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.
Where to 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
- 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
- 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.
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!