Guide to Cooking on a Boat

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two bowls of green curry on cockpit table

How to Prepare Delicious Meals in the Boat Galley

Cooking on a boat can be a gratifying experience. There’s no doubt that boat living provides a unique culinary experience, especially since food is such a large part of life aboard.

How you adjust to cooking in your galley can significantly impact your adjustment to life on a boat. So, of course, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, space is limited, so you’ll need to be careful about what you bring onboard. Secondly, you’ll need to be prepared for unexpected challenges, like limited water and power. But if you’re up for the challenge, cooking on a sailboat can be a truly amazing part of your journey living aboard.

6 Steps to Good Meals on a Boat

There are a few things that make preparing meals on a boat more challenging.

  • Small prep and cooking area
  • Limited access to ingredients
  • Limited and inconvenient storage
  • Movement of the boat
  • Living off-grid with limited resources

With the right galley equipment, knowledge of cooking in a small space, and a curated selection of boat recipes, you can transform into a seasoned chef on the water.

Here are six steps to guide you when learning how to cook on a boat and prepare easy boat meals.

1. What to Cook on a Boat

You can cook pretty much anything on a boat (well, maybe not a 15-pound Thanksgiving turkey). But for the most part, you can make anything you want with a few adjustments.

easy buddha bowl meal

To consistently cook good meals onboard, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Your small fridge will hold only so many fresh items.
  • You won’t have easy access to a grocery store.
  • You will be operating in a small prep space.

There are a few changes you can make to combat these challenges.

  • Cook with a mix of fresh, dried, and canned ingredients to stretch your fresh provisions.
  • Find flexible boat recipes where you can easily substitute ingredients.
  • Focus on one or two pot meals and minimal galley equipment.

For getting started with cooking ideas and recipes for boat food, check out our favorite boat cookbook, The Boat Galley Cookbook.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Our recipes and ideas for breakfast on a boat.

2. Provisioning

You usually don’t need a lot of planning or forethought for everyday shopping trips.

Living on a boat is much different in this aspect, especially if you won’t have access to a store for days or weeks at a time.

close up of groceries stacked in grocery cart

You have to track your provisions and keep a detailed running shopping list to ensure the boat stays well stocked.

When you do a large provisioning run, it’s a bit of an event. You’ll buy a ton of items, and then you’ll need to store everything appropriately when you get back to the boat. Getting rid of excess packaging and storing things with freshness in mind are both crucial onboard.

3. Meal Prep and Cooking from Scratch

You will have so much more flexibility and control if you cook mostly from scratch. Not to mention you’ll make tastier meals!

fresh bread in oven pan on top of stove

Cooking from scratch gives you the ability to create the perfect meal when you have access to fresh food and make what you want when you want it. This will be a tremendous asset when you are in areas where you just can’t buy certain things.

Things to Make Instead of Buy

  • Bread, bagels, pizza dough (if these are staples for you, consider a bread machine)
  • Yogurt and homemade granola (you’ll need a bit of leftover yogurt or yogurt starter to make yogurt)
  • Hummus and pesto
  • Pasta and pizza sauce
  • Salad dressing
  • Stock and broth (see also How to Make Vegetable Broth from Scraps)

These are just a few ideas. Apply this to meals you enjoy and learn to make that dish with basic ingredients.

4. Maximizing Limited Space in the Galley

The lack of storage space in the average galley will lead you to be more thoughtful about where you put things.

storage baskets in sailboat galley cabinet

Galley equipment and ingredients need to be accessible and protected. You want to be able to easily get to things while also keeping food away from humidity and bugs.

Here are a few ways to get creative with boat galley storage solutions.

  • Using Command hooks to hang utensils and other galley equipment in cabinets.
  • Capitalize on vertical storage.
  • Store ingredients in baskets in the fridge and cupboards so you can easily pull out the containers to get to what you need.
  • Get rid of any extra packaging and cardboard and store ingredients in plastic zip locks inside air-tight containers.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Our ideas for zero waste swaps for small spaces.

5. Boat Galley Equipment and Essentials

Lack of space and limited power and water resources all impact what sailboat cooking essentials you keep available.

food chopper with onion inside

What Boat Cooking Equipment Should You Bring Aboard?

Here are a few questions to ask and things to consider.

  • Required storage space, how big is the item?
  • Is it hard to clean? Will it be a hindrance when conserving water?
  • Does it need power? Can you power it when you’re off the grid?
  • Is it durable? The marine environment can be harsh.
  • Can it be used for multiple purposes in the galley?

Think about these questions when you’re making decisions on how to outfit your galley. Try to whittle down your kitchen appliances by selecting tools that can do more than one job.

6. Find Your Cooking Style and Embrace It

Different kitchens require different styles of cooking. Take what you already like to make in the kitchen and use the tips above to adjust for boat life.

sushi dinner spread on dinner table

When you hone in on your style, embrace it fully.

  • Discover ingredients that will last longer or research substitutes so you can make your favorite meals weeks after your last provisioning.
  • Select the right tools for your cooking style and the meals you like to make most often.
  • Find the best way to make your favorite meals from scratch – let this new lifestyle drive your creativity in the kitchen.

On a final note, it’s great to get tips from other boaters, but ultimately ‘you gotta do you’ in your boat galley. 

Your galley design, power setup, and what you like to eat should dictate how you cook on a boat.

Ready to learn more about living on a boat?

For tips on boat gear, cruising full-time, and more – check out our full guide.

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