Just bought a boat and wondering where to even start with equipping the galley and preparing meals?? Try this!

New and Overwhelmed?

If you’re new to boating and cruising, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed.  I was SO excited when we bought Que Tal!  And then I woke up the next morning in pure panic as I tried to figure out what all I needed to put on the boat, where it would fit, what we needed to buy, how I was going to cook and everything else!

The best piece of advice that I was given?  “Take a deep breath and remember that you don’t have to figure everything out at once.”  You don’t even have to have all the answers before you spend the first night on the boat or leave the dock for the first time.  You’ve got time to figure out what works for you.  Other boaters and I can give you ideas, but in the end it comes down to what you want and what you like.  So don’t be afraid of doing things your own way.

You’re probably going to start by spending some time on the boat at the dock as you learn her systems, and then you’ll start by taking short trips — maybe just going out for an afternoon or an overnight.  So if you forgot something, or something’s not working the way you thought it would, it’s not a catastrophe.  You can make do until you get back to your home base. (This is an adventure, right?  By definition, that means not everything will be perfect!)

Your long-term plans might be to spend weekends on the boat or an occasional vacation.  Or you may be dreaming of cruising full- or part-time.  But the reality is that if this is your first boat, you’re almost certainly not going to just throw some stuff on board and take off across an ocean.  You’re going to be near “civilization” and be able pick up whatever you forgot, although it may be a day or two.

We were living in Illinois when we bought Que Tal in Mexico, 2,000 miles away.  But even in our situation, we made a couple trips to the boat, spending a week or more each time, before we moved aboard “for good.”  And Mexico isn’t exactly a deserted island when it comes to being able to buy stuff.  Sure, if we were in a remote anchorage we might not be able to buy things that we’d forgotten or that had broken.  But it wasn’t as though it would be months before we’d be able to.  We had time to figure things out.

So where do you start?  Okay, I’m limiting my discussion to “galley stuff.”  Well, if you’re just going for an afternoon, a cooler of drinks and a snack will do.  But for an overnight, here’s my basic list.  At first, you can just take some stuff from home, like you might do on a camping trip.  Then, as you see what you like and what you don’t, you can buy stuff for the boat and leave it there.  Now, I’ve written about a lot of these with ideas on items that work well on a boat.  But to get started, you don’t need anything special.  Here are the bare bones:

  • Trash bags
  • Dish soap, dish rag, pot scrubber and towel
  • Knife and cutting board
  • Can opener
  • Mixing/serving spoon
  • Spatula/pancake turner
  • Scraper
  • Bowl, pan or “Tupperware” to mix and serve in
  • Skillet and saucepan
  • Plates, bowls, silverware (while I don’t like disposable plates and silver in general, it can be great for a first time on board)
  • Glasses and or (insulated if possible) mugs
  • Coffee drinker?  — some way to make coffee, Thermos to keep it hot
  • Baking pan if planning to bake
  • Trivet or towel to put hot pans on
  • Bar rags or paper towels
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Ziploc bags
  • Recipes
  • Salt, pepper and basic spices
  • Bottled water if needed
  • Long-nosed lighter to light burners and grill
  • Grilling? Make sure you have long-handled tongs
  • Fuel for stove and/or grill
  • Taking a pet?  Don’t forget their food and dishes!

Admittedly, long term you’ll probably want more things than my bare-bones list.  But if you’ve never done much cooking on a boat, my suggestion is to hold off on buying anything until you’ve cooked a few meals on your own boat.  Even just a weekend’s worth of experience will make a world of difference as you are evaluating what you need and what features are important.

I have lots of recommendations in the Outfitting section — but frankly I think that my comments will make more sense after you’ve cooked a meal or two on board.  Even though we’d chartered, I’d spent time on friends’ boats and we had extensive camping experience, the first week aboard our own boat taught me so much about how things worked there.

First meals?  It’s only natural to want to have a special meal to celebrate your new life as boaters.  But special doesn’t have to mean complicated.  One of my favorite and easy “special” meals is throwing a steak on the grill, tossing a salad and slicing a loaf of store-bought French bread.

Keeping it simple initially will make it a lot easier to learn how to use a new stove, the smaller counters and everything else associated with cooking on a boat.  You’ll be able to enjoy your new lifestyle instead of feeling stressed and wondering what you were thinking!

A few ideas:

  • Take some energy/snack bars and Ramen noodles — both are great “when all else fails” and knowing that you have a back-up plan eases a lot of stress.  Individual servings of applesauce and fruit are good, too.
  • Make-ahead meals brought from home are great.  Just heat and serve!
  • Meat on the grill is also easy — get vacuum sealed meat if possible and stick in down in the ice in the cooler.
  • Tossed salad is also easy if you get a bag of lettuce — stick the whole bag inside a plastic container so the lettuce doesn’t get bruised.
  • Initially, prepared and packaged food is your friend.  Rice and pasta side dishes are great, canned soups are good on a cold day, and so on.

On longer trips, I prefer not to use so much prepared and packaged food and try to eat somewhat healthier.  But when everything is new, you’re just figuring things out and you’re only going to be on the boat for a few days, knowing that everything is already in the package is wonderful.

My biggest mistake when we bought Que Tal was thinking that I had to do everything instantly.  Sure, I was excited about it but I also created a lot of unnecessary stress.  Once I realized that I didn’t have to immediately replicate our home, I felt a huge weight off my shoulders and started having fun picking things out . . . at a much slower pace!

Just bought a boat and wondering where to even start with equipping the galley and preparing meals??  Try this!

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  • Rebecca Hammond Vaughan on Facebook
    Posted at 15 March 2013 Reply

    Great timing for me, thank you!!

  • Nicola
    Posted at 15 March 2013 Reply

    I just have to thank you for having the foresight to pave the way for others. What a gracious & generous undertaking! I get so much out of your articles, and have shared many with my husband as well. We are still in the experimental stage…so I am still prepping meals ahead of time so that we can enjoy gourmet meals on board with a minimum of effort and propane usage. We just took our “maiden voyage” this week, moving our boat from Galesville MD to Willoughby Bay (Norfolk) VA. Three days of rough weather but loads of fun riding the waves! Unfortunately I broke my leg at the end of the trip, so I’m laid up for a while, but taking advantage of the time by reading up and planning for next time! The gastronomical highlight of this trip was a tarte tatin.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 15 March 2013 Reply

      So glad that you’re finding The Boat Galley helpful and that you had a good maiden voyage . . . well, except for that broken leg thing! OUCH! That’s no fun on a boat.

      Looking forward to hearing more adventures — and that tarte tatin sounds wonderful!


  • Denise
    Posted at 19 March 2013 Reply

    This is just what I needed, thanks! I have been trying to replicate our home and buy anything listed as “marine” or “non skid” that it has overshadowed the excitement of our first voyage. Instead, I want to plan a special meal to celebrate our first night on board! I think it will be steak, salad and store bought French bread! Yummy. Should we practice at home with our new Marine BBQ or are they pretty much like our backyard grill just smaller? At least if it doesn’t work out I will now have some backup Raman noodles and canned soups, thanks for the advice. Have you reviewed coolers? What makes a marine cooler “marine”, is it worth the extra money they seem to cost? Virgin boater counting down till spring, can you tell? Thanks again!

  • Marilyn
    Posted at 20 March 2013 Reply

    I found you in a search for small space storage. Boy, did I get a whole lot more than I was expecting! Your articles are simply and clearly written, loaded with valuable insights and experiences. I was looking for Tiny House compatible information but now wonder if I might not be wiser to start thinking about a boat instead of building. Thanks, Carolyn. Your generous and useful tips and ideas are real treasures! Thank you.

  • Valtruch
    Posted at 21 May 2013 Reply

    Awesome info you’re giving here. My hubby and I are planning a year off on a boat before our son has to go to school and I’m the cook of the house. i have never lived on a boat before, my husband is the sailor. I’m going to bookmark your website 🙂

  • Mary
    Posted at 11 August 2013 Reply

    You are my new hero(ine)! LOVE your site!

  • Lyn Williams
    Posted at 28 August 2013 Reply

    Hi Carolyn
    Have just logged on and joined your “Boaty Followers ” and like all the other comments from your Fans I too am now a fan of this wonderful site you have set up . So nice to read other peoples interesting stories and tips on how to keep sane and stress free but more importantly how to enjoy this wonderful experience of Boating / Sailing .

    We did a lot of sailing in Australia ( I am the Aussie and my husband is from the UK having lived in OZ for over 25 years where we met and now we are back living in England ) . My husband has now just retired and having bought a lovely Sadler 32′ yacht called – ODAL 11 we now have the time to sail a lot more . In a few weeks we are taking 2 weeks off ( sadly I am still working ! ) to sail around the South of England and test our sailing skills once again . I am a little nervous as it has been a while since I did any serious sailing since our Australian Days and the waters,tides etc are a little different there to here so fingers crossed.

    I am Ok with all the boat prep i.e. food etc and everything else especially having read a lot of your helpful hints and tips in the galley area however, Carolyn, my one personal downfall is sometimes I do get seasick !! It is so debilitating and I become as useless as a chocolate fireguard ! Can either yourself or any one of your followers offer any help in this area ? I have tried Sturgeron Tablets but they do not seem to be very good . I am fine in normal / slights seas and wind but if it starts to become really rough then this First Mate is useless and Captain Williams is on his own at the helm 🙁
    Any help much appreciated and thanks again for all your great articles

    Kindest regards

    • ana
      Posted at 30 September 2014 Reply

      I’ve read (and heard) that wearing an eye patch (like a pirate) throws off your equilibrium which in turn will stabilize you sea-sickness. I have no way to experiment with this as I don’t get sea sick. Try it, and see how it works! Heck it couldn’t hurt 🙂

    • Donna Chiappini
      Posted at 30 September 2014 Reply

      Lyn, when my husband and I started sailing 13 years ago, I initially took Dramamine but I hated the side affects. Seemed I slept more then I was awake. I was turned on to Bonine which is an over the counter anti nausea medicine with little or no side affects. I took it for about the first 6 years we sailed. I would take the recommended dosage before I went to bed the night before we sailed and depending on the conditions, another one in the morning. I no longer get sea sick but will take if conditions warrant. Nothing worse than feeling bad on the ocean so I don’t take any chances. I also recommend to our guests to do the same and haven’t had anyone in the nine years we have owned our boat (we chartered for 1st 4 years) who listened to my instructions, get seasick. Try this and tell how it works. Good luck.

  • Cindy Balfour
    Posted at 03 September 2013 Reply

    We are finally aboard and survived our shake down cruise up the Columbia River. We should be heading north to Canada within the week. I want to thank you for all the great articles and ideas. I stop and marvel many times at what kind of messes I’ve probably avoided by paying attention to your tips.

    The pantry is organized, sort of. The Galley works, dish washing is still a challenge, but were getting better. Getting enough hot water to wash greasy dishes without having 2-3 gallons of cold water go where? in a bucket, down the drain….this is my quandary…

    • Kimber
      Posted at 08 December 2015 Reply

      I have applied the de-glazing system of adding water to the dirty pan while still hot on the stove or grill. Heat the water to near boiling while stirring off the gunk. Add a drop of dish detergent, turn off the heat and stir for a few more seconds. Dump this nasty mess out, add water to just cover the bottom with a drop of soap and stir. Leave the pot on the hot burner so the residual heat is absorbed while you enjoy dinner!

  • Susan Hawkins
    Posted at 15 October 2013 Reply

    Carolyn – LOVE your cookbook! There are so many great recipes. I found the chapters on Food Storage and Food Substitutes especially interesting and useful. This book has helped to ease some of my anxieties of moving aboard – thank you!

  • Carolyn Shearlock
    Posted at 15 October 2013 Reply

    Thanks Susan! You just made my day! 🙂

  • Kenneth Arnold
    Posted at 05 November 2013 Reply

    1 pot meals are fun!!

  • Katie Calkins
    Posted at 05 November 2013 Reply

    That was me!!! I dislike cooking…but I must say…my children & hubby think I do ‘awesome’ throwtogethers!!

  • Donna Chiappini
    Posted at 05 November 2013 Reply

    Carolyn, I love this blog. This was me 8 years ago when we bought a brand new 40′ Beneteau. I had never really sailed other than chartering and now we own a boat. But I did a lot of RVing when I was growing up. Not much different when outfitting a galley. I found a lot of items at IKEA and they have lasted for as long as we have had the boat. I didn’t buy dishes with rubber bottoms but did buy the rubberized dividers and use them when I use or store my plates. A lot less expensive. We are coastal cruisers and we completely outfit our boat for our weekend trips. Nesting pots were a great purchase and space saver as was a French press for coffee. They now make them with a thermal exterior. Swiffers are another must have. My next purchase….a pizza stone for my oven. Great idea. Thank you.

  • Debra Perfitt
    Posted at 06 November 2013 Reply

    Great advise. Kinda like a painting. Not sure where it’s going when you start but then you add components as you muddle along. Thanks

  • Cindy Balfour
    Posted at 06 November 2013 Reply

    We completed two fabulous months in the PNW mostly in Canada. Our personal fishing was unsuccessful but the ability to purchase fresh fish was a great option. We have a small weber Q propane grill with a Grillgrate http://www.grillgrate.com/ that allows perfect grilling with out loosing the delicate fish between the cracks.

  • Bette Peirce
    Posted at 03 June 2014 Reply

    Thrilled to find your website, from the bottom of your White Chicken Chili recipe (very good!)in Oct. 2013 Passagemaker magazine. After 12 years of looking and dreaming of this Trawler Catamaran, just bought the boat! Charter cruised a bit, but this is our first ‘big boat’ and heading from Michigan east to ICW to coastal GA as home port. TheBoatGalley has saved the day when I had no idea where to turn: with lists, practical and invaluable advise on provisioning. Breathing deeply and not planning on solving everything at once. Cruising one day at a time!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 03 June 2014 Reply

      Thank you! I’m originally from Michigan . . . Lansing area. Have a great time on your trip south!

  • Cheryl Buckner
    Posted at 22 September 2014 Reply

    What a great article to help ease the anxiety of all there is to know for first timers! Although we don’t plan to go for some time, it has helped to calm the nervousness and enjoy this part of the learning. One step at a time!

  • Jan Bogart
    Posted at 30 September 2014 Reply

    t’s all trial and error! only thing i can say is that anything sold for yachting is not necessarily better, just pricier.

  • Cynthia Battle Shafer
    Posted at 30 September 2014 Reply

    Just go through everything in you home kitchen – if you haven’t touched/used it in the last 6 months…don’t bother….

    • Cheryl Buckner
      Posted at 30 September 2014 Reply

      There is so much that doesn’t get used!! Thanks!

  • Clay
    Posted at 30 September 2014 Reply

    Just like having your first child – you figure it out a day at a time.

    • Cheryl Buckner
      Posted at 30 September 2014 Reply

      I love that! I’ll try to remember it when the anxiety sets in. 🙂

  • Renee Lindsay
    Posted at 30 September 2014 Reply

    Sarah Finlayson

  • Manon Pilon-Fry
    Posted at 08 March 2016 Reply

    Great advice!

  • Izzy
    Posted at 09 March 2016 Reply

    Holy crap, I’m reading this right now… bobbing like a cork in a windstorm in Marina Mazatlan. I have a whole new found respect for rope. Hahaha

  • Zoe Catchlove
    Posted at 09 March 2016 Reply

    Thank you Boat Galley, this is a brilliant list and I think we will be reading it bible-like in the coming weeks!
    Someone forgot to tell us, Guy Eilbeck this before now “But the reality is that if this is your first boat, you’re almost certainly not going to just throw some stuff on board and take off across an ocean”

  • Lynda Gallaher
    Posted at 02 November 2016 Reply

    My husband and I lived aboard for over 10 years and brought our now grown son home from the hospital when he was born to a sailboat. He just purchased his own sailing catamaran ( 44 La Goon Cat) to move his family aboard. For Christmas last year I bought them all the things, mostly for the galley, that I have on my sailboat ( Morgan OI 41). They loved it! We usually spend a month in the Bahamas each year. He now wants his family to enjoy this wonderful lifestyle. I can’t wait to ‘GO SAILING!”

  • Asa Folsom
    Posted at 13 February 2017 Reply

    Hi Carolyn!

    My husband and I are in the closing stages of purchasing our first boat/future floating home, a 1977 Gulfstar 37 Sloop. I can’t tell you enough how invaluable all of your tips on the Boat Galley have been in not only the practical application of outfitting a boat for cruising, but also alleviating my anxiety over the whole process. I began following you over four years ago, when we still living in Oregon, dreaming of finding a boat we could call home. We’re now in Florida, getting ready to take possession of our girl. Thank you thank you thank you for sharing your experience and easing this hell of a learning curve. Fair winds!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 13 February 2017 Reply

      Congrats on the new boat! Yes, it is a huge learning curve but there’s a lot of fun along the way, too. Enjoy the ride!

  • Jim Kindred
    Posted at 30 May 2017 Reply

    Great List and article Carolyn…. I would give up the vegetable peeler for a cork screw however.

  • Larry Rau
    Posted at 17 December 2017 Reply

    Many of the very expensive Galley Stoves on the market today are utter crap. They are too complex, made with too much corrodable soft aluminum and dissimilar metals, they are made to appeal to women who are non-sailors. So, start with looking inside the expensive cookers and compare to some “Old Technology” and see what it is you think you want to own 3000 miles from anyplace. Then, ask yourself, what is your back up plan when the complex cooker quits and there are no parts to fix it ? The answer should be a simple stove, completely independant of your propane, and electrical system. Maybe an optimus in a sea swing, which will always work.

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