Living without refrigeration is a challenge, but it can be done. These articles will help with meal planning and learning how to store food.

Cruising Without Refrigeration

Cruising without refrigeration doesn’t have to be an ordeal.  Admittedly, far more people cruise without refrigeration when they use their boat for weekend jaunts or an occasional week-long trip, but plenty of people have cruised for years with nothing more than an ice box or cooler.

Many articles here on The Boat Galley deal with various aspects of cruising without a refrigerator.  The following may be helpful if you’re just learning to live without refrigeration.

Also, be sure to check out my ebook: Storing Food without Refrigeration. A bit of shameless self-promotion here, but it’s the best $10 you’ll ever spend if you want to have truly good meals without refrigeration — not just a repeat of my articles here but about 50% new content, gathered together and organized by topic. Learn more.


•  No Refrigeration?

Meal Planning:

•  No Refrigeration Meals

Storing Food in an Ice Box or Cooler:

•  How to Use an Ice Box or Cooler for Food Storage

•  Tips for Making Block Ice

•  The Best Cooler for Food Storage

•  Reducing What You Store in the Refrigerator or Ice Box

Other Ways to Store Food:

•  Storing Fruit without Refrigeration

•  Storing Veggies without Refrigeration

•  Making and Using Ghee

•  Boxed Milk

Storing Veggies without Refrigeration Quick Reference

Having a wide variety of fresh veggies really makes meals better. Many vegetables will last a surprising length of time without even a cooler — weeks to a month or more.

I made a cheat sheet for storing 12 veggies without refrigeration — a one-page set of reminders on how to store various things and how long they’ll last. It’s really just the tip of the iceberg as far as storing food without refrigeration goes, but it’s a great starting point.

Want a copy of the Storing Veggies without Refrigeration Quick Reference Guide? I prettied up the one I made for myself and turned it into a FREE downloadable PDF. Get it here:

If you’re currently without refrigeration and thinking of adding it, be sure to read:

•  Adding or Changing Refrigeration:  Things to Think About

•  Engel Portable Refrigerator/Freezer

And if you’re contemplating setting off on extended cruising without refrigeration, I don’t want to discourage you.  Heavens knows, I’ve camped for months at a time without refrigeration — and if that’s how to make the cruising budget work, so be it.  It certainly sounds romantic, to “live like the pioneers.” But before you do it long term — and risk the investment you’ve made in the boat by deciding you hate cruising basically because you hate living without refrigeration — I suggest an experiment.

Duct tape the refrigerator and freezer shut (so you don’t inadvertently get into it), then go to the store and stock up for a week. No more trips to the store for the week, no going to restaurants, no getting in the refrigerator. If you think you’d have a cooler on board, use it — but remember, no buying extra ice during the week.  In actual extended cruising, you’re likely to go longer than a week between provisioning runs . . . but a week is a good start as an experiment.

Use the tips here on cruising without refrigeration and see how it works for you.  The first few days will be the hardest; with time, you’ll learn your own ways of doing things.  You’ll quickly get a feel for whether you could live that way permanently — and see how you’ll need to provision the boat.

Beth Leonard and Evans Starzinger have written two articles that are really on point, but it’s important to remember that they built Hawk for high-latitude sailing, where temperatures are much cooler than in the tropics (particularly a tropical summer):

•  What We Left Off Hawk

•  Keeping Food Without Refrigeration

Before we left cruising, we figured that we didn’t really need refrigeration.  But Que Tal came with a nice refrigerator and we loved having it. For us, cruising in the tropics in the summer, the main advantage of having refrigeration wasn’t the ability to store meat and veggies, but having cold drinks when it was over 90 — or 100 — out.

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  • Victor
    Posted at 27 August 2011 Reply

    I found a cheap way to have refrigeration on my little 25 foot boat . I looked around for a VERY low priced ( almost scrap ) RV trailer for sale ..( Ebay is also a good resource for these ) I paid 300 bucks for the trailer . Out of it i got the 12/110 volt fridge, a 30 gallon water tank ( VERY clean ) and then when i scrapped the carcas of the trailer i got back 200 bucks .. not too shabby .. ( it also had a gas stove but without an oven so i left it in the trailer for the scrap guys ) not to mention all the lights i took out of the trailer that seem to match the lights in my boat 🙂
    Happy Sailing

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 27 August 2011 Reply

      Very resourceful . . . lots of RV stuff works well on boats.

  • Decisions on Marine Refrigeration | The Quest for Wind and Waves
    Posted at 25 October 2011 Reply

    This blog gives a detailed discussion of the decision to install refrigeration — and some of his considerations in which system to choose. Click the name above to read it!

  • Boater's Planet
    Posted at 19 January 2017 Reply

    We always try to keep dry ice in one of the coolers. Just keep it in well ventilated area.

  • Slowboat
    Posted at 19 January 2017 Reply

    And if you’re cruising in an area with tidewater glaciers, bergie bits are great in the cooler!

  • Rachel Roy Smith
    Posted at 19 January 2017 Reply

    we cruised the Eastern caribbean for 10 years without refrig. used a cooler with bags of ice…. ate well and stayed healthy!

  • Sheryl Shard
    Posted at 20 January 2017 Reply

    We did our first 3-year voyage around the Atlantic, 1989-92, without refrigeration and learned lots of tricks to eat well and keep foods fresh. That trip included our longest passage – 20 days from the Canary Islands to Brazil.

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