The Galley in Motion

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2011 • all rights reserved

The very fact that a boat moves makes a galley more injury-prone than a kitchen. Eight tips to prevent injuries!If you’re not on the hard or tied up in a calm marina, your boat is pretty much always moving at least a little.

Head out sailing — especially hard on the wind as in the photo (the sea trial when we bought Que Tal) — or motoring through leftover waves and there’s more motion.  Add in a squall or a tropical system and you might find the boat rolling gunwale to gunwale.  Those times might be expected.

But you can also get a sudden roll in a perfectly flat anchorage as a fishing boat or jet ski comes roaring by.  In other places — say the ICW or Kentucky Lake — large boats and barges with huge wakes may come almost out of nowhere to pass you by.  In those cases, you’re not expecting it and there’s no time to prepare.

Most of the time, the boat itself is perfectly fine with the motion.  But down below, particularly in the galley, things can get dangerous.  A few precautions can make it much safer!

And yeah, there’s less motion with a catamaran . . . but it’s still not zero. Even on Barefoot Gal, I’ll follow these basic precautions.

Aboard Que Tal, Dave and I had a rule that we always anchored as if we knew it was going to blow 50 knots.  Now, most of the time — maybe 99% of the time — it didn’t.  And it took a little extra work every time we anchored or upped anchor.  But if we did get a sudden squall, we knew we were ready.  The rule paid off:  on two occasions, our boat stayed put when boats anchored nearby went on the rocks.

In the galley, I had a similar rule:

Assume the boat could roll gunwale to gunwale at any time.

No, most of the time it won’t.  But the little bit of extra care to keep the galley safe in case it does is well worth it when you consider the potential consequences — a serious cut from a falling knife, a broken or bruised foot from a can launched off a counter, or a nasty burn from boiling water.  In six-plus years of full-time cruising, I never had a serious injury in the galley.

I developed 8 specific habits to ensure that a big roll wouldn’t result in a big injury:

  • Lay knives in the sink, not on the counter, when you’re not actually using them.  A dish rag or towel will keep them from banging around.
  • Also put canned goods in the sink until you’re ready to use them — even a small can will injure you if it falls on your foot. Use more rags to pad them.
  • Close lockers immediately after getting items out so items won’t come tumbling out.  A 1/4″ lip on the shelf won’t stop a can of green beans from tumbling out if the boat rolls!
  • Put things away as soon as you’re done with them — don’t leave items on the counter, where they could fall.
  • If you’re pouring anything hot, do it in the sink — any spills or splashes will be contained and you won’t have boiling water (or whatever) down your legs.
  • If possible, sit whenever you use a knife — if the boat suddenly rolls, you’re less likely to be “flung” and hence less likely to cut yourself.
  • When using the oven, brace yourself well before opening the door . . . and think how opening the door may change the balance of the stove.  You don’t want to fall into the oven or a lit burner on the stove top if the boat moves, nor do you want a hot pan to come sliding out of the oven the moment you open the door.

I’m sure others have additional “standard operating procedures” that lessen the chance of injury.  What are yours?  Add them in the comments so we can all stay safe!

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  1. Thanks…every tip helps me in my learning curve.

    • Carolyn Shearlock says:

      Some days it feels like the curve is straight up, doesn’t it? How well I remember our first few trips, when it seemed like everything was new . . . and after six years I was still picking up tips from friends!

      Glad you’re finding the info useful!


  2. Dave Skolnick on Auspicious says:

    Even cooking underway I’m a big fan of mise en place. Think through food prep and do knife work on a cutting board that lays over the gimballed cooker. You can shift the board to the side and start cooking quickly and efficiently.

    The sink is a lovely repository but putting good knives in a metal sink is awful. Do all your prep, rinse and wipe the knife, steel it, and put it away.

    • Carolyn Shearlock says:

      Hi Dave!

      I used a cutting board over the stove on a charter that we did, and it was great. Que Tal came with one, and I was really excited . . . but the setup was different and I never really liked it in actual use.

      By the way, if you put one of your dish rags in the bottom of the sink — I fold it in half to have a double layer of fabric — the knives don’t get beaten up if it’s reasonably smooth sailing. If it’s bouncier, yep, it’s best to put them away immediately.

  3. Nita Knighton on Facebook says:

    You would think most of this was common sense However, my common sense went out the ports when we moved on our boat. I can tell you all the above happened to me, the knife incident was what made me rethink safety precautions while underway . Thank You for all of your tips, what is the latest on the release of the book?

  4. Hi Nita! The last we’ve been told is September 28 — we’ve just finished proofreading after the copyeditor did her thing (literally just — I sent the files back late last night) and now it goes to layout. -Carolyn

  5. The right tools definitely help!

  6. This article was reassuring to me……because everything you mentioned is already second nature to me. I don’t even have to think about it!

    One more thing, taught to me by an experienced live-aboard cruiser:

    “Always pour fore-and-aft.”

    Think about it. The boat is more likely to roll than pitch, normally. If you’re aligned fore-and-aft as you pour (over the sink, of course!), you’re less likely to spill. A simple habit, now commonly executed!

  7. We always keep a bucket in the sink that we stack things into…knives then don’t get damaged on sink.

  8. Great safety tips, thank you.

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