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20 Tips for Provisioning for A Long Sailing Trip

Provisioning a boat can seem like one of the most overwhelming jobs when preparing for a long passage. There’s quite a bit of pressure on the person stocking the boat with enough food, water, and necessary ancillary products (think toilet paper) to survive.

What foods are best to have? What veggies will last a month and what won’t? What can and can’t be frozen? How can you make food prep, while under passage, fast and easy – especially when the seas are sloppy? And how can you ensure that all the passengers are fed and watered properly?

After your first week-long or month long passage you’ll surely be much wiser as to what to do and what not to do. Wouldn’t it be invaluable, however, to learn from those that have already done it? Wouldn’t it be less stressful if you could make that first passage a massive success rather than a mediocre learning experience? With the following 20 tips, you’ll certainly have a greater chance of enjoying provisioning success. Read on. 

1. Start with the big picture and create a strategy

Like any project in life, it’s important to define the variables so you can plan accordingly. Here are some key details to collect:

  • First, you need to know how long the trip is estimated to take. 
  • Then, you’ll need to consider the number of people on the voyage. 
  • Another important consideration is guest allergies and food preferences – anyone allergic to nuts or selfish? Will you have all meat eaters? Or will many, if not all, be requiring plant-based meals? 
  • It’s important to understand who will be cooking or preparing food under passage – will all guests take turns or will there be one person (perhaps you?) in charge of the meals? 
  • Finally, it’s important to make your guests feel comfortable – long passages can be, let’s face it, LONG. That being said, a really yummy meal can seriously boot moral. Ask all your guests what their top five meals are or top five comfort meals. You don’t have to make them all and surely there will be overlap…but the information will give you an idea regarding provisioning and preparation.

Once you have the above information in place you can get to work making a meal plan. If the passage is estimated to take 20 days, you might want to make 10 meals to freeze, 10 kits (explained below) for lunch/dinner and have the ingredients for 10 more meals available. 

Depending on how much freezer and fridge space you have you’ll need to pick your meals carefully. If you have loads of freezer space, you can pre-cook many meals. If you don’t have much space, you’ll want to use that space strategically – what can you get from a can? What ingredients are shelf-stable? There are some excellent soups and stews that can be made predominantly from can goods. 

2. Collate Recipes to Batch Cook

It helps if you can borrow someone’s house or apartment to do this. Or, rent a property that has a kitchen and dedicate a full day to cooking. If you’re an all-electric boat like we are, it makes sense to head into a marina to plug into electrics as the oven will be used all day. 

When it comes to batch cooking you’ll cut up, say, carrots for four recipes and onions for, say, six recipes. Perhaps you’ll use ground beef in three recipes and chicken in four. You’re essentially prepping the veg, pulses, and meat to be cooked for several different meals. For example, you might make Chili Con Carne, Bolognese (meat sauces for pasta) and Shepherds Pie using all of the ground beef and many of the same vegetables. 

When I batch cook on the boat I use both my solar cooker pots (holds one full meal each), my slow cooker and my oven. When I’m organized it’s amazing how much I can cook in one day! To get some ideas about batch cooking, I created a Pinterest board full of loads of ideas: https://pin.it/h6ojnow5nc6mo4

3. Make Batching Kits

I define ‘batch cooking,’ as actually cooking the end meal or most of the end meal. For example, beef stew that’s fully cooked could be a batched meal. Same with Chili or the filling for a chicken pot pie. 

Kits, however, are not the final product. They are the raw ingredients to make the final product. For example, a chicken fajita kit will be a ziplock bag (or Tupperware) filled with sliced raw chicken, onions and peppers – to be frozen. On the kit, you can put instructions for other ingredients (ex. Fry ingredients with 2 tablespoons of fajita mix, fill soft taco shells with chicken mixture, shredded cheddar, and sour cream).

Kits can be made to be frozen or you can make kits out of shelf-stable ingredients like dehydrated vegetables, pasta and so forth. Again, I’ve created a board on Pinterest to give you a head start on ideas for kits: https://pin.it/mmq4lmnfm63hpm

Watch my video located at the very bottom of this post about preparing to sail to Bermuda to see examples of my batch cooking and kits.

Provisioning For A Long Sailing Passage

©Sailing Britican

4. Create a Batch and Kit Swap

It’s been known that a few cruiser boats might make double or triple batches of certain dishes to trade with other boats. Before we crossed the Atlantic I met up with three boats doing a swap. One boat made three family sized chicken stews. Another boat made three family sized portions of Moroccan lentil taggine and the final boat made three family sized meatloaves. All three boats ended up with one of each. Make sure you, however, sample your meal swapers cooking before doing a swap!

5. Meal and Food Inventory & Location

It’s amazing how quickly things get ‘misplaced’ or lost on a boat. You know you have a can of cranberries, but where did you put it? When planning a long trip it’s a good idea to create a spreadsheet of all the food on board and where it’s located. We keep all our back-up canned goods, sauces, dressings and oils under our saloon small sofa. Then we have the canned goods that we use most frequently in a galley cupboard. I also make a list of every meal, kit and raw ingredient in the freezer in addition to a map for finding them!

Within the meal and kit section, I also include cooking instructions, extras to include when cooking or side dishes that would work well. For example, for my shepherd’s pie, I cook and freeze the ground beef and vegetable mixture. Next to the Shepherds Pie entry, I list the location (back left bottom of the freezer) and how to assemble the rest of the pie. So, I’ll have, boil six large potatoes and mash. Layer beef mixture on the bottom of a casserole dish, pour cream styled corn over the top and then layer the mashed potato mixture above the corn, cover in cheddar cheese, bake and 350 for 40 minutes. Aside from putting the instructions on the excel sheet, I also might write directions on the container holding the meal. 

Britcan Club Members and Patron Patrons have access to my Provisioning Dry Goods And Freezer InventoryAtlantic Crossing Dry Goods InventoryAtlantic Crossing Freezer Inventory and my Meal Provisions Groupings so they can start with my templates and customise to suit their needs.

6. Recipe Book Ideas

Some people like to cook while on passage as it eats up time. Others feel better up on deck getting fresh air and want to spend the least amount of time below decks as possible. Everyone is different.

Before crossing the Atlantic, I did a search on AllRecipes.com that included many of the main ingredients we were going to carry. I got ideas for lentils, cabbage, butternut squash, pasta dishes, rice dishes and so forth. By having recipes that cover the ingredients on board it provides ideas to whoever is doing the cooking for the day/night. AllRecipes.com is great because you can search based on a variety of different main ingredients. Once I had all the recipes, I printed them out and created a binder for guests to look through. 

Keep in mind there’s no Google a few hours after you leave land!

7. Create A Meal Preparation Schedule

©Sailing Britican

On our daily jobs list there’s lunch and dinner duty listed

On Britican we all take turns making lunch and dinner. For breakfast, we do a serve yourself system. But everyone gets a schedule for when they’re cooking lunch and when it’s their time to do dinner. I offer the option of heating up a meal, using a meal kit or making something from scratch. Our other rule is that whoever cooks, cleans up. This system seems to cause the person cooking to use far fewer pots, pans, and dishes!

8. Filling The Freezer

The system I use is Ziplock bags. First I label the ziplock as to what’s going in it, the date and any instructions. I fill a quart or gallon sized bag with my meal, kit or things like cooked rice, cut onions, and peppers, breaking down a bulk buy ground beef into 1lb/500g portions. etc. so that the ziplock sits flat. I get all the air out and then put the meals/kits/ingredients on a cookie sheet and freeze them flat. If I’m borrowing someone else’s kitchen (a rental) there’s usually an empty freezer to use. The key is to make everything you freeze flat so it’s easy to stack and store. When I’m on the boat, I lay everything on a cookie sheet and make sure the items below are set up on a way that it holds the cookie sheet flat. 

Boat freezers are notoriously slow when it comes to freezing things. If you can get items already frozen or freeze them in someone else freezer to transfer to yours, it increases the chances that items will freeze and stay frozen. 

9. Vacuum Pack

There are small vacuum pack systems that you can get on Amazon or in Walmart that work very well. When vacuum packing items they last much longer in the fridge and way longer in the freezer. I do have a vacuum pack system on board but considering I have so few vacuum pack bags I’ve been too afraid to use it. If I like it I’m not sure I can get the right bags anytime soon! 

10. Good Things To Freeze

Rice: I often make a batch of rice in my solar cooker. Two cups of dry rice equate to about eight 2-cup portions that fit great in a ziplock. The portions fill two people and you can do a wide variety of things with rice – egg fried rice, Mexican rice bowls, rice, and beans. All I do is take the rice out of the freezer, let it defrost a bit and then fry it in a pan with whatever I can find in the fridge and pantry. Or, it works as a great filler to put below chili, curry or any kind of sauce dish. By freezing the rice you cut down on the time it takes to boil it. 

Milk: Even now as we’re in the Caribbean when I find milk I’ll buy as many cartons as I can carry. On the island we’re on now, fresh milk comes in only on Fridays and if you don’t hit the supermarket at the right time, it’s sold out. What we do is we open all the milk and pour out a little bit as it expands when it freezes. We then freeze it. Whenever we need more milk, we pull it out, let it defrost and put it in the fridge. It definitely beats UHT or powder milk but you do have to have a large freezer. 

Butter & Cheese: These both freeze well. I once purchased a 10lb bag of shredded cheddar, put them in individual bags and it lasted an entire sailing season.

11. Thinks Not To Freeze

Potatoes: They don’t work well. It’s better just to prepare the potatoes as and when you need them. Also, why take up space in the freezer when potatoes will last weeks, if not months, on a shelf. 

Sour Cream: The consistency goes on sour cream. It gets all grainy. You can freeze sour cream if you’re going to cook with it but if using on top of a burrito or similar it’s just not nice.  

Water: Learn to go without ice! There are so many better things to freeze. 

Meat with bones: Space is an issue. Why fill up your freezer with something that’s not edible. Avoid items that don’t have bang for your bucks such as ribs, a whole chicken or chicken drums. If you want rib meat, make it ahead and take it off the bone. For chicken, roast the chicken and then take the meat off the bones to freeze it. 

12. Prepare to Catch and Cook Fish

You’ll need a bucket, very sharp filleting knife, a cutting board dedicated to fish preparation and the fixings to go with fish. Sushi is amazing! Make sure to stock the boat with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger. If you’re really going to go to town, get a sushi roll kit and get the seaweed wraps, rice, and rice vinegar. Also, consider stocking breadcrumbs (fried fish) fish sauces and recipes for the kind of fish you might catch. To learn how to fillet a fish, make sure to watch our video, How To Fillet A Mahi Mahi – the technique in the video will work for most fish. 

13. Rationed Snack Packs

The worst thing on a journey is to run out of your crackers, chocolate, and guilty pleasures halfway through the passage. What we did was create four big grocery bags filled with pretzels, potato chips, candy bars, trail mix, crackers and so forth. Once the bag was gone for the week, it was gone. Only on Monday could the next snack bag come out. By rationing our snacks we had enough to keep us going the whole way across the Atlantic. 

14. Private Stash

Make sure to grab something that you really love to stash away in your cabin. For me, I got a pack of eight Snickers candy bars. Every so often, I’d go down into my room and have a moment of sheer bliss by devouring one of my Snickers bars. When doing a crossing there’s really not much to do – there’s no lows and no highs…but having something you love can be a real treat!

Provisioning For A Long Sailing Passage

©Sailing Britican

15. Buy Veggies That Will Last Long

What lasts long? Cabbage, carrots, parsnips, any root vegetable. Butternut squash, pumpkin, and apples are long lasting too. We did not wrap anything with aluminum as I’ve seen suggested. We had romaine lettuce that was still good after 18 days! Put all the long-lasting items in the back of your fridge or in a net. Make sure to strategically place all the fruit and veg that won’t last long in the front or in areas where people can get to them easily. Make sure to get recipes for the veggies that you choose.

16. Remove Packaging 

As soon as you get your items back to the boat, before getting on the boat, have a de-packaging party. Take all fruit and veg out of plastic wrappers and styrofoam plates. Remove the wrappers on cans (but mark on the top what’s in the cans!). Take cereal out of the cardboard box. Reduce everything to it’s smallest size. This will help with rubbish during the passage. Make sure to have three or four large drinking water bottles. Every day we cut up our non-biodegradable trash and put it in the jugs using a spoon to pack it down. After 18 days with seven people on board, we only had three full jugs of trash…and with the cap, there was no smell. 

17. Provisions That Can Be Stashed Anywhere That Are Valuable

  • Bake at home baguettes. They last for months and can be stashed in the bilge! When you bake them the smell makes everyone happy. 
  • Just-add-water options. Cup of soup, instant oatmeal, dehydrated ready meals are all great snacks for night passage grazers. 
  • Wraps. Tortilla wraps seem to last forever. Get a stash of these put them anywhere on the boat. 
  • Squash. Squash is a British thing but I’ve now seen it everywhere. It’s super concentrated juice. You add a tiny bit to water and have a nice juice drink. It takes up minimal space and goes a long way. 
  • Hydration Drops. With these, a little goes a very long way. It’s easy for guests to become dehydrated. Read my article entitled, Diarrhea, headaches, muscle cramps and more! to understand the signs and just how serious it is. Hydration drops can be added to some water and within seconds a person lacking in hydration will feel immediate benefits. We never go sailing without our drops! These are the one’s we use: Hydration Drops.

18. Extras That Are Good To Have (if you have space)

  • Soda Stream. If you have space and like soda water or soda pop these are a godsend. A soda stream is a contraption that adds carbonation to water. Once you have carbonated water you can flavor it with juice or special syrups. Drinking plain old water every day can get a bit dull. This is the Soda Stream we have.
  • Electric flat plate grill. Our grill allows you to make six to eight pancakes at one time. When making pancakes on the stovetop the most we can make is three. Having the plugin electric flat plate makes cooking for many much quicker. We also do our fish on the flat plate and it’s amazing how much we can cook at one time. This is similar to what we have – Electric Grill.
  • Slow cooker or solar cooker. For those that like to get meal preparation over early in the day and reap the rewards later during the evening a slow cooker or outdoor solar cooker is a great way to let food simmer slowly all day long. Slow cookers take very little energy and solar cookers take none! 
  • Bread maker. Nothing beats the smell of freshly made bread! 
  • Pre-made cookie mix or brownie mix. If moral gets low after a squall, just bake some cookies or brownies and there will be smiles all around 🙂

19. Random Tips

  • Bug eggs are already inside flour, pasta, and other grain packages. Yes, it’s gross but it’s a fact of boat life. When buying any kind of pasta or grain, buy it in a package that’s completely sealed rather than in a box. Your aim is to keep the bugs in one spot rather than let them wander… And don’t worry, you’ll know when a package has some live ones! I’ve stopped buying too much pasta as it will inevitably have bugs within a few weeks. I think it’s the high heat that makes them hatch. If you have room to freeze things, you can try freezing your flour, rice, and pasta… I prefer to use my freezer for meals and not flour/grains. Therefore I contain our bugs by buying small packages of flour, rice, and pasta. If one package gets bugs, it’s not a big deal. If I do buy pasta in a box, I immediately put it in a ziplock bag – again this will contain the bugs if they do hatch. Unfortunately, these little buggers can eat through plastic so you have to routinely inspect your stock. 
  • Tell guests to bring their own drinking cup with a closable lid. That way they can look after their own hydration needs with their own personal cup. We carry various bottles on board but a water bottle is quite personal and it’s good to get your guests to bring their own. 
  • After eating your meal, use your napkin or paper towel to wipe your plate clean. This small act can make doing the dishes so much easier!
  • Get oversized bowls for your meals. That way if they slosh around the contents won’t slosh out of the bowl and onto the deck. We purchased large plastic bowls where a serving fills half the bowl. When eating in turbulent seas there’s no need to worry that something my fly out. 
  • If you’re going to make bread practice how you’re going to do it before you leave. Boat ovens don’t work like house ovens. In other words, don’t wait until you’re under passage to learn how to make your own bread. Practice before you leave to make sure you can actually do it. If not, find an alternative solution. 
  • Fill the boat with as many paper towels as you can. Toilet paper is good to have too…but paper towels are always in high demand. 
  • Consider planning a half way party where everyone brings something special to share with each other during/after a meal – examples include pate, a special drink, chocolates, etc. Also, come up with contests – everyone guesses how many miles you’ll do in the next 24hours and keep track of who wins every day. You can also create prizes for the end of the journey – best-cooked meal? Funniest comment on the passage? We had a hat party day where we all had to create a hat made with our daughter’s arts and craft supplies. We also had a movie night where most of us all watched a movie together. 
  • Think of games to bring. Cards will blow away yet a game like Rummikub works great on the boat as the game uses tiles. Check that out on Amazon here: Rummikub

20. Last Important Tips

  • Even if you have a watermaker make sure to pack the boat with enough water for everyone on board. Watermakers notoriously pack up during long voyages. If you’re drinking bottled water during the journey, fill up the bottles with water from your water tanks and store. Keep making water as you normally would but know that you’ve replaced the bottled water with tank water that can be used if necessary. 
  • Journeys can unexpectedly take far longer than anticipated. Make sure you have loads of canned goods and extra food in the event you’re at sea for a while.
  • Consider storing canned meat to use. Think about worst case scenarios – what if the freezer fails? Will you have enough canned and refrigerated food to last the journey? What if your oven dies? Do you have alternative ways to cook food? Think about having a backup plan to every system on the boat and this includes cooking systems.

What Tips Do You have?

Please add them below and share your experience 🙂

More on Provisioning?

Watch our video about how we prepared for a short 5-day sail to Bermuda. The tips about provisioning start around the 5:20 minute mark.

Other How-To or Questions Answered Resources

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