10 things to remember when stowing canned goods on a cruising boat.

Storing Canned Food on a Boat

If you’re going to cruise for more than a week at a time, you’re likely to have a lot of canned goods aboard.  Dave and I always figured that if our refrigeration failed, we could still eat well if we had a decent stock of canned good aboard.  While we never have had a problem with the refrigerator, our stock of canned goods enabled us to go two to three weeks between provisioning runs.  And since we like snorkeling, hiking and fishing far better than schlepping groceries, this worked perfectly for us.   In most meals, I used a combination of fresh, canned and dried foods to add interest and variety.

So, you’re thinking, what’s there to know about stowing canned goods?

It’s not quite as simple as I thought when I did the first provisioning run for Que Tal.  I learned a few things the hard way.

  • Cans are heavy – typically about a pound each.  This means two things in storing them:  (1) cans need to be stowed low and in the center of the boat so they don’t interfere with the trim of the boat; and (2) cans need to be stowed securely so they don’t become flying missiles in rough weather . . . or when a jetski comes by.
  • While cans don’t break, they are susceptible to pinholes from salt spray or drips.  So if there is any chance that salt water could get into a particular locker (for example, if it’s under a deck fitting), use solid plastic bins to hold the cans – and if the salt water could come from above, the bins need to have lids.
  • Sometimes, that salt spray comes as you’re transporting groceries to the boat in a dinghy – or even down the dock on a windy day.  Cans may also carry insects and their eggs.  For both these reasons, it’s good to give cans a quick wash and dry when you bring them aboard.  Yes, it adds extra work when you’re putting them away, but cleaning up leaking cans or insect infestations can take far longer.
  • Another big consideration is to keep cans from shifting with the motion of the boat.  If the cans can move, they will – and this will result in dented cans, possibly broken cans, pinholes from wear and lots of noise!
  • In large lockers (anything over about 1 cubic foot), I use two or more plastic bins to divide the space up.  Otherwise, it’s hard to keep the cans from shifting with the motion of the boat – with smaller spaces, it’s easier to add rags or pieces of bubble wrap to keep cans from moving, and to consolidate cans from one bin into another as you use some.
  • I also used bins with smooth, rounded bottoms in a couple of lockers that had wiring running along the bottom of one side.  I definitely did NOT want a can rubbing a hole in the insulation on the wire and causing a short or worse, a fire!
  • In smaller lockers and on shelves, I used non-skid “shelf paper” so that cans couldn’t slide as much.  I also used padding to take up extra space.
  • Most cruisers prefer to store cans upright so they don’t roll – and that’s one reason for taking up extra space with padding so that cans don’t fall over and start rolling.  Rolling is more likely to dent cans, cause pinhole leaks and it’s horribly noisy!
  • For cans stored in lockers accessible from the top, it’s a good idea to label the tops of cans – that way, you don’t have to pull every can out to see what it is.  Be sure to use a permanent marker so the ink doesn’t run.
  • Labelling the top is also a good idea if there is any chance – however remote – of the cans getting wet or damp so that the labels come off.  Guessing at can contents can make for very “interesting” meals!

To see my recommendations on bins, padding and other items mentioned here, see my article on Food Storage Supplies.  And be sure to check out Sami’s Can Pantry — a WONDERFUL way to use a very shallow space!

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  • Gilda
    Posted at 25 June 2011 Reply

    Dear Carolyn,
    I can’t tell you how happy I am to find your website. Although I will not be boating my husband and I will be new to camping in a tiny fiberglass trailer soon. I was in a quandary as to how to outfit our kitchen/galley and how to stock our food and icebox. Practically all your suggestions are appropriate to use in a camping trailer.
    Thank you so much!
    P.S. I can hardly wait for your cookbook to be available.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 26 June 2011 Reply

      Gilda —

      It’s funny, I learned some of these things while on month-plus tent camping trips. Glad you’re finding it useful!


  • Sami Bolton
    Posted at 04 February 2012 Reply

    THE single best thing we did on our sailboat (now sold) is build in a can pantry.
    Im not sure how to post pictures here, but if you go to http://www.everafter4sale.blogspot.com you can scroll down and see several pictures
    of what we did with exsisting space, and why it was so wonderful.

    We are on a trawler now and this summer my husband is going to take some exsisting space near the galley and do something similar which I will share
    once its finished. The cool thing was being able to see and access cans at a glance. Hope this inspires!

    m/v Deja vu

  • Nita Knighton on Facebook
    Posted at 21 February 2012 Reply

    I thought my husband was crazy when he had me do just as you suggested, put cans in a large lidded container and put them under the Sette. . .when he suggested we label the tops I also thought he was just giving me a job to keep me busy. . .It works and is a tip I have passed on to all new sailors

  • tami
    Posted at 04 August 2012 Reply

    In some of the older books on cruising, they talk about dipping cans in varnish or some such to keep them from rusting. It just occurred to me that one could spray the cans with nonstick spray or some sort of edible oil to prevent rust, and the coating wouldn’t be toxic. Would that work?

  • Laura Zechin on Facebook
    Posted at 04 August 2012 Reply

    Like the “labeling the top of the cans” idea.

  • Trish Rantos
    Posted at 04 August 2012 Reply

    Wondering about the need to remove can labels to prevent insect infestation. Then labeling the tops of the cans would be even more important 😉

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 04 August 2012 Reply

      I never deliberately removed labels, but some came off when I was washing cans. If I was in an area with a real bug problem or saw them on the cans, yeah, I’d be sure to pull them off!

  • Brian Taite on Facebook
    Posted at 21 April 2013 Reply

    Great tips!

  • Shannon Nott on Facebook
    Posted at 21 April 2013 Reply

    Awesome advice. I’ve heard of folks stowing cans in the bilge, what are your thoughts on that?

  • The Boat Galley on Facebook
    Posted at 21 April 2013 Reply

    If you store them in the bilge, I recommend using really heavy-duty plastic bins to keep them out of any water, to help organize them, and so that labels can’t come off and clog the pumps (if they do come 0ff, they’ll be in the bins).

  • summer
    Posted at 27 June 2013 Reply

    That is really cool. Does it rattle much underway?

  • Darlene Burnett Price
    Posted at 16 January 2014 Reply

    Always learning from you. Thanks.

  • Joan Garber Graham
    Posted at 16 January 2014 Reply

    I’m always throwing bubble wrap away at work. Do you want me to save some for you?

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 16 January 2014 Reply

      I’ve got plenty but check with other boating friends — I’m sure that some could use it. Love reusing instead of throwing away!

  • Paul Watson
    Posted at 16 January 2014 Reply

    Yet more great tips! Thanks

  • S/V Dos Libras
    Posted at 16 January 2014 Reply

    Good review as we head into now day three of cleaning out the storage cubbies!

  • Carlos R. Escandel
    Posted at 21 July 2016 Reply

    Hahaha, jet skiers could be worse than rocking seas !!! Good and excellent learning material, thanks

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 21 July 2016 Reply

      Oh yeah. Got some in this anchorage although they’re pretty well behaved.

  • Michelle Rene
    Posted at 21 July 2016 Reply

    This is off topic, but I can be having a high stress day, I see your post, and dive into your tips and organized ideas. Its awesome and I appreciate your consistency as I know it takes time to research and write these. Thank you, and also thank you for helping me set up my boat these years!

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