A Microwave on the Boat?

By Carolyn Shearlock, copyright 2013 . All rights reserved.

Microwave on a Boat

I’ve pretty much always had a microwave since I left college and began living on my own.  But frankly, I was surprised when Que Tal had one aboard when we bought her.  I’d never really thought of having one on a boat.

A couple of readers have asked me my thoughts on having one and whether it’s a good idea.  Simple answer:  it depends.  There’s no universal answer, so all I can do is give you some things to think about.

First, there isn’t one “typical” TBG reader — some are living aboard and prepping a boat to go on an extended cruise, some are full-time cruising, some are weekenders, and all sorts of others.

In deciding whether you want a microwave, there are basically three things to consider:

  • The room it will take up;
  • How much you’ll use it; and
  • Whether you have the power for it.

Space

Space is probably the simplest consideration and is simply a matter of whether you’re willing to give up space for something else (equipment or just storage) in order to have the microwave.  You’ll have to make sure that you can get power to the intended location and engineer a tie-down system to make sure that the microwave won’t go flying in rough conditions.

Usage

Your microwave usage ashore may or may not be a good indicator of how much you’ll use it on the boat.  If you’re working (or working on the boat as opposed to cruising) and the boat is at the dock, you may find that your lifestyle is very similar on the boat to ashore and your usage is about the same — heating up meals, cooking bacon and baked potatoes, melting butter, boiling water and so on.

The difference comes when you’re away from the dock — there are both pluses and minuses:

  • Unless you have a large freezer, you’re not likely to have a lot of frozen meals to just heat in the microwave (few anchorages have a store where you can just pick up something to heat up).
  • Water actually boils faster in a teakettle on the stove, and if you’re on passage or in a rolly anchorage, it’s safer as it’s less likely to splash on you than in an open container in the microwave.
  • It’s also a lot safer to melt butter on a gimballed stove than to risk hot oil sloshing in the microwave.
  • In rough conditions, many cruisers love being able to “bake” potatoes in the microwave — it’s easy, you can often use the microwave when it’s too rough for the stove, and potatoes are good even if you’re mildly seasick.
  • It’s also somewhat safer to cook bacon in the microwave than on the stove, particularly if it’s rolly.  Just be sure to use enough paper towels to absorb the hot grease so it won’t slosh and burn you when you remove the dish from the microwave.
  • If you like popcorn (and it’s a great snack), making it in the microwave is much easier than on the stove.  And at least the microwave can be used for other things, where an air popper can’t.  Popcorn was BY FAR our biggest use!
  • Thawing meat — well, I know I shouldn’t thaw meat on the counter.  But in the tropics, a chicken breast will thaw in about 15 minutes and so I do it that way instead of thawing it in the microwave.  And you can cook any meat from frozen or partially frozen.  However, if you’re in a cooler climate, you might use it for thawing . . .

Many people find that they use their microwave as a bread box away from the dock.  It’s also a good place to put small electronics during a thunderstorm (read more about this).

Power

Yeah, this is the big one.  On shore power, no problem as long as the boat is wired with outlets where you need them.  At anchor, it means a generator or an inverter and sufficient battery and charging capacity.

A typical microwave is 1200 watts.  With these, you’re going to need at least a 2000 watt generator or a 1500 watt inverter (due to start up loads).  With a 700 watt microwave, you may be able to get by with a 1000-watt generator or invertor.

If you’re going to use generator power, keep in mind that you’ll have to run the generator every time you want to use the microwave.  Most people find it impractical and end up either not using the microwave at anchor or deciding to run it off the inverter.  If you’re thinking about this, you might want to read Inverters 101 and Running a Microwave on an Inverter.

So how much battery power will it take to run the microwave?  I’ll use a 1200 watt microwave as the example — the total power used by a 700-watt one is about the same as cooking/heating/thawing times are correspondingly longer.

Ignoring any losses in the system (there are always inefficiencies but battery voltage is usually over a true 12 volts, so this works for estimation purposes), a 1200 watt microwave is going to use 100 amps at 12 volts.  That’s 100 amp-hours for a full hour of use . . . but we just want to know how much it uses per minute since that’s how we use it.  Dividing 100 amp-hours by 60 to get the amp-hours per minute, gives us 1.67 amp-hours per minute of microwave use.  Ten minutes is nearly 17 amp-hours.

From there, you can figure about how much you think you’d use it per day and design your power system accordingly . . . or decide that you don’t want it . . . or that you’ll only use it when you have shore power.

The space/usage/power analysis is different for everyone.  I know some cruisers who couldn’t imagine not having a microwave and others who gave theirs away after realizing that they didn’t use it enough to justify the space.

How about you?

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Comments

  1. Christine Warren on Facebook says:

    We have a microwave on our boat…and we love it. We do popcorn…hot water for coffee, tea and hot cocoa….and rice in it. We recently got a small clay pot that does chicken perfectly in the microwave…but haven’t tried it ourselves yet….we did try it at a pampered chef show and it was delicious. We tend to cook our meats on the grill that is mounted on the swim platform.

  2. We left ours behind. It’s such a power hog, and we were only using it for re-heats, so we filled the space with much more useful items. We currently live aboard, and are a year away from full time cruising, so best to get used to not having one.

  3. Our new boat had a microwave and we removed it – considering we would never use it as we have never had one on previous boats. We do get better use out of a toaster oven, for toast, grilling, and heating snacks and pre-cocked pies, meat and veg. Toaster ovens are a little smaller, lighter and easy to store. They may not be easier on power but I have the luxury of a 2k inverter and generator on board. A great compliment to existing galley ranges.

    • Actually, an air popper is great for roasting coffee beans. If you are into that sort of thing. I converted our coveted microwave space into much needed storage. Kept it on board for the first year and never used it, then in storage the second year in case I changed my mind. Lots of work arounds to not having one. Bacon…cook up a few pounds in a nice deep pot to contain splatter… Freeze or refrigerate what you don’t use and throw in a pan to heat up, or eat at room temp. Yum.

  4. I put a microwave on Auspicious. A year later I took it off. I have hung on to it, and when we hauled the boat for the winter (the first time in seven years!) I moved the microwave onto the boat again. For us, while cruising, it just doesn’t make sense to give up the space and power for a microwave.

  5. We have one and only used it when in a marina.. now after 8 years of not being in a marina very often I forget about it if we are. I am not sure of its safety after so long at sea either..Skipper wants to remove it but it is a useful cupboard and where it is does not impinge on my galley space.
    We are living in a house at the moment and I forget I have one here too. Getting used to using it for defrosting meat and heating up leftovers..

  6. Roberta Casentieri says:

    Just about to buy a microwave but having second thoughts after reading your interesting article
    I have been liverboard a narrow bost for nearly eight years. Thank u

  7. Gord Wedman says:

    I guess I have had a microwave in my kitchens for 40 years or more. So handy for cooking and reheating leftovers. I have been living onboard for 10 years now and always use my microwave when in my marina. I don’t really find the space it takes up to be an issue and will take it with me when I go south next year. Plan on having a Honda Eu2000i generator but can run it from my batteries.

  8. We took ours off. It makes a good storage area, conveniently located.

  9. seadaddler says:

    Love our microwave and use it alot for the type of cruising we do here in Florida,I do have a gen and 2000/inverter
    and even added 2-195 watt solar panels and have 4-6volt batteries which do a great job charging my batteries.
    We are big battery power users for also TV and computers and chaging smart phone with hot spot for internet and electric coffee maker so we are well setup for charging batteries at anchor with solar and Gen.
    Nick

  10. All boats should have a microwave oven, to store handheld GPS and radios in an electrical storm.

  11. LaMarr Harding says:

    I have a 12 volt Wavebox microwave (I used large wire and its close to the battery) in my minivan. I use it to heat hot dogs, heat water for jello, water for rice, noodles, powdered potatoes and oatmeal (I dump it in a wide mouth thermous to cook), an egg in a sprayed measuring cup, heat precooked bacon and sausage (No splatters)

    Living in a minivan it gives me the food I want without the fumes of cooking in an enclosed space.

  12. Shelly Young says:

    A microwave is important on our boat for all the above reasons. We are a cook once, eat twice boat which means we are reheating all the time.

  13. Mary Dixon says:

    We’ve cruised for months & yrs at a time w/out a microwave. My pressure cooker is used often even for popcorn. I love to cook on the boat so the microwave isn’t important. We currently live in our lake house for 6 mos that does have a microwave & our 37′ sailboat for 6 mos w/out microwave. It works for us.

  14. Becky Croston says:

    Our Ericson 32 was too small for a microwave. The max vacation we had was 3 weeks. Now with a Ponderosa 42 (stink -pot) we have lots of space for 2 people. We’ll spend 5 mo. “to Alaska ” and will NOT use the micro. We don’t stay at docks and the power consumption vs. gain is negative. The barbe is the best investment.

  15. My microwave came as part of the galley. I use it for all overnight trips. I do pre-cook everything I can and plan accordingly so everything that needs to get zapped happens in success ion. So I only have to shut off nonessential items and run the generator as necessary. Otherwise we don’t use it that often.

  16. We use ours everyday! … As a bread box…… yes, it’s in an up high useless space above the refrigerator

  17. No microwave for me. Not worth the space. I do love my pressure cooker.

  18. Mine has a microwave over the stove, factory setup. I use the exhaust fan and use it for storage. Popcorn and the occasional reheat of leftovers is the only real microwave duty it does.

  19. With solar panels and inverter- our Beneteau First26 is our weekend live aboard – and the microwave is worthy! Small and tucked efficiently away, the popcorn is always a hit and tie up dinners are assisted by its presence. Need? Probably not. Luxury yes. Will I have one again? Yes!

  20. No Way !!! Circe is a steel yacht and I would NEVER use a microwave on any steel or ally vessel. If the microwave leaks then it turns your boat into a microwave. They are powered by a magnetron the same as a Radar and you wouldn’t stand in front of a Radar. If your vessel is GRP or wood then you should always have a microwave leakage detector.

  21. We love ours!

  22. This was a timely post!!! My husband and I were just kicking around the pros and cons of getting a microwave for our boat. We were leaning towards no, but had not decided for certain. You have given us confirmation of the issues we were wrestling with. I think we will live without one. Thanks so much for you input!!!

  23. We have a convection microwave instead of an oven, and installed a dishwasher drawer where the oven was. However we’re on a power boat with a generator. Would love to add solar on the bimini.

  24. Reading this article again, and my own comment, I think Carolyn and I both missed a crucial element. If you use a microwave often ashore you will miss it afloat. If you didn’t use it much ashore you won’t miss it. This is much less superficial than it seems.

    If you really cook (as opposed to reheating) in a microwave ashore then there will be additional stress associated with cooking without one. Moving aboard and cruising, particularly in the beginning, is stressful enough. Don’t add additional factors if you don’t need to.

    So for those for whom “potato,” “popcorn,” “boiiing water,” or “rice” cause a microwave to leap to mind then by all means plan for a microwave. For my part “potato” means baking in the oven or on the grill, “popcorn” and “rice” means a saucepan, and “boiling water” means a kettle. There is no judgment intended on my part – my point is that you shouldn’t change things you don’t have to in the process of moving aboard and going cruising.

    No matter what, there will almost certainly be adjustments to your cooking style when you move aboard.

    For my part, I traded two food processors and a blender for a single Immersion (stick) blender. I traded my drip coffee maker for a percolator. I added a pressure cooker (which I discovered I love and should have procured 30 years ago). Over the last eight years I have added home pressure canning to my repertoire.

    My message is that you will change your style. Don’t force yourself. Let it happen. In the meantime, if you cook with a microwave ashore put one on your boat.

    If all you do with a microwave is reheat things then ask around (Carolyn is a good place to start) for how to reheat without one. A little water, a little steam, sometimes a dry pan, a bit of oven – you’ll be surprised how easy it is to reheat food without a microwave.

    None of this is about right or wrong, seamanlike, or whatever. It’s about building a comfortable life afloat.

    sail fast and eat well, dave

  25. No, no, no :)

  26. Jim Watson says:

    Our 30 ft sedan bridge had a small microwave that slid around the counter-top while underway. The boat also had no oven. Our solution was to replace the microwave with a microwave/convection oven and with some minor modifications, I was able to “build it in” under the sink and still hide it behind the cabinet doors when not it use. It gained us precious counter space and provided an over which expanded the variety of dishes we are able to prepare.

  27. No. Not necessary. It makes you rely on plugging in to the electric ashore. We have lived aboard for three years and NEVER use shore power for anything.

  28. That’s MY microwave! And it mostly gets used as a bread/snacks box. :)

  29. I traded mine for an ice maker

  30. Jim Watson says:

    Our icemaker was fine at the time, but bit this dust this fall.

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