There's never enough room in a boat refrigerator or cooler -- eliminate wasted space with this tip!

Bag It!

Whether your boat has an actual refrigerator or a cooler, I’ll bet that there’s never enough space in it.  And when you want to cool something, or keep leftovers, it’s a jigsaw puzzle to figure out how to fit it all in.

A couple of weeks ago, Dave and I did a family camping trip with a whole bunch of kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews and more — 21 total — where we just had one cooler for our food for the week.  Our cruising experience really paid off as I’d already figured out lots of “tricks” that the kids were just learning.  Every day, they’d stop by our camp site to see how I dealt with various challenges.

One daughter-in-law was interested in how I made salads for our lunch every day and couldn’t imagine where I had room to store a bowl of pasta salad to keep it chilled after making it just after breakfast.  Another wanted to see how I’d marinated veggies that I was going to roast for dinner in my Omnia stove-top oven (the Omnia got lots of questions and raves, too!).  Neither one could figure out how I’d had room in my cooler tucked in the back of our car.

The answer was freezer bags.  I almost never put “hard” containers into the cooler (or the boat refrigerator, for that matter), except for the large bins that I use to separate food.  Almost everything that needs to be chilled goes in Ziploc-type bags, and I double-bag really liquid things (such as marinades) or foods likely to puncture the bag.

No wasted space, they can fit in almost anywhere, the big bins have solid bottoms just in case something does spill, and many bags can be washed out and re-used.

Even better, the bags take up almost no room to stow when they’re not being used!

A quick note:  while I’ve never felt like we were camping out on Que Tal, over and over I’m struck by how many of the cooking and kitchen tricks I learned from one apply to the other.  And both are wonderful for being in the great outdoors!

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  • AKMary
    Posted at 08 August 2012 Reply

    Great tip! We’re getting ready to start our boat life next month and your site has answered a lot of questions we’ve tossed back and forth. We’ve got a lot to learn and are excited as heck for the adventure to begin. Thanks for the help!

  • Wendi Morrison on Facebook
    Posted at 07 April 2013 Reply

    Good idea, to bad it’s plastic.

    • PugetSoundCruiser
      Posted at 12 September 2015 Reply

      Yes, it is plastic unfortunately. But our food isn’t in there very long before it gets gobbled up anyway, so the exposure is minimal. What also helps is using the sturdier (stiffer) freezer bags that don’t contaminate as fast, plus the cold environment slows down the process as well. The freezer bags also seal better and don’t leak nearly as often. And a big plus is that if the ice melts a lot in the cooler, the food doesn’t get waterlogged and spoil.

  • Kim Veitch Davidson
    Posted at 15 December 2013 Reply

    I do this all the time.

  • Doug Hardekopf
    Posted at 15 December 2014 Reply

    I don’t own a boat but I camp in a teardrop. I love all your ideas on how to manage space.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 19 December 2014 Reply

      I love those! We looked into getting one several years ago.

  • Andrea Dollins
    Posted at 15 December 2014 Reply

    I think I keep Zip-Loc in business! …LOL 😉

  • Frances Liz Fernandez
    Posted at 16 December 2014 Reply

    I use those same storage techniques on the boat and use it too for thanksgiving leftovers!

  • LindaJ
    Posted at 30 July 2015 Reply

    We have a good old fashioned ice box aboard, how do you keep things from getting “yucky” resting atop the ice? That’s been my biggest problem when we do our 10 day “summer vacation” or can you give me a link to where you may have provided helpful tips in this type of situation? Love your blog!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 30 July 2015 Reply

      Food in the ice melt is just nasty, isn’t it? Here’s my solution: Using an Ice Box for Food Storage

      • PugetSoundCruiser
        Posted at 12 September 2015 Reply

        I really like your cooler baskets solution! We usually have 3 coolers in use at all times (for 4-6 people) plus the tiny refrigerator for a 7-10 day cruise. We start out with as many foods frozen as possible too. They keep for days longer that way, as you have mentioned. After losing too many veggies to ice-melt submerging disasters, we started pre-freezing tap water in screw-top milk jugs to put in the coolers instead of using loose or block ice. A couple of times our drinking water supply ran low, so we drank (and cooked with) the water in the jugs that had thawed. We found out that it also has helped to keep veggies and dairy/eggs together in one of the coolers so the lettuce and eggs don’t get crushed by heavier items. But your baskets-and-racks idea would easily remedy that.

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