Cruising Without Refrigeration

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2011 • all rights reserved

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.


•  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

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.

Print Friendly
How to Copy

Do You Find The Boat Galley Useful?

You can support the site when you buy from Amazon by using the links on this site or clicking below. No extra cost to you!



  1. 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

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

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

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

  5. 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.

Add Your Thoughts