Chartering is a great way to see what cruising is all about. But if you've never provisioned a bare boat, it can be a little daunting. Here's how I do it . . .

Charter Meal Planning

Chartering is a great way to try out life on a big boat or visit an area that you might not take your own boat to.  Prior to buying Que Tal, we did three bareboat charters in the BVI, along with crewed charters in Alaska and Turkey.

With a bareboat charter, you typically have three choices for provisioning:

  • Buy a package through the charter company.  Typically the easiest but most expensive and least flexible.
  • Order ahead through a provisioning company (note that this is not always an option).  Typically there is an online or fax form to fill out ahead of time and the food will be delivered to your boat at a specified time.  Typically less expensive and more flexible than going through the charter company, but requires you to plan your meals ahead of time so that you don’t lose a day of your charter to buying food.
  • Buying food at local stores once you’re at the charter base.  Least expensive, quite flexible if you’re willing to go to numerous stores to get exactly what you want, and typically takes the better part of a day since you don’t know the local stores.  If you don’t know the language, it can be frustrating!

If you’re doing either of the last two, you’ll have to do some meal planning in advance. Deciding to just wing it doesn’t usually work!  On all three of our trips to the BVI, we opted for self-provisioning through Ample Hamper, a provisioning company almost next door to the charter company.  (See my article on provisioning companies in the BVI — there are several.)

So the question is, how do you come up with the shopping list?  Well, I can tell you how I did it . . . and if you’ve got additional tips, please add them.

  1. Shortly after we made our reservation, I asked the others chartering with us what they liked and got answers along the lines of “oh, whatever.”  Not very helpful!
  2. So then I made up a sheet with breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks/drinks each day and filled in my choices, leaving a couple of dinners open for restaurants ashore.
  3. I passed the proposed meal plan around and now I did get comments both positive and “well, I’d prefer . . .”  Much more helpful!
  4. I took the comments and re-worked the meal plan so that everyone was pretty happy.
  5. Then I went through and listed the ingredients (including amounts) for every dish and snack item.  Don’t forget things such as spices, non-stick spray, aluminum foil, Ziploc bags, trash bags, paper towels, toilet paper and dish soap.  Charter boats generally have nothing on board, not even salt and pepper.  Check with your charter company and plan accordingly.
  6. I next went through and added up all the quantities of each item (such as three carrots for one salad, four more as part of one day’s snacks, etc.).  I did this by using a spreadsheet with the dish on the left, the the quantity in the next cell and the item on the right.  Then I sorted by the “item” column which put all of one ingredient together, making it easy to add them together.
  7. Then I did a little adjusting so that things were in even amounts to buy.

Two things to keep in mind as you are planning meals:  first, you’re likely to be more active than usual, and eat more.  We found a mid-afternoon snack was key, and we all ate a little more than usual for lunch and dinner.  Second, you didn’t charter so you could spend all your time cooking in beautiful places.  Plan meals that don’t take a lot of time to prepare so that the cook(s) have plenty of time for the snorkeling, sailing, enjoying the view and just being on vacation.

It used to be that many charterers would take spices, Ziplocs and so on from home in their suitcase.  It may still be practical to tuck a few small things in, but extra bag fees have made it so that it’s often more expensive to take things from home than it is to buy them on site, even at higher “resort” princes.

It’s usually equally impractical to take any remaining supplies home.  I always tried to plan meals so that didn’t need little bits of lots of different things.  Often you can make small changes so avoid needing just a little of two similar things.  For example, I knew I needed olive oil for a couple of recipes, so I decided that I could use it in place of nonstick spray in a couple of other dishes.

If you’re using a provisioning service as I did, be sure to take a copy of your list with you and check everything off as you unpack it. You don’t want to find out that something is missing when you go to use it!

Also, if you’re using a provisioning company, they may allow you to return unopened packages of nonperishable items such as water and paper goods, although they may give you less than a full refund.  Check with the company you’re using — it can be helpful if you’re not really sure of how much you’ll use of an essential item such as toilet paper (yeah, I’d rather lose a little on the return than be short!).

Be sure to take any recipes that you need along with you.  If you have a tablet, e-reader or smartphone, these can be an easy way to take recipes or entire cookbooks.  You can take photos of recipes or scan them and download to your device.

Above all — have a great time!

I'd like to know about...

Explore more

Want weekly tidbits of cruising information? Sign up for The Boat Galley's free weekly newsletter. You'll get the newest articles and podcasts as well as a few relevant older articles that you may have missed.

Do you find The Boat Galley useful? You can support the site when you buy from Amazon by using the links on this site or clicking below. No extra cost for you!

  • Molly Stokes
    Posted at 09 January 2013 Reply

    We are RVers as well as sailors. Depending on the time-line, we always had a dry supper available on board. Example: spaghetti with a can of clam sauce, small jar of parmesian cheese. garlic bread sticks and marinated artichoke hearts. This is in case we couldn’t get to a grocery store on land or didn’t feel like going ashore to a restaurant due to weather, etc. I sail with an all-women crew.( heaven). We e-mail the grocery list around before the sail and each women is responsible for an evening meal. That way, we don’t get salad for three nights in a row! You are right about being hungrier when you sail.

  • tami
    Posted at 09 January 2013 Reply

    for our first charter, we waaaay overbought. We gave our extra stuff to the fellas working the charter docks, who took it home to their families. I got the impression this was commonly done and it’s nice to help folks out

  • LaDonna
    Posted at 09 January 2013 Reply

    In the BVI there are two stores where you can order on line and have it delivered to the boat: Bobbys and Riteway. We’ve used Bobbys on 3 occasions and had great service. Also order liquor that way and it worked great from Tico. Having it delivered to the boat was great, especially not lugging all that bottled water. We usually spent the mornning after our sleep aboard running to pick out our own fresh veggies and Bobbies would even pick us up and return us to the charter company.

  • Rebecca Kyes
    Posted at 28 August 2013 Reply

    Took out rehabbed sailboat on her maiden voyage last week (quite the experience for two people that had never sailed a ship before.). We were amazed at how little you really need on a boat–we thought we had pared down everything, including meals, but we could have lived a month on the week’s worth of provisions we took. we found ourselves moving massive quantities of “stuff” from here to there like a Dr. Seuss book every time we needed to do something different. Thanks Carol for advising us, or we might have had enough food for a year!

  • Elizabeth
    Posted at 28 August 2013 Reply

    Thanks Carolyn for the great tips! You can also scan things onto your Kindle Cloud for access to recipes from afar.
    Sail Away Girl

  • Dave Skolnick (S/V Auspicious)
    Posted at 04 August 2016 Reply

    Managing a charter trip is a challenge. As Carolyn notes, in the early stages everyone is trying to be nice and acommodating. As she found you have to give them something to comment on as most people won’t share in the face of an open-ended question.

    It helps to know a bit of culinary science. For example there are people for whom cilantro tastes like soap (there is a gene for this interestingly). If someone doesn’t like mustard they won’t like capers. For some people mouth feel is as important as taste (I despise okra because of the slimy feel, the taste is fine). Of course there is a limit to how much psychology and chemistry you want to apply to meal planning. *grin*

    There are also personal characteristics. Some charter groups send the skipper and chef down a day ahead to do what they are good at. Spread the housing cost among the entire group and everyone will be happy.

    Which leads to an important factor. Unless the chef (and possibly skipper) get some tangible benefit being “in charge” should not mean do all the cooking. The designated chef should know where everything is stowed, have a meal plan, and be prepared to provide guidance. S/he should not be slaving away in the galley while everyone else is hanging in the cockpit.

    Plan for a welcome-aboard spread for your group. Adult beverages of choice and some appetizers gets everyone in the mood for your trip and maintains a captive audience for the skipper to reinforce previously agreed guidelines, remind everyone of their tasks that day, and make adjustments for what you find on the boat.

    In the BVI we started with Ample Hamper in the 80s, switched to Bobby’s in the 90s, and now use Riteway. Things change.

  • Diana Wasiuk
    Posted at 26 December 2017 Reply

    Could you recommend a crewed charter company in Alaska?

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 26 December 2017 Reply

      Unfortunately I can’t. We used a small mom and pop company when we went, but they are no longer offering charters. There aren’t any large companies operating there, so a lot of it is just Google searches and then contacting the companies to get a feel for them. AN Alaska charter is amazing, though.

  • Harriet
    Posted at 26 December 2017 Reply

    When we charter with another couple for a week, each of us plans 2 dinners and 3 lunches. The numbers vary depending on restaurant availability. We usually bring the spices and small items needed for our meals. When we chartered last May in the Exumas we filled our duffels with snacks and other food items since who needs a lot of clothes on a boat!

Post A Comment