Unbreakable Boat Dishes

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2010 • all rights reserved

Boat Dishes

I prefer to use “unbreakable” dishes on a boat.  I’ve found that the problem with breakable items isn’t so much on passage or at anchor in a squall, when the dishes are nicely tucked away in their storage cubby.  No, it’s having one slip out of your hand as you’re going up the companionway, or setting one down for “just a second” on a surface without a lip . . . and then a fishing boat goes by, kicking up a two-foot wave and giving your boat a quick roll.

And there you are — with two problems.  The immediate one is cleaning up the broken dish — never fun, but if you’re barefoot and standing in the middle of broken china you have to be very careful not to get slivers in your feet.  And if you’ve broken a couple of dishes, you’re going to have to find more — and depending on where you are, that can be a bit of a problem in itself.

So I opt for unbreakable dishes.

One quick note about buying dishes:  measure your storage cubby before buying dishes.  On many older boats — such as Que Tal — the cubby wasn’t designed for the super-sized plates available today.  Many times, what are sold as “lunch plates” fit better — and keep portion sizes in check.

There are basically three types of unbreakable dishes:

Cheap plastic and aluminum “camping” sets. These work, but they just aren’t that great for anything more than very occasional use.  A decent set of dishes doesn’t cost that much more, and make boat living seem much more like “home” and less like “making do.”  I don’t recommend these as the other choices are just so much nicer.  I also don’t recommend disposable dishes on environmental grounds — plus they just add to the trash management problem on board.

Image of brightly patterned melamine plateMelamine. Melamine tableware has come a long way from the “Melmac” of my youth.  The two big advantages of melamine are its light weight and bright colors and patterns.  It’s available in both solid colors and all sorts of patterns.

Melamine does not claim to be totally “unbreakable” but rather that it is “far more durable than china and stoneware.”  I’ve never had melamine break in the limited time I’ve used it.

The first disadvantages of melamine is that it cannot be used in a microwave (not a problem if you don’t use a microwave on your boat) — it will bubble up and turn black!

The second — and bigger — disadvantage is that it shows wear quickly.  Que Tal came with a set of melamine dishes and knife marks marred the surface after just a few months, and then I noticed that the design was getting duller and duller just from washing the dishes day after day.  The plates were still perfectly usable — they just didn’t look so good.

Finally, as it wears, melamine will also stain.  Coffee, tea and beets were the big culprits for me and I had to use a mild bleach solution to get the white parts looking white again.

For these reasons, I don’t recommend melamine for more than occasional use.  But if they’ll work for you, there are a lot of really cute melamine sets available on Amazon.

Image of Corelle dishesCorelle. Corelle was my choice for tableware on a boat.  It looks and feels like “real tableware” not something that you’re “making do” with.

Corelle is almost unbreakable.  It calls itself break-resistant and in numerous years of using it in apartments, camping and on Que Tal, I’ve only  had one plate break and that was when I dropped a heavy skillet on it.  And it didn’t shatter — it just neatly broke in two.  (DISCLOSURE:  since writing this, I’ve had my second piece of Corelle break . . . and it shattered.  Read Corelle Isn’t Shatterproof.  I still highly recommend Corelle!)

Corelle comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns, although none quite so bright as the melamine.  However, it will still look good after years of use as it doesn’t show cut marks from knives nor does it fade with washing.

Most stores sell Corelle in sets for 4, as well as in individual pieces (serving dishes are generally sold individually).  While the sets (such as that pictured above — usually a dinner plate, salad plate, small bowl and mug) seem to be a good deal, think about what you’ll actually use on your boat.

I found that I used the dinner and salad plates, but that the included bowl was too shallow for soup and cereal — if the boat rolled, liquid would slop out of the bowl.  I ended up buying Corelle’s larger size “Super Soup Bowl” (28 ounces) and then filling them only one-third to one-half full.  They also worked well as a small baking dish, as Corelle is oven and microwave safe.

You can also get a set of four of these deeper bowls along with a serving bowl, all in white.  This is usually cheaper than buying them separately.

I also found that we did not use the included mugs very often, as we generally preferred to use our insulated mugs for our coffee.  A further problem in trying to use the Corelle mugs was that they wouldn’t fit in our drink holders (and our insulated mugs did).

Thus, you may find it’s better to purchase pieces individually although some designs are available only in the sets — in which case, you can buy supplemental pieces individually.

Even though there were only two of us aboard, I found that a set of four just wasn’t sufficient.  While our cockpit was only big enough for us to invite one other couple over for dinner, by the time we had some snacks before dinner and I used a plate or two for serving dishes, I needed a set of 8 plates.

image of Corelle ramekinI also really like Corelle’s “little bowls” for serving nuts, olives, dips and so on.  They come in both a 12-ounce size and 6 ounce size (both in white only).  I have four of each and find that I use them almost every day.

Corelle also has a wide variety of serving dishes.  How many of these you find useful may depend on the size of your boat and the amount of storage you have.  On Que Tal, I preferred to use additional plates and bowls as my serving dishes instead of trying to carry more specialized dishes.

Finally, you may want to think a bit about your design choice.  I chose plain white round plates (they also have square) for several reasons.  While you may make a different choice, these may be points to consider:

  • I enjoy buying various textiles as we travel, and I use many as placemats or table runners.  Solid color dishes don’t clash.
  • Corelle has been making the same “winter white” round plates and matching serving dishes forever (I literally had the same dishes in college).  You can always get more that will match.

In most of my articles, I like buying things from Amazon, feeling that they have good prices.  And Amazon’s prices on Corelle aren’t horrible (I’ve seen far higher on other site) but if you’re thinking of getting one of the more commonly available designs, Wal-mart generally has better prices (Target is usually about the same as Amazon in my experience).  Amazon usually does have a wider selection of designs, however.

The one thing about Corelle (and also melamine) is that it doesn’t have a  nonslip bottom surface.  However, you can easily remedy this  — see “Non-Slip Solutions.”

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  1. Hi Carolyn
    I enjoy reading your posts on facebook. I wanted to share my experience with boat dishes. I have a set of Galleyware melamine (the brand West Marine carries) that came with my 20 yr old boat. They were not new but still look great. I added some pieces to the set. In 2009 I spoke to the Galleyware rep at the Annapolis Boat Show. He stated that warming (up to one minute) in a microwave is fine on their dishes. He had the exact specs (time vs. wattage)for different microwave ovens. I found this to be true.

    I have a friend on another boat who cautions against Corelle. She had more than one piece shatter. She stated that the shards were far more insidious to clean up than if they had been regular glass.

    I hope this is helpful. Happy boating!
    s/v CHASSEUR

    • Carolyn Shearlock says:

      Thanks for adding the info. I know that you can’t microwave bacon on the West Marine melamine (but yes, it takes far longer than one minute). And interesting about the friend who has had multiple pieces of Corelle shatter — we all have different experiences and I love hearing from others about theirs.

  2. I like how the square Corelle styles store so easily and do not roll.

  3. Two thumbs up for Corelle!

    Living aboard / cruising for 3.5 years and counting… 3 kids and lots of dropped dishes… corelle the whole time… not a single piece broken yet! It felt like a compromise at first because I compared them to the heft of our Williams-Sonoma dishes from land life, but I don’t feel that way any more and would get them again in a heartbeat.

  4. Hi Carolyn,

    Thanks for sharing this information. We are excitedly planning a move to the Caribbean to charter our own boat later this year. As I am in the process of liquidated our current household, I have been debating what dishes & kitchenware to take, and what will have no use on the boat. I love my serving platters and nicer dinnerware, but realize it is not practical on the boat. You confirmed that Corelle is probably the best choice!

    Thank You,

    • Tamera Buckley says:

      We like in Texas and are also liquidating our household and was wondering about glass baking dishes like Pyrex, are they considered unbreakable? I have a lot of pyrex baking dishes but not sure if they would be safe on a boat?
      Any comments?
      SV Kooky Dance

  5. Downeaster32 says:

    Recently picked up a “double walled stainless steel mixing bowl” which is definitely unbreakable and will keep my hot foods hot and cool foods cool. Ridiculously cheap as well, at Cost Plus. Of course it matches all the stainless elsewhere in the galley, shiny and bright.
    The small mixing bowl is about the right size for the boat’s “super jumbo salad bowl”, ha. Size is always relative 😀

  6. Nita Knighton on Facebook says:

    Melamine makes a pattern that looks as if its cut marked ( beige) , any marks you make add to the pattern. I found them at Walmart

  7. I have plain Corelle with a blue band.

  8. For fellow cruisers on the way south, Vero Beach has a Corning Ware Outlet with great prices, huge selection and helpful staff.

  9. I’ve dropped Corelle before and have it magically turn to slivers.

  10. Dan Thomas says:

    I have found that the Corelle Pie dishes make a great boat plate or serving platter. Think of a plate with a 1 ” or so lip around the edge. The side wall helps keep things on the plate, or can be used to cook in.

  11. Gloria Rooney says:

    Have used Corelle on the boat for over 30 years now and have only broken 2 pieces. I heartily endorse Corelle and just bought one of the square sets!

  12. Nancy Bradley Aubin, here’s a good one!

  13. D and Don svsoutherncross says:

    I concur with Carolyn, for us Corelle is best. We purchased our Pacific Rose pattern at the Corelle outlet store near Cincinnati Ohio, as before we left for cruising we lived in Columbus. As Carolyn says, buying individual pieces was the most cost effective for us since we did not want the coffee cups and saucers in the set. We too keep a set of 8 on board. We have broken one and Corelle replaced it free. It fell on a tile floor from counter height and shattered. It was a job cleaning it up. Even so, I like it better than plastic like melamine. I was going to try and include a photo of the pattern we use, but could not figure out how to do that. I like the tan border as it goes with our teak on the boat. The red and green of the flowers go well with the red and green of our boat colors. I will have to look for those bowls that Carolyn mentioned as I like those better than the ones we have which have sloping sides.

  14. Belinda Wolfe says:

    I have been using and loving Corelle since before I owned a boat. So, I was thrilled when the previous owner of our boat left me her Correlle. I inherited dinner, breakfast and bread plates in a pattern called “Memphis” which is somewhat nautical and I really like. I’m not sure if they still make it. I also inherited the Souper Soup bowls (blue rim) that Carolyn mentioned which I use a lot – especially as serving dishes. But I added 6 Pasta bowls (all white) which I use a lot for dinner salads, pasta or rice dishes and for serving dishes. I’m thinking of adding two more. I also have the 6 oz bowls that get used for dips, nuts but mostly ice cream! In my 30 years of using Correlle EVERY DAY I have NEVER broken one piece!

    M/V Rickshaw

  15. Here’s the link to that set and yes, it’s melamine — very pretty, unbreakable but don’t put in a microwave and they will show wear: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CMOYGGQ/?tag=theboagal0a-20

  16. I never seem to come across stuff like this when I’m purchasing items… We have boring yellow melamine plates, I love that design above!

  17. A friend told me about these Deco-plate.com dishes, and We bought a set of 4 to try them out. They are a new kind of food safe plastic that can me microwaved. They are heavier than the melamine dishes we’ve used for years – but they contain no melamine. They appear to be unbreakable (they’ve been dropped many times), , and I’ve put them in a microwave to heat frozen vegetables for 6-7 minutes, and the plate is barely warm. One really nice feature is that they can be customized with your boat name or logo.

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