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My Sea Kit

July 28, 2023

NOAA Pacific Islands region observer Erin Smeltzer describes a vital part of any trip out to sea: the “sea kit.”

Fishery observer holding a large tuna by the tail longer than her. Erin has worked as a NOAA Fisheries observer these past 8 months. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Erin Smeltzer

Before any trip out to sea, we fishery observers check that the fishing vessel we’re assigned has all of the required Coast Guard safety equipment. These items help make sure we’re physically OK throughout the trip…but what about our mental health? That’s where our “sea kits” come in! Lightweight sea kits help us get through weeks on the ocean by providing much needed comfort and entertainment.

What goes into the kit varies by observer, but there is one non-negotiable item for me: wipes. You never know if you’ll have an actual shower onboard. Or if showering will be impossibly challenging thanks to rough weather. Having wipes on hand is essential to avoid becoming known as “the stinky observer”!

Next up in my sea kit: music, podcasts, games, movies, and shows. I like to have a variety of entertainment downloaded onto my devices—even 5-year-old playlists that are no longer in my normal music rotation. I also like to include content I may not typically use, just in case I get tired of listening to or watching the same things week after week. And I don’t go anywhere without my e-reader. Unlike bulky, physical books, an e-reader is the perfect boat item because it’s tiny, lightweight, and less easily damaged by water, not to mention being able to store tons of content.

Loose colorful fruit gummies.
Fruity gummy snacks are a part of my sea kit. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Last but not least, I always include my favorite snacks and nonperishable food in my sea kit. Comfort food is vital when you don’t know what kind of food your crew will have. My kit staples are protein bars and shakes; fruit, yogurt, or smoothie squeeze pouches; fruit snacks; oatmeal; and juice. 

Curating the perfect individualized sea kit takes some trial and error. But ultimately, the items in the kits make observers feel well-prepared and comfortable to spend weeks at sea.

Meet the Blogger

Fishery observer on a small blue boat holding a fish by its mouth.


Erin Smeltzer has been a contracted NOAA Fisheries observer since October 2022. Her work with NOAA Fisheries’ Pacific Islands Region Observer Program allows her to spend time on boats with marine life and be in Hawaiʻi—a place she’s always wanted to live. What she likes most about working as an observer is being able to witness all types of fish, sharks, mammals, and birds in their natural environment. “It’s not everyday you get to see live hundred-pound tunas or seven-foot-long sharks in front of your very eyes,” she said. Erin is originally from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. She attended the University of Vermont and studied environmental studies. In her free time, Erin loves to hike, snorkel, go to the beach, and do anything outdoors.