What's the best can opener on a boat? Here's my preference!

Can Opener

On a boat, a can opener is one of those things that just needs to work.  Most cruisers use more canned goods, particularly when away from towns, due to limited refrigerator space.  And if you’re hungry, your food is in a can, your can opener’s broken and town is a day or two away . . . well, it won’t be a pretty picture.

What's the best can opener on a boat? Here's my preference!Swing-A-Way Can Opener

  • After trying several other can openers in our first few months of cruising — with disastrous results — my preferred can opener is that old classic, the original Swing-A-Way shown here.

Don’t get a look-alike or the “Junior Swing-A-Way” (smaller size).  They just don’t work as well, as you really don’t save much money, as the original Swing-A-Way is generally less than $10.  It comes in a variety of colors, too.

The salt air environment can be hard on can openers, and I’ve seen a number of cruisers recommending expensive all-stainless models that cut the lip and all off the can.  I don’t doubt that those openers do a good job — but I really don’t think they’re any better for the extra money.  I know, usually I think that all-stainless products are the way to go.  But the Swing-A-Way has worked well for me.

What's the best can opener on a boat? Here's my preference!After 5 years aboard Que Tal, and now two years off the boat, here’s a photo of the cutting blade of my Swing-A-Way.  There’s some rust on the steel, but it doesn’t cause any problem in using it.  I literally just used it to open a can of tuna for lunch, and it worked just as easily as the day I bought it.  The handles are comfortable and easy to squeeze together, and the turning knob is easy to grip and turns easily.  It cuts all around without missed spots.  (UPDATE:  After 9 years with it, I finally had to replace this can opener due to someone using it as a hammer (!) — and I got another Swing-A-Way as shown in the top photo.)

A couple of years ago, we took a two-month camping trip through National Parks and I bought a look-alike can opener to go in our camping gear — it was what the store had and I’d sort of forgotten my experience when we’d first moved aboard Que Tal.  The first time I used it, I realized I’d made a mistake.

When we next went to a supermarket, I saw the Junior Swing-A-Way and figured that it would be just like the one at home, but smaller.  I soon learned that being smaller meant that it didn’t have as much leverage to close the handles and initially pierce the can, and the cutting blade was smaller and didn’t work as smoothly.  You guessed it — I finally bought the original Swing-A-Way and became, literally, a “happy camper”!

You can get these at most grocery stores, and on Amazon too:

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  • Dave Skolnick on Auspicious
    Posted at 22 August 2011 Reply

    I grew up with a cabinet-mounted classic Swing-a-Way in my mother’s kitchen. I think she still has it.

    My sister gave me a Leifheit can opener back in the mid-80s some time. It has survived six years aboard and looks better than the picture above. Two years ago I bought a Kuhn-Rikon opener that doesn’t leave a sharp edge. I have found the KR to not only be a bit safer but to be easier to use than it’s predecessor. I haven’t been able to divest myself of my sister’s gift but the KR is now my opener of choice.

  • Cherielynne on Facebook
    Posted at 02 December 2011 Reply

    Works every time!

  • Gloria Rooney
    Posted at 02 December 2011 Reply

    I have successfully used the exact same model on our boat over the last several years. At home I also have a manual can opener, but it is a Tupperware Product that requires a bit of a knack to properly engage it. Its great when I can figure it out, but the boat one can’t be beat for simplicity and leverage. It is beginning to show a bit of rust, so I may have to buy another sometime soon.

  • Steve Bryant on Facebook
    Posted at 19 April 2012 Reply

    You kidding, that’s a good one for the home too!

  • The Boat Galley on Facebook
    Posted at 19 April 2012 Reply

    Yep, I’ve had one for years . . . back to when I was a kid!

  • Ann Snider on Facebook
    Posted at 11 October 2012 Reply

    You can never beat the Swing-A-Way!! That’s what I have at home too. Forget an electric – it’s a waste of space. I just buy a new manual every 10 years or so (that means we’re on our third since we’re married 27 years – LOL).

  • Keith Davie on Facebook
    Posted at 11 October 2012 Reply

    Best can opener ever made, bar none!

  • LaMarr Harding
    Posted at 30 November 2013 Reply

    I have several quality can openers, I just keep losing them. Never had that problem with the cabinet mouned one over the sink.

  • tami
    Posted at 07 March 2014 Reply

    Ha, I remember the ‘real’ Swing-A-Way at my Mama’s house, mounted on the cabinet. It was there as long as I can remember, I bet it was at least 40 years old. She moved out to a nursing home and left it there, probably is still working…

    we’re using husband’s inherited “safety can” brand can opener on the boat. mainly because it does the dull edge thing. I guess it’s a few years old, too, he got it when he moved out of his parents’ house

  • Colin
    Posted at 07 March 2014 Reply

    Another great article; I need to find one up here in frozen Canada. While a rusty can opener may function as well as when new, the rust provides a safe haven for the growth of some nasty little bugs that can cause mild to severe food poisoning. Ever had the 24 hour flu? Most likely mild food poisoning. Go ahead, fork out $10 for a new Swing-A-Way and make sure that can of tuna stays down.

  • Helen
    Posted at 07 March 2014 Reply

    Pampered chef naked the best opener…it leaves no sharp edges on either the lid or the can

  • Lupari Sue
    Posted at 07 March 2014 Reply

    This is timely as I am loiking for a new can opener. Wilk look for one of these, thanks

  • Jan Alexander
    Posted at 08 March 2014 Reply

    I also got a good ten years from my Swing-A-Way. When it retired, I ended up buying a Junior because it was all I could find at the time. After three or four years, it is already troublesome. I would happily buy a new full size one if I could find one!

  • Jan Alexander
    Posted at 08 March 2014 Reply

    I was in St. Thomas, USVI at the time. Now I’m in Grenada 🙂

  • Patti Holma
    Posted at 08 March 2014 Reply

    Problem these days with swing away is they are now made in China and substandard to the USA made ones- If u find the ones made in USA grab them they are worth gold just about – I happened upon 4 in the past year and am guarding 🙂

  • Marie Holmes
    Posted at 12 March 2014 Reply

    I love my Swing Away. I have one on the boat and one at home. I’d buy another any day.

  • Brim Stone
    Posted at 07 December 2014 Reply

    Military P-51. Smaller than a stick of gum, all stainless, cost a buck a piece.

  • Dani
    Posted at 30 April 2015 Reply

    Thank you for this! I am in desperate need of a new can opener and this one fits the bill perfectly! We can always count on the Boat Galley to have the inside info on what works and what doesn’t.
    Dani SV Sundowner

  • JP Pedro
    Posted at 21 May 2017 Reply

    My swiss knife has a can opener device and works fine.

  • Jay Salley
    Posted at 21 May 2017 Reply

    I usuaally like these articles but I have to disaggregate with this one…. the best can opener is a p51( John Wayne) military can opener…. I love them so much I buy them buy the gross( 50 cents each) and give them away as presents to other. Cruisers…. I have been using the same one for 8 years

  • Scott Beachbum
    Posted at 21 May 2017 Reply

    So frustrating…

  • Amy Domaratzki
    Posted at 21 May 2017 Reply

    If you get the kind that takes off the lid and rim and do that on both ends you can step in the can to easily flatten it.

  • David Lake
    Posted at 21 May 2017 Reply

    p 38 or p 51

  • Debbie Graves
    Posted at 21 May 2017 Reply

    After we moved tot he boat and I no longer had an electric one I went through 5 before I found one that worked good!

  • Mickey R
    Posted at 21 May 2017 Reply

    Recently bought OXO Good Grips Snap Lock can opener. It is fantastic. You don’t need to squeeze the handles shut . Great for those of us starting to get arthritis in our hands.

  • Donna Delahanty Guzman
    Posted at 22 May 2017 Reply

    I found the Swing A Way works best, too. Haven’t tried the military surplus, but, sounds like that’s another reliable option.

  • Timothy L. Grant
    Posted at 22 May 2017 Reply


  • Jackie Martin
    Posted at 27 July 2017 Reply

    In Georgetown, The Bahamas, I was searching for a better can opener. Found 2 at one store – $35.00 and $37.00 per opener. Exuma Market $2.50, but not the best opener. Love the swing away…I now have one for the boat after coming back to my home port.

  • Linda Keen
    Posted at 11 December 2017 Reply

    There are two types of military can openers. The P38 is the small one, about 1 1/2 “ long. The larger P51 is about 2” long. Both work great but I’d rather use the original swing away.

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