Whether you're chartering or just spending a weekend on the boat, spending a little time organizing your food will pay big benefits when it comes time to cook!

14 Simple Steps to Organizing Your Galley on a Charter

I started to write this article thinking about galley organization on a week-long charter trip.  But then it hit me that it was also applicable to weekends on the boat and other short trips, although in those cases you probably have some staples already on the boat.  In the following, I’m assuming that there is nothing already aboard . . .

On our first charter trip, Dave and I went to the BVIs with our good friends David and Jan (now also cruisers and my cookbook co-author).  And while we had a wonderful time, we sure learned a lot about organizing the food!

Hopefully, you’ll have made some sort of grocery list either for your trip to the supermarket or a provisioning company.  And you’ll have a meal plan.  Good, you’ll need both as that food comes on board!

  1. While it’s helpful to have as many people as possible to get the food down the dock and into the boat, the organizing phase seems to go best with just one or two.  We found that when all four of us were trying to work at once, there was just too much confusion.  As Jan and I were the “cooks” and the guys the dishwashers, we politely asked them to get off the boat for an hour when it became obvious that even walking through the boat was pretty disruptive!
  2. Jan and I checked off all the items on the master food list to make sure we had everything.  And no, we didn’t.  This can be a problem with a provisioning company — if they are out of something, they rarely make a note of it.  It’s just not there.  We noted everything that was missing and later went to the store and found substitutions.
  3. As we were unpacking food, we labelled it with what it was for (if you’re bringing food from home, you can do this as you pack it).  As much as possible, we used the plastic grocery bags we were emptying to put all the ingredients for a particular meal together.
  4. Labelling, while a bit of a pain, was really helpful so that we didn’t use food for meals it wasn’t intended for and didn’t use too much at once.  While it can be seen as “overly controlling,” we didn’t know how much we could re-stock along the way and didn’t want to be spending our vacation looking for stores.
  5. Grouping food together for a given meal just made it that much easier to find things.
  6. Bring a few Sharpies or other permanent markers to label with (don’t use water-based markers as the labels will run with sweat on your hands or condensation in the refrigerator)!
  7. The best thing we did was to make a “snack bin” and stock it each day from the “snack bin” box (yeah, we’d labelled the snacks by day).  Anyone could eat anything out of the snack bin whenever they wanted, but when it was gone for the day it was gone.  Of course, leftovers would have been carried forward to the next day, but there were never any — my Dave is a known snacker and somehow the last few packets would disappear overnight.  Dave swears it must have been mice . . . good little mice that put the wrappers in the trash!
  8. Try to get some plastic bins or even a few extra pans to organize the refrigerator space (many times, charter companies have extras in a store room somewhere if you ask).  And be sure to label the meat before putting it in the freezer — it’s amazing how a frozen pork chop can look like a chicken breast.  And if it’s something like steaks, chops or chicken that might be in individual packages, put all the packages for one meal in a plastic grocery bag and tie it up before putting it in.
  9. Check to make sure that all the standard galley gear is present — pots and pans, dishes, glasses, silverware, knives, can opener, grilling tools, spatula and more.  I find it helpful to go over my meal plan and think what I’ll need to make each meal and make sure that it’s there.  Much better to discover it when I can go to the office and ask for anything that’s missing (again, I’ve always found that they have spares available).
  10. Before getting underway, take a quick look around and make sure nothing is sitting on the counter or anywhere else that could be a problem.
  11. If you have enough people, have one stay below as you get underway to find and secure everything that’s clanking and sliding.  If all hands are needed on deck, send someone below as soon as practical.
  12. Use towels and potholders as padding where necessary.
  13. Move items so that compartments are jammed full — leave other areas empty if need be.
  14. Hair ties do wonders around glasses and jars to stop noise and prevent breakage.

Above all else, make sure everyone has their sense of adventure and sense of humor!  Sure, some things are likely to go “not as planned” over the week.  But that doesn’t have to mean that you won’t have a great time.

Time on the boat is precious, but taking a little time organizing your food will pay big benefits when it comes time to cook!

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  • RobD
    Posted at 04 April 2013 Reply

    Great article! We have found that ‘little milk crates’ (like the standard milk crates, just smaller and come in various sizes) work wonders for stowage. This way the ‘jamming full’ becomes easier in that the compartments become smaller plus we can see in them from the sides to quickly identify what is in them. They stack and come in various sizes. Though, admit-tingly, we currently only weekend so the space isn’t as needed as those that are away from shore weeks at a time. 😉

  • Ron Newton
    Posted at 27 October 2014 Reply

    I liveaboard 8 to 9 months of the year. I usually make 1 trip a week to the grocery store. I could stretch that out much farther by either stocking up or skipping on fresh fruits and produce.

  • Rebecca Tommaseo Ponzetta
    Posted at 05 September 2015 Reply

    Overly complicating it I think.

    • Ann Snider
      Posted at 05 September 2015 Reply

      I think it is if it’s just a couple but really, when you have two families on board, this is really a necessity. It is also helpful to label even with just a family because my family has helped themselves to the pineapple I bought to go on the shrimp kabobs and now I had to run to the store to get more or to get something else to put in with the shrimp. If you are going for a week, you don’t tend to stock up on a lot of stuff and especially on a charter, you try to bring what you will use so you end up coming home with pretty much nothing left. 🙂 Planning makes for a peaceful cruise!

  • Dave Skolnick (S/V Auspicious)
    Posted at 05 September 2015 Reply

    We all have our own style and on schedule. For a passage or delivery I layer food in the frig and freezer based on a general meal plan. That may result in chicken in different places in the freezer. Cruising and island hopping the various foods are all together and there is no meal plan more than a day or so ahead. I don’t bag stuff together but that doesn’t make it bad.

    The snack bin idea is a marriage saver. It also keeps my delivery crew from being chucked overboard. The last thing we need is someone rummaging the fridge for a “snack” and throwing off the plan for dinner 600 miles from the nearest anything. I use a large canvas boat bag under the companionway stairs for snacks. There is a small bag always at the top of the fridge for snacks that should be refrigerated. Crew know that rummaging through the fridge for “something different to eat” results in court martial and possible ejection.

    That may sound rigid but we do adjust meal plans for weather and other conditions, how people feel, and the motivation of the cook. On the other hand, if you eat the last mango during your 12-4 watch what the heck will I do with all this sticky rice? *grin*

  • Frances Liz Fernandez
    Posted at 05 September 2015 Reply

    Organization is really helpful for charters or camping. Good reading.

  • Anne Keller Klumpp
    Posted at 14 December 2017 Reply

    Thanks for the suggestion on the hair ties for bottles. I’m going to try it when we launch next year.

  • Jane Gammons
    Posted at 13 December 2017 Reply

    Jane. Cross/Over
    We chartered out of Ft Lauderdale years ago. We left in the afternoon; anchored late. Hot meal turned into sandwiches, no propane…..

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