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Guide to provisioning your boat

Planning ahead for your passages drives provisioning preparations

Whether you are coastal cruising or crossing an ocean, eating well is key to keeping the crew happy, alert, and healthy. Some people view provisioning as a daunting task. We've learned to take it in stride, applying some basic and pretty easy planning techniques to make it manageable.

What will your journey involve?

Some of the key issues to decide up front will be answered by asking the following questions:
  • How do you like to eat while underway? Basic chow or culinary elegance?
  • How much time will you be underway and in what likely conditions?
  • Will you be eating ashore at major ports or eating aboard while gunkholing?
  • How many will be aboard and what special needs might they have?

There is no reason why you would have to suffer with canned foods onboard for a short (week long) cruise. A little advance planning is all it will take to make meals that can satisfy and impress.

Phases of the journey

The overnight passage

I like to divide up the meal planning into phases that reflect where we will be at any given time and what we'll be doing. For example, if day one involves an overnight passage with six people dividing up watches in three-hour increments, then my meal sequence will be as follows:

  • Dinner for the entire crew, prepared in advance and warmed up enroute. A perfect example would be a lasagna and salad prepared earlier in the day and warmed in the oven after we've shoved off. Often, there will be enough left over for that midnight snack for robust young men. Having more than you think you'll need is usually a good idea and rarely goes to waste on an overnight passage. People eat more at sea. Hearty, hot, and plenty of it is a good way to go.
  • Snacks and drinks for the overnight period. Here I'll include Granola bars, chocolate or cookies, small yogurt containers, and hot soup or broth. I like to include both salty and sweet because different people have different cravings at different times. I will usually prepare a thermos of soup, a thermos of tea, and a thermos of coffee. We have a thermos holder in the galley and the contents usually stay warm through the night.
  • Breakfast underway consists of fruit salad, cereal and milk or yogurt. It's easy, nutritious, and satisfying, and it can be served to different watch parties at different times. The tea and coffee get replenished for the morning shift.
  • Lunch will usually consist of an assortment of sandwiches, and soup if its cold, but plenty of water and gatorade if it's hot. Otherwise, I might bring a giant hoagie (sub, etc), cut up into handy chunks stored in an aluminum baking dish. This is especially helpful on a rambunctious passage. You run the risk of the bread getting soggy, but if you have the deli prepare the sandwich without the dressing, you can add that just before serving.

The gunkholing day

The second phase for me will involve days anchored in areas where we may not be going ashore or where availability of meals ashore is limited. For these days, I plan detailed menus that are appropriate for the amount of time they have to endure before being cooked. I bring all meats frozen and sealed in watertight plastic bags, so they will keep the refrigerator cooled and they will take time to defrost thus staying fresher longer. Here are some sample menus for "gunkholing days":

  • Breakfast of vegetable and egg fritatta, sausage, bread, and orange juice. It makes a very impressive and colorful meal that our crew have even taken pictures of. We have two plexiglas coffee presses onboard and use them to make both tea and coffee. It feels very special to brew the hot breakfast drinks. We do keep tea bags and instant coffee on board for refills.
  • Lunch will involve sandwiches prepared on rolls underway to everyone's liking and served with a potato salad or chips, and pickle slices. For dessert or snack, fresh fruit punctuates the lunch selections. I find that I can make a sandwich factory under most conditions except the worst. If the weather is nasty and we need to sail to a new destination, I'll try to make the sandwiches before departing.
  • Dinner represents a chance to get away from the galley. We have a BBQ on deck and I like to delegate responsibility for grilling to the men. A pre-frozen and pre-marinated, London broil is the perfect grill mate. Just prepare some marinade, place in plastic bag, and insert frozen meat. The meat will marinade as it thaws. Seawater smashed potatoes are a great accompaniment with vegetables in a pouch to complement the meal. Simply slice up some green peppers, tomatoes, onions, and zucchini, sprinkle with Mediterranean spices, dot with butter, seal in a foil pouch and grill alongside the meat. Color and flavor add the perfect touch. For dessert, pudding made in advance and brought in a tupperware container is always a winner.

Going ashore and dealing with leftovers

The third phase encompasses days when we go ashore or find local fare to supplement our diet. In some places, you know you'll want local seafood as part of the experience. Local lobster and oysters, crabs, fresh fish, are all readily available in fishing ports. So you provision for the side dishes only. Corn on the cob keeps well. I like to shuck the corn in advance to avoid the mess onboard, while Alex like to cook the corn in the husk on the BBQ. Either way, I tend to bring along more than needed and use the remainder to make corn chowder from leftovers. Broccoli or beans are also handy and easy vegatable side dishes that keep well.

Speaking of leftovers, meals ashore and fishing successes usually result in a bounty of leftovers, which is why I always bring slightly less fresh food along than I think I'll need. Of course I compensate for the possibility that we won't catch any fish by bringing plenty of emergency supplies in canned and dry goods, but I have rarely had to delve into them (although that chili from Costco is outrageously good). I plan the breakfasts and lunches to take the leftovers into account. Here are some ways to do that:

  • A breakfast omelet with a sauteed vegetable medly (leftovers from the night before) and cheese, bread, and a slice of ham. I find that eggs keep longer and better than milk. I also like to bring along a frozen quiche and serve it for breakfast or lunch when it defrosts. Ham is much easier to deal with than bacon onboard (what do you do with the grease?) and satisfying as part of a hearty breakfast.
  • Luncheon salads made from leftover potatoes or pasta, and shellfish or fish make great lunch alternatives to sandwiches. Just chop the ingredient you have available into small bite sized pieces, add some sliced celery and onions, and dress with a homemade mix of one tablespoon mustard, one tablespoon vinegar, two tablespoons mayonnaise. A three bean salad or green salad with vignagrette makes a nice complement. Chunks of whole grain bread top it off.
  • Dinner of fish cakes or fish pie is another wonderful way to repurpose a large fish caught underway. See the recipes posted here.

The one thing I usually buy when on shore leave is fresh bread. But just in case, I bring along a bread mix, muffin mix and Pillsbury buttermilk biscuits to throw in the oven when the fresh bread supply is dwindling.

Sample menus

I don't like to have a daily meal plan because there is always a reason to alter it due to weather, leftovers, seasickness, and plenty of other factors. What I like to do is prepare for a selection of menus that can be varied daily to accomodate the needs of that day. So, if we expect a rough passage one day, we make the easy meal. If we expect to be motoring flat all day, we'll use the microwave for preparation. Here are some ideas for things that might make good choices for interchangeable meal plans.
Cooking spaghetti when it's cold out makes lots of steam to warm the cabin.


  • Vegetable Fritatta, sausages, hearty bread, OJ
  • Hot or cold cereal and milk, bananas
  • Omelet with cheese and ham
  • Muesli and yogurt, oranges
  • Quiche Lorraine (frozen at home and reheated aboard)
  • French toast (works best with stale bread but can also be prepared and frozen)
  • Toasted bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon (vacuum packed)


  • Ham and cheese sandwiches with tomato, lettuce, and pickle
  • Frankfurters with hot pepper relish and potato chips
  • Chili con carne with hot buns
  • Assembly line Italian heros with tortilla chips
  • Soup and turkey sandwich
  • Fish cakes and assorted salads
  • Tuna, three bean and green salads



  • Cheeses
  • Sausages
  • Crackers
  • Bruchetta
  • Chips and dip (salsa)
  • Crudite and dip (cracked pepper ranch)
  • Nuts and trail mix
  • Grilled oysters


  • People say they eat everything but it's not true. Probe to see what they will not eat. Ask about tripe and organ meats and they will usually laugh - then they'll tell you if they don't eat eggs.
  • Ask if people get seasick and remind them to bring any medications they might need. Stock up on ginger tablets and ginger candy.
  • Children may not eat what's served for adults. Will you need to cook differently for them?
  • Ask about food allergies. Many youngsters are allergic to peanuts, which includes peanut oils used to cook lots of foods like potato chips. Avoid bringing items aboard that can be mistaken and cause problems.
  • One dish meals are excellent choices - lasagna, quiche, fritatta, casserole!
  • Plan to use leftovers but prepare a safety margin with canned or dry goods.
  • Alternate hot breakfasts with cold lunches and vice versa.
  • Soups and stews are great to have along for miserable weather windows.
  • Carry far more water than you'll think you need. Bring lots of Gatorade on hot days to compensate for electrolyte loss - just water alone won't do if someone is developing heat stroke. Make your own if you forget - dissolve a spoonful of sugar and a spoonful of salt in a glass of water.
  • Take milk in smaller containers so you only open what you need in one day.
  • Canned tuna and chili are useful backup foods that most people will eat.
  • A jar of caviar can dress up the most mundane of dishes.
  • Use the most perishable items first. Plan to reprovision bread along the way, either ashore or by baking.
  • Bring melba toast and oyster crackers as well as plain broth and tea for anyone who might get seasick.


Instead of buying block ice, freeze bottles of ice at home and bring along. When it melts, it won't flood your cooler/refrigerator and you'll have extra fresh water for emergency use.

1. Bring long lasting bottles of condiments that do not require refrigeration (such as Pickapeppa, Worcestershire, Tabasco , soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and honey) to instantly liven up food.  Little packets like those served in fast food restaurants are good to stow aboard for variety.

2. Olive oil is not only good for you it can be kept onboard for a long time and can be substituted for butter in almost any recipe (even some cakes). Butter can provide immediate richness to soups and savory dishes.  Bring your butter in a sealable container, like Tupperware, to prevent intrusion of smells and spills from your refrigeration system or coolers.

3. Bring along a nice selection of staples and spices for general use: olive oil, vinegar, sugar, and flour can substitute for many ingredients you might forget to bring along. In addition to salt and pepper, use dried herbs and ground spices to season food. SeasonAll is a great all around spice for meats and fish. There are several manufacturers now selling multiple flavor seasoning dispensers for dipping mixtures and spicing.  These are great to have onboard. 

You can make your own.  Pack them in small re-sealable bags and keep them in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Or make up flavoured salts by grinding together coarse sea salt with dried thyme, rosemary, oregano and mint. For added spice, combine sea salt with cayenne pepper, paprika or curry powder. Sprinkle onto fish, chicken and meat dishes to enhance their flavor.

4. Aged hard cheeses such as parmesan and pecorino romano are fantastic for grating over pasta and mashed potatoes, and into eggs and omelets. They keep well for periods longer than a week.  Cheeses in wax keep even longer and, if you buy smaller ones, you’ll have delicious snacks all through your cruise.

For longer periods, remove cheese from plastic wrapping, cut into smaller wedges and envelop each one in a kitchen paper moistened with cider vinegar to prevent mold from growing. Rewrap in a breathable bag and keep in a cool dark place if refrigeration is not available.

5. It is now easy to find inexpensive vacuum sealers that are fantastic for preserving food. Wrap batches of space-saving flat breads such as whole wheat pitas and tortillas in vacuum sealed bags, to provide additional carbohydrate or use as meal accompaniments during the first week. 

6. Nuts, seeds and dried fruit are great healthy snacks to help keep hunger at bay in between meals. In addition, bring little jars or bags of toasted sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds or sliced almonds for sprinkling over chicken, fish or rice dishes and to provide extra texture and crunch.

7. Prepare and freeze whatever you can in advance. Meats are most vulnerable in hot weather.  Bring only frozen meats tightly sealed in spill proof containers.  They will help chill your cooler and they will thaw slowly if stored together so their useful life will be prolonged.  However, don't let them leak into your refrigeration system when they thaw. That is an awful mess to clean up.

8. Bring along a bread or muffin mix to which you only have to add water.  Having freshly baked  bread when you want it is a serious luxury. Buttermilk biscuits from a mix or Pillsbury prepared dough are quick and easy and go with lots of different meals. Bring along some heavy German whole grain brown bread which keeps almost indefinitely if kept tightly wrapped.

9. Eggs are a great all around staple and keep better than you think. Get them in styrofoam containers because the cardboard melts in the fridge.

10. Carry spare spill proof containers to store leftovers in the refrigerator or cooler. Put everything in plastic bags to avoid contamination as things melt or spill. There is nothing worse than to find out that the milk and OJ cartons spilled onto everything.


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