Buying Galley Equipment

By Carolyn Shearlock, copyright 2010 . All rights reserved.

Image of Magma Nonstick CookwareWhen buying galley equipment, there are at least 13 important points to consider before making a purchase.  Here’s a buying guide to help sort out what will work best for you:

1.  Do I really need it? With limited space aboard all but the largest boats, think about whether you use something often enough to justify the storage space.

2.  Can I use it in the space I have available? Work space and cooking space is generally smaller in a galley than a house kitchen.  Counters and drawers aren’t as deep, the sink isn’t as large, the oven and stovetop are smaller.  The cubby for your dishes may not be large enough for some of the “super-size” plates sold.  I learned to measure any space before I went to the store!

3.  Can I stow it? Everything aboard has to stow securely whenever the boat moves.  Will it fit in the locker space available?  Will it need anything special to keep from breaking or scratching?  Another big issue can be if something is likely to be noisy when stowed and what I can do to keep it quiet, such as padding with pieces of fleece.

4.  Will it work when I need it to? Things that don’t do what they should are enough of an annoyance when living ashore, but are close to a catastrophe if you’re 100 miles or more from a replacement. To me, “working when it needs to” includes things like can openers not breaking as well as food storage containers that don’t leak with the motion of the boat.

When I’m buying something I’m unfamiliar with, I look for items with a number of reviews by real-life users and pay close attention to poor reviews.  I want to know why they dislike the product; then I can decide if it will also be a problem for me.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to find reviews that talk about using kitchen equipment on a boat — and one of my purposes in developing a website with recommendations specifically for boat galleys.

5 – 7.  Is it break-resistant?  Rust resistant? Non-slip? These are all important considerations in the marine environment.  It’s often cheaper in the long run to buy higher quality initially.  I don’t just blindly purchase (or recommend) the higher cost alternative on the assumption it’s better, but look at factors such as scratch and break resistance, rust resistance, tendency to tip over, and the ability to hold onto it as the boat moves.

8.  What’s it made of? In a lot of ways, this is related to the questions above.

  • High quality, heavy stainless steel is always a favorite of mine.  It is highly rust resistant and won’t break unless you really abuse it.  In pans, the heavier the stainless the better — it’s less likely to warp as it heats and cools, and it will also conduct heat more evenly.
  • Soft (not brittle) plastic is also a good choice for mixing bowls and serving dishes, although markings (such as on measuring cups and spoons) wear off quickly.  I greatly prefer stainless measuring cups and measuring spoons with markings etched or stamped in.
  • Glass can break, and I generally avoid it onboard since I’m always barefoot.  If you do have glass aboard (it’s hard to totally avoid it), choose thicker pieces over thinner.  They may cost more initially, but you’ll have far less breakage.  This is particularly important if you decide to use real glass drinkware and especially for stemware — delicate stems look beautiful but have no place on a boat.
  • Polycarbonate plastic (Lexan) is a popular alternative to glass.  However, while it is quite shatter-resistant, it scratches easily.  In just a year, glasses will start looking worn — but they’re still servicable.  Even with polycarbonate, you need to pay attention to sturdiness, as I’ve had the stems of several polycarbonate wine glasses snap at their narrowest point.
  • Break-resistant dishware has been around for years.  I’m not a big fan of melamine dishes if you’re living aboard and using them daily, as my experience has been that they quickly show wear.  They are great for occasional use, however, as they’re lightweight (always a plus on the boat),  heat and shatter-resistant and come in all sorts of wonderful designs.   They can’t be put in the microwave, though — something I read on the back of my dishes only after I burned one to a crisp.  For daily liveaboard use, my preference is Corelle: it’s hard to break, looks and feels like “real dishes,” comes in lots of designs and can be used in the oven and microwave.

10 – 12.  Will it help me conserve power? water? storage space? No boat, it seems, has enough electricity.  Therefore, I favor manual tools and non-electric options.  Ease of cleaning plays a big part in water conservation:  nonstick pans and items that don’t have little cracks and grooves that are hard to wash by hand are best.  Nesting pans, bowls and storage containers conserve space.

13.  Affordability. I don’t blindly purchase the most expensive choice, figuring that it must be the “best,” nor do I always go for the cheapest on the grounds that it’s all I can afford.  To me, affordability is more of a long term consideration:  what will be the least expensive in the long run?  Will the item last?  Will it do what I want it to?

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Comments

  1. > Wood harbors bacteria

    I haven’t found any credible, peer-reviewed scientific data to support this position. In fact there are some indications that wood cutting surfaces may be better than plastic with respect to bacteria growth, particularly if a high temperature dishwasher isn’t available. I use a vinegar-water solution in a spray bottle to clean and disinfect my wooden cutting boards (one for meats, one for chicken, and one for veg).

    > Glass can break

    Certainly true, but I have been unwilling to give up glass for drinking from – glass for large–well-glasses and crystal for wine and liquor. In six years aboard I have broken only one piece of crystal.

  2. Wood cutting boards should always be treated and kept oiled after cleaning with Mineral Oil ONLY! Never use Corn Oil, Olive Oil, Veg. Oil etc. as these Oils will go “rancid”.

  3. Hi Carolyn,

    First I want to compliment you on a great web space. I do most of the cooking when we are out, mostly because I love to as it takes me to my past and my back country days. Your site has been a great source of info and I am looking forward to your cookbook.

    I started using an Omnia stove top oven back in the 70′s when I was backpacking. If I had plans for a base camp while climbing/exploring in areas of the PNW I would take this great little oven. There was nothing like baking up something for dinner or breakfast.

    When I transitioned to sailing I could only offered the small boats where I used my camp stove and Omnia. I was able to take a varity of raw goods and bake some amazing food like cheesy scalloped potatoes, blackberry crumble, lasagna and breads.

    We now have a 30 footer that came with a 2 burner stove and I looked at installing a unit with an oven. We would loose some precious storage and I would have one more project on my list. Decided the Omnia is still the best solution.

    I just wanted to share this with you so you could add your thoughts and recommend some optional equipment for space challanged cruisers.

    Best Regards,
    Rob B
    s/v Otter

  4. Jimmy Stewart says:

    As far as saving space is concerned, one way is for authors to have their wonderful books I want to buy available on Kindle or IBooks or both! I am at the point where I cannot get anymore books unless they’re in electronic form.
    Thank you,
    Jimmy

    • The Boat Galley Cookbook will be available in Kindle and many other electronic formats — the print ones shipped early, but the others are coming very soon — as quickly as they make their way through Amazon’s process!

      Thanks! — Carolyn

  5. Cap'n Seana says:

    Bamboo cutting boards clean with vinegar dish soap and do not mind dunking in 35 part per thousand sea water and a rinse in fresh. ( I am a microbiologist and have never found anything that scares me about this…and yes, I looked).
    I have stainless, and some cast iron that gets heavy use. Seasoned properly, cast iron is durable and is simple to clean. The more one uses it… the easier cleaning in salt water becomes. Rust ceases to be a problem once it has a good coat of carbon. It can be had, cheap, at maquilledora outlets. You do have to keep away from your compass when not in use, :)

  6. I am pretty new to this so I have actually taken your advice pretty seriously when collecting for my little galley. What you are offering makes a lot of sense.

  7. I agree with Cap’n Seana. Good, heavy cast iron will always have a place on my boat. I have a couple of square pieces on Auspicious – one flat and one with grill ridges. They work great on the stove, in the oven, and even on the grill.

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