Three basic features to look for in any galley, regardless of size or where you'll be cruising.

Galley Features to Look For

If you’re looking at boats for the first time, one of many questions you’re probably asking is what to look for in a galley.

In some ways, it’s an impossible question to answer.  Features that might be “necessary” on a 45-foot boat that’s going to be used for extensive cruising would be totally impractical on a 25-footer used for overnight and weekend trips.

But as I’ve been asked this question numerous times, I’ve come to the conclusion that the primary consideration should be on three aspects of the basic layout and configuration.  These three are all things that would be either expensive or impractical to change and will make a huge impact on your satisfaction or frustration with the boat.

And they are three that if you haven’t had a boat before, you might not think about.  I know that I didn’t . . . until I encountered boats that had serious flaws in each of these!

Regardless of the size boat and your cruising grounds, these are the things that I look at first.  I’m not saying that there aren’t some other important considerations, but if a boat doesn’t do well on these three, I’m not going to look any further at it unless I were planning to gut the interior.

Item 1:  Can the cook be thrown across the boat?

Three basic features to look for in any galley, regardless of size or where you'll be cruising. While there are many features of a galley that contribute to the safety of the cook, most are relatively easy and inexpensive to remedy.  However, if the basic layout allows the cook to be thrown 6 feet across the galley in rough weather (or if a boat with a large wake passes nearby), it’s a real problem.

I learned this the hard way.  The first offshore passage I ever did was on a Saga 43 with a galley similar to that in the picture.  We ended up in a gale off New Jersey and I was tossed as I tried to get a box of crackers out for us to eat.  When the boat rolled, there was nothing to brace myself against.

While you do need an opening to get in and out of the galley, keeping it small and with something at least hip-high no more than about 4 feet away (3 is even better) will limit the chances for serious injury.  Depending on the size of the boat, this doesn’t have to result in a tiny galley — you just don’t want one with a lot of empty floor space from side to side.

Item 2:  Plenty of ventilation

The good thing about buying an older boat is that they usually have good ventilation.  Newer boats often are built with air conditioning with little thought to “passive ventilation.”  Large opening hatches and port holes are essential to being comfortable at anchor.

The galley creates heat, steam and food smells.  While the heat can be welcome in cool climates, the steam will quickly raise the humidity and the potential for mold and mildew.  And most of us don’t want to wake up to the smell of last night’s fish dinner!

While you can add fans and wind scoops to make the most of the ventilation you have, adding or enlarging hatches and ports is much more expensive and tricky to do.

Item 3:  Are the “hot” and “cold” areas logical?

One of our biggest frustrations with Que Tal was the placement of the refrigerator.  It was right next to the engine compartment and also right at the foot of the companionway where the sun beat down on it.  I have no idea what it cost us in extra amps used, but I’m sure it was considerable.

For some reason, older cruising boats tended to have the ice box (later converted to a refrigerator) right next to the engine, with not a lot of insulation in between.  In later years, Tayana did reverse the layout of the galley so that the sink was next to the engine compartment and the refrigerator (or icebox) was on the other arm of the “U,” surrounded by air and out of direct sunlight.

Even if you don’t have refrigeration and just use a portable cooler, this can be an issue.  Is there a cool (and secure) place to put the cooler?

If you haven’t done much cruising, it’s easy to underestimate the importance of not wasting electricity (for a refrigerator) or ice (in a cooler).  For us, using just 10% less power for the refrigerator would have meant that we could run the watermaker twice as long each day.  For others, it could mean less time running a generator.  For those using ice, it could mean an extra day or two before having to find a place to buy more . . . or do without.

More thoughts . . .

Items 1 and 2 to me are non-negotiable.  The third may not be 100% non-negotiable, but it’s a very serious consideration.  We didn’t realize the serious flaw in the design of Que Tal‘s galley until after we were cruising.  Any boat is going to have trade offs and the biggest plus for Que Tal was that the previous owners had already spent a bundle of time and money upgrading her so that she was ready to cruise.  Even knowing about consequences of the refrigerator being next to the engine, we might still have chosen her.  But I’m sure we would have looked harder at some other boats and not bought her quite so quickly.

Researching galleys before we bought her, two items kept popping up:  the need for a “U” shaped galley and a double sink.  Frankly, I disagree with both.

The rationale for a “U” shaped galley is that it provides a way for the cook to wedge him/herself in.  I’ve seen plenty of “U” shaped galleys with the open side towards the center of the boat and no way for the cook to brace against the roll of the boat.  I think the more important concern is that the cook can’t be thrown too far — galley work will never be 100% safe, but larger distances simply cause larger injuries.

I have absolutely no idea why anyone would think that a double sink is necessary.  I hated the one that came with Que Tal and replaced it (read about it).  But items such as this are relatively inexpensive to change if you decide you want something different than what the boat comes with.

Even once you get past these items, there are plenty more to think about.  But others tend to be more obvious, such as the amount of storage, type of stove, whether there is a refrigerator and so on.

I’m positive that other people will have other thoughts on the most important things in evaluating galleys.  What are yours?

Three basic features to look for in a galley, regardless of size or where you'll be cruising. Things to think about as you're buying a boat.

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  • Nita Knighton on Facebook
    Posted at 17 October 2012 Reply

    Good points all of them. . . the galley on Adventuress ( built in 1984) is a corner open galley, I was also thrown while cruising. I have never been fond of the main mast being in the center of the galley but on this day I was thankful. It was a scene right out of I Love Lucy, I was tossed right into the mast and bounced back to the sink. It has happened on several sails since then also. The captain and I shared boat needs when buying a boat, he checked for boat operations and I took care of the cruising live ability. . .we found a boat that filled both needs.

  • Idarae
    Posted at 17 October 2012 Reply

    Altho I have a u-shaped galley that I can wedge myself into, a feature of our 1985 boat is big fiddles-about 2″ tall around the counters. Not only does it stop (or at least slow down) items on the counter, they are big enough to grab & slow down my velocity across the boat as well! A newer boat we delivered had stubby little fiddles that launched things across the boat…me included

  • Jackie Bartz
    Posted at 01 March 2013 Reply

    I agree with all you’ve said except for one thing. The picture at the top of the article DOES show a way to not get thrown across the boat. That bar across the stove is meant to use a “galley strap”. That is a belt (sort of!) that the mate clips onto the bar on one side, wraps around her/his back at waist-level or so and then clips onto the bar again. It’s not a sure thing that the mate won’t get bruises from the strap or bent over it in a BAD swell, but flying across the cabin won’t happen.
    Our galley can be easily “wedged into”, but we have to worry about head bangs more than anything with the low angled ceiling in places.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 01 March 2013 Reply

      There are a couple of problems with a strap: you can’t move around as you cook AND — maybe worse — it holds you in place right in front of the stove, so if there is any sort of accident with a flare up or hot liquid spilling, you can’t jump quickly out of the way. You can also get thrown while you’re trying to hook it up if you can’t brace yourself while your hands are holding the strap . . . and it doesn’t help when you’re doing something like I was — just getting a box of crackers out. Our boat came with one, I used it once and decided it was dangerous in its own right. And that’s when I became a real fan of being able to wedge yourself in!

  • Jackie Bartz
    Posted at 01 March 2013 Reply

    Let me correct my above comment: the pic I refer to is the second one (by ITEM 1).. The first one doesn’t have the bar for the galley strap and probably doesn’t need one.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 01 March 2013 Reply

      Those bars are actually for you to grab (instead of the stove) and also to keep you from falling onto the stove if you lose your balance — it’s not just for the strap (in fact, our boat had pad eyes for a strap).

  • Dave Skolnick (S/V Auspicious)
    Posted at 05 April 2014 Reply

    With respect to the double sink, I find two attractions. One is that I can use one for containing things that would otherwise shift around while still having a sink bowl to work in. Second is that I can clean in one and rinse in the other, ultimately using less water.

  • Karissa Coffey
    Posted at 21 April 2015 Reply

    Vernon Germano…

  • Jennifer Dean Neumann
    Posted at 21 April 2015 Reply

    Interesting! Good food for thought. Regarding your comment on double sinks and the person who responded back supporting double sinks- it really depends on the size of the sinks in the double. Most are IMO too small and pretty much useless. I replaced the double sink on our current boat with a large single and it is much more useful. There is usually a larger item that needs to be washed that I can use as a vessel within the sink to wash the smaller items. I don’t miss having a double sink.

  • Michael Burby
    Posted at 22 April 2015 Reply

    I have a deep sink , that is one thing i liked about my galley, I ve seen biger boats with small sinks that you only could get a plate in , Maybe they eat out alot .

  • Jenn Cole
    Posted at 22 April 2015 Reply

    I love reading these posts – some fantastic answers to common problems! Thanks 🙂

  • Susan Spiller
    Posted at 07 April 2016 Reply


  • jimF
    Posted at 10 December 2016 Reply

    I like tall fiddles all around every flat surface, no matter where. The keep stuff off the floor and are handy for me to grab too. With regard to sinks, one big, deep sink is my preference. It’s easy to turn that into two to separate washing from rinsing with a little rectangular plastic bucket. The bucket doubles as a place for food scraps and makes it easy to “bucket and chuck it.” I like completely separate refrigeration and freezer spaces. A refrigerator is opened 20 times for every once that a freezer is opened. I’ve become a fan of on-deck cooking of fish to keep smells out of the interior. A grill and a cool GoSun solar cooker do the job nicely. My final galley requirement is a place for my ice cream maker. Fresh, homemade ice cream makes for a popular boat in any port.

  • Gena Beckett Olson
    Posted at 15 October 2017 Reply

    I really identify with your hatred for your original sick. My Bayliner has not a double sink, but too little round sink! What man ever thought that was a good idea? We had many more repairs and upgrades to consider before we could get to the sink, but that is a priority for me!

  • Gerry Hunter
    Posted at 15 October 2017 Reply

    Double sinks…bad idea! It is impossible to wash a pot or pan of any size without sloshing soapy water all over the floor. ( well maybe that is not always a bad thing haha)

    • Nica Waters
      Posted at 16 October 2017 Reply

      One vs 2 is definitely a thing. I am with you – I HATE double sinks, even in a house. Shudder.

  • Kristy Waters
    Posted at 16 October 2017 Reply

    I just bought a chopping board that fits over the extra sink – would much prefer the extra bench space.

  • Nica Waters
    Posted at 16 October 2017 Reply

    Did you just post this, or is it popping up again on my FB feed because I was on Pinterest last night . ..

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