Be sure to consider your boat's fresh water supply -- and how long it has to last -- when buying your provisions!

Provisioning & Water

One of the topics I often struggle with in writing The Boat Galley is giving tips on provisioning.  There usually isn’t a “general rule” as each boat’s “water situation” will determine what’s best.  That is, of course, leaving aside any personal preferences you may have.

Basically, how much water you have — and how long it has to last — has a huge impact on what other provisions will suit you best:

  • If you’re out for a few days with good tankage for the number of people aboard, you can use more foods that need water added — these will typically be lighter and take less space than “no water needed” variations.
  • The same is true if you have a watermaker or make frequent stops where you can fill the tanks.
  • However, if you’re trying to make your tank supply last as long as possible, you’re better off using “water included” provisions.

The space savings of being able to use dry versions are considerable, but you really have to think about the water supply.  And while the “dry” versions usually weigh less themselves (and may be a consideration in lugging them from the grocery to the boat), extra tankage on the boat often equals out any savings.

After several years of cruising, Dave and I (and dog Paz) found we used about 7 gallons of fresh water a day during the tropical summer — drinking, cooking, dishes, and quick Sunshower “showers” every 2 to 3 days and rinses after swimming on the other days.  Five gallons a day is about the least I’ve heard of a couple using, except in extreme circumstances.  And I know of several (with very large watermakers!) who use 40 gallons a day or more.

Once you figure out where you comfortably fit on the spectrum of water availability, you can plan your provisions accordingly.  For example:

  • Cans and bottles of soft drinks and water OR powdered mixes (or a SodaStream) and a water filter so that the tank water tastes good?
  • Boxes and cans of broth OR bouillon cubes?
  • Canned beans OR dried beans?

But sometimes the water needed is less visible . . . such as that needed to boil corn on the cob . . . or soak and wash a roast pan.  Careful planning can limit the “extra” needed (use the corn water to soak the roast pan, for example) but if you know your water supply is going to be limited, you do have to take it into consideration.

NOTE:  This isn’t meant as a suggestion that you need to have a watermaker, huge water tanks or make frequent stops to fill the tanks.  But if you’re new to cooking on a boat, the water supply is something that you have to consider when planning meals and purchasing supplies.  With time, it’ll become automatic as you get a feel for how long your onboard supply will last under various conditions.

  • Tom E.
    Posted at 17 December 2012 Reply

    One way to conserve water is to steam your vegetables instead of boiling them. Simply wrap them in a foil packet with a little water and throw them on the grill or if you have a steamer basket, use the stove top method.

  • Dave Skolnick on Facebook
    Posted at 06 May 2013 Reply

    I agree that “it all depends.” The most important thing is to make a thoughtful decision. I carry a lot of cans as the liquid is actually part of my emergency water supply. I do use dry bouillon and of course rice and pasta use a good bit of water. I do try to reuse water or get multiple uses at once. For example when boiling water for pasta I’ll often hard-cook eggs at the same time. Similarly if I am heating a canned or bottled sauce I can steam vegetables above it (I modified my steamer insert with longer legs).

    In my opinion, the all freeze-dried approach is not well advised. It makes you very dependent on your water supply and is rather expensive. Cans are a ubiquitous solution worldwide.

  • Sue
    Posted at 27 January 2014 Reply

    Good ideas here.
    We have lots of water now. It lasted us 3 months through Indonesia without topping up But this wasn’t always the case. We would then wash dishes in salt water and steam rice. “Bird baths” , using a face washer to wash all over. 200 litres lasted almost a month in this manner. It was mid winter in Southern Australia so weren’t swimming. But when in warmer climates we could go 2 weeks or so on our 200 litre, including showers for 2. We regulated the amount if shower water by pouring 2-4 litres in a bucket and use an electric 12v shower pump. Showers were satisfying but quick.Still use this shower system. It works for us. The pump goes inside a jerry jug and we use one outside on the back deck full of captured rain water for rinsing off after a swim. Captuing rainwater is good for washing laundry too even if it is not of good enough for drinking
    Steaming rice: cover rice with 1 cm water . Bring to the boil an turn down the heat to the lowest setting and simmer until all the liquid is gone. The 1 cm seems to work no matter what size the pot.
    Hooe this is useful, Sue

  • Becky
    Posted at 03 July 2014 Reply

    We cruise the Pac. Nw and I found I could lay the sunshower on the deck above the galley sink and hang the hose down to rinse at the sink. That used less water and no pump -power –for the trips where we wanted to go as long as possible between marinas. I want a foot pump for salt water at my sink in the new boat –I had that before and really liked having it so handy for rinsing. I also think a foot pump for fresh water uses less water –just don’t make coffee with the wrong one (tastes AWFUL!) 🙂

  • Mary Facker
    Posted at 25 June 2015 Reply

    I think people underestimate the usefulness of salt water. I did a lot of my cooking last week with 1/3 salt and the rest fresh, and it tasted amazing. Of course this wouldn’t work for salty things like broth.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 25 June 2015 Reply

      If you’re out at sea — 10 miles, maybe more — it’s great. But near shore, it tends to have a lot of pollutants, particularly petroleum products, and that’s why I don’t like to use it for cooking or even the washing dishes. Pre-rinsing dishes, it’s great!

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