes in many colors, so you can match your boat’s colors, or your interior decorating scheme, or have different colors for different purposes… or just get white since it’ll probably fade and get dirty. ; )

    • Thanks for the comment! By the way – all who read the canvas bucket post should credit my wife Ruth for the great sewing.

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