Galley tips for cold drinks on a cruising boat -- making the most of limited refrigerator space and power.

Drinks in the Boat Refrigerator

If you’re in a hot climate, drinks can take up half your refrigerator or more.  And chilling them down puts a big load on your power supply.  Where we cruised, it was 90+ degrees for 8 months of the year, and we learned 4 important things to keep us in cold drinks without totally draining the batteries.

Have a Plan

How long the refrigerator is open to get drinks out and put drinks in will have a definite effect on the power used.  If you know right where the drink you want is located, you’ll save a lot of “open door” time — and yes, it’s important even with a top-loading refrigerator.

Designate specific places for each type of drink and stick to it.  For us, we had one bin with Cokes and one with beer and didn’t mix them.  We used small square wastebaskets and cut air holes in the sides with a Dremel (a word of advice if you’re thinking of buying a Dremel — get a corded one if you have a suitable inverter, the rechargeable ones don’t have enough power for most boat jobs).

We also went through a lot of cold water, iced tea and Gatorade.  That’s three water-based drinks:  I made Gatorade from powder and iced tea from concentrate that I brewed.  I found three half-gallon juice bottles that perfectly fit along the edge of the refrigerator right below the lid opening, and kept the “in use” bottles there, always in the same order from left to right and marked on the screw top in case someone forget the order. (On our current boat — which has a smaller refrigerator — we use mostly quart bottles.)

I also usually had a bottle of juice for breakfast (or a couple of cans of V-8) and a bottle of milk and they also had their own “homes” so that we didn’t pick them up by mistake.

Have Some Drinks Ready for Use and Some In Waiting

In addition to the “ready for use” drinks, I kept two other half gallon bottles of water in the back corner of  the refrigerator, chilling down.  When I needed to refill the “in use” bottles, these were what I used.  I didn’t have to get to them so often, so it didn’t matter that they were less accessible — and this way, I always had cold water to mix up whatever we needed, so a new supply was ready to drink immediately.

If you don’t have space for that many bottles, I still recommend having a rotational system with whatever size and how many bottles you do have room for.

If you haven’t yet been in a tropical summer without air conditioning, you’re probably wondering at the amount of drinks I’m talking about.  When temperatures were over 100, we would each drink over 1-1/2 gallons of cold drinks a day; occasionally over 2 gallons apiece if we took particularly long hikes.  Other boats in the same locales reported drinking about the same amount.

Re-Stock Before Going to Bed

Re-filling the refrigerator before going to bed does two things:

  • It gives your warm drinks all night to chill down, so you’re got an adequate supply for the next day; and
  • It allows the refrigerator to do the most work during the coolest time of day, as described more fully in How to Improve Refrigerator Efficiency.

Store the Drinks Low in the Refrigerator

If possible, store the drinks low in the refrigerator for three reasons:

  • The lower sections are the coldest outside of the freezer;
  • It’s best to have the weight lower, and your drinks probably are the heaviest things you have in the refrigerator; and
  • If the drinks are on the bottom, they can’t fall onto “fragile” foods like lettuce (barring extremely rough conditions).


It may take a few tries to get your drink system perfect, but these tips will hopefully help you.  I know for us that having plenty of cold drinks made the summers in the Sea of Cortez enjoyable instead of “something to get through” — and we did not have unlimited power.  Solar panels provided 95% of our power aboard Que Tal (the other 5% came from the alternator when motoring).

Galley tips for cold drinks on a cruising boat -- making the most of limited refrigerator space and power.

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  • Lynn Macfarlane
    Posted at 23 March 2014 Reply

    We have found an easy way to make ice. We had standard ice trays that would always spill going into the freezer. To solve the problem, we filled used pop bottles with water. We put them into the freezer and when frozen smash the bottle with a hammer; cut the tops off with a Exacto knife and voila, crushed ice! We would then store the crushed ice in zip-locked bags. It works for us!

    • Shawna
      Posted at 20 September 2016 Reply

      I do hope you meant cans, not bottles.

      • Carolyn Shearlock
        Posted at 20 September 2016 Reply

        I’m guessing she was using plastic bottles . . . I wouldn’t want to risk broken glass in a drink!

  • Chris H
    Posted at 21 September 2016 Reply

    One idea that I saw many years ago and have often thought to copy (but have not) was having a large bottle of water in the fridge piped to a hand operated galley style pump on the counter above. You dont open the fridge for a glass of cold water, you just pump a couple of times.
    In our situation, we dont actually drink much ‘pop’. We drink ambient water as and when (its no hadship and far healthier) and have a chilled drink with our main meal of the day.

  • Mary E Dixon
    Posted at 28 December 2016 Reply

    Good ideas. Since we have Engel freezer we run frig as frig only & store drinks in freezer box.

  • Sara Burns
    Posted at 28 December 2016 Reply

    Have you experimented with the evaporative properties of clay vessels, as is often used to keep wine bottles chilled without power? Don’t know much how the high temps, and probably high humidity in the Sea of Cortez would affect evaporative cooling.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 28 December 2016 Reply

      You know, I haven’t — as you said, most boating locations have very high humidity.

  • The Jedi Fisherman
    Posted at 29 December 2016 Reply

    More stuff on please

  • Sue Peck
    Posted at 08 May 2017 Reply

    Was curious when you mentioned refilling the fridge at bedtime…wouldn’t that cause it to run more and use battery power when the solar isn’t available? We are on a sailboat and no generator…

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 08 May 2017 Reply

      As long as you’ve got a large enough battery bank, it’ll just fill up the next day . . . and since it’ll use less power at night, overall it’s an energy savings.

  • Confetti McGahee
    Posted at 09 May 2017 Reply

    Love your posts. Was wondering what type of frig you are referring to. Thanks!!!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 10 May 2017 Reply

      I was referring to a top loader in that article. We now have a front loader and while our placement is a little different, we still have designated spots for each type of drink, and drinks take up about half of the space.

  • Eileen Avitable
    Posted at 21 June 2017 Reply

    Carolyn, we store nearly three quarts of water low in the fridge as you recommended. However, in addition we have a beverage dispenser like you find in 7-11 dispensing coffee bunggied to a wall on our counter. We found ours in Home Goods. It is insulated and keeps water cold through the evening hours. Each morning, the fridge containers fill the dispenser and two insulated Contigo water bottles. When the latter are empty or a glass of ice tea is desired, we pump cold water from the dispenser, never needing to go into the fridge for a drink. It works for the two of us..

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