Boat Food Storage: How to Store Food on a Boat Properly

Although the whole sailing part of the boat experience might send your adrenaline rushing, it’s really the wind down with family and friends that cements the memory. And what good is a little get together without some good food?

If you’ve ever packed for a picnic on your boat, you probably already know how messy things can get. That's why it's important to know how to store food on a boat the right way. Fortunately, there are a few boat food storage tricks you can try to keep food organized and fresh all throughout your boating trip.

Why is Boat Food Storage So Important?

How to Store Food on a Boat

What’s so wrong about tossing your food into a lunchbox and getting underway? Well, while that definitely guarantees that you’ll have food with you when you get to the water, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have food you can still enjoy.

Boating conditions are extremely different from your office cafeteria, and things can get way too messy for comfort if you don’t plan ahead. There are a bunch of reasons why you’re going to want to get all technical with food prep and storage for a boat trip, including:

Freshness

Hot, sunny conditions can easily turn some food items rotten. And when they’re too close to other potentially viable foods, you run the risk of spoiling those, too. Proper storage means you won’t have to worry about opening your Lock & Lock to find an uneatable mess.

Temperature regulation

Who wants to crack open a warm one? No one, of course. Some food and drink are better enjoyed cold, while others would really hit the spot if they were kept warm. And because most boats don’t have the facilities on board to regulate temperature, proper packing and storage is the most practical solution.

Cleanliness

That constant motion and ebbing can cause major spills that can get your boat smelling like a hot mess over the course of a single trip. So if you don’t want to get on all fours to scrub away the ranch dressing from all of those nooks and crannies, then you’re going to want to invest in proper food storage solutions.

Contamination

It’s one thing to get your boat dirty with food, and another to get your food contaminated with germs and bacteria. Unless you spent the last evening sanitizing your boat from your previous fishing trip, there are probably still a few areas that are teeming with contaminants. Proper food storage just makes sure none of that will come into contact with your food.

How to Properly Store Food On a Boat

While you might have your own preferences when it comes to storing food on a boat, there are a few guiding principles that should give you a general idea as to how you should keep your food to prep for your trip.

These tips should help you achieve all four of our top reasons for proper food storage so you can enjoy a hearty, healthy, and clean meal the next time you decide to go on a boating trip.

Sort by temperature

Although you might feel inclined to just toss everything together in a single storage unit, separating your food by temperature will help keep your salad crisp and your sandwiches nice and toasty.

coleman performance cooler

For cold items like drinks, salads, yogurt, and desserts, consider getting an ice box or cooler. Some designs, like the Coleman Performance Cooler can keep ice solid for up to three days which is definitely more than your boating trip is likely to last. 

Colzer Dual Zone Fridge

If you’ve got a little extra to spare, a mini fridge for your boat should be the perfect investment. Check out the Colzer Dual Zone which is a great option.

Hot food items can be stored in an insulated bag and then inside underseat storage. Stainless steel thermal food containers can also help extend heat retention and keep your savory meal nice and warm even after the long ride.

Keep fruits and veggies exposed

sea dog line gear hammock

Storing fruits and veggies in sealed containers can increase humidity and speed up the rotting process. That’s why most experienced sailors recommend keeping fruits and vegetables contained in nets or baskets.

For boating, food hammocks prove to be a no-brainer. Aside from keeping fresh produce crisp, they also keep boat snacks just within reach so you don’t have to rummage through bags and boxes to find something to nibble on.

We like using the Gear Hammock by Sea Dog Line.

Go for compact

ziploc bags

Some food containers can be crazy big, taking up way too much space and thus limiting the actual food that you pack with you. Sure, it would be great to give little Timmy some cereal while you’re on the boat, but did you see how big that box is? Instead of packing things in their original boxes or in bulky containers, opt for something a little more streamlined.

Ziploc bags are a cheap way to store lots without having the containers themselves take up too much space in your storage. They’re also reusable so you can wash them out and dry them for your next boating trip.

Always super handy to have Ziplock Freezer Bags around.

Leave a mark

Now, was this ranch dressing or greek yogurt? To prevent the mix ups, take a marker and write out labels on plastic baggies. If you’re using containers, opt for stickers and place them where they’re easy to see.

Some people even go the extra lengths of writing down expiration dates and purchase dates on meat products if they’re going on extended camping trips. Whatever the case, if you’re repacking some food items that are hard to identify when they’re out of their original packaging, then a good ol’ marker should be your best friend.

Stay organized

stack and pull storage boxes

You don’t want your eating essentials and snacks all over the place during the night. Big plastic storage bins should help you keep everything sorted so you know where to get what.

You can designate bins for certain groups of food products. For instance, you can have one for snacks, one for condiments, and one for plates, utensils, and other eating necessities. You can also opt for color coded bins, especially if you’ve got kids on board.

We recommend the Colored Plastic Storage Bins by Humble Crew as well as the Stack & Pull Storage Boxes.

Get extra table space

removable table for your pontoon boat

It’s one thing to keep your food in storage on a boat, and another to eat it on a boat. Since boats don’t always have a lot of table surface, you might want to try getting a removable table that you can attach and stow away at your convenience.

If you’re a fan of preparing food on your boat, these trays double up as kitchen counter space for slicing up fruits, veggies, and even fish and meat. They also come in a variety of designs so you can mount them almost anywhere on your boat.

Check out this Boat Utility Table with Cup Holders & Storage by Docktail Bar which you can mount easily.

Sanitize what you can

sanitizing wipes

The clean up process after eating is still a part of food storage, especially when you consider how there might be some stuff left to toss out. But since you can’t just chuck that overboard, you’re going to want to get crafty.

For dirty plates with sauces and food residue, you can use paper towels or pull wipes to clean them off for the meantime. Some boating enthusiasts bring along a few large bottles of freshwater they can use to rinse off their plates and utensils.

If there are food leftovers you want to throw away, it pays to have a garbage bag and trash can at the ready. Collect any trash and waste you don’t plan on keeping and wait until you get back to the dock to throw everything away.

Used plates and utensils can get their own designated plastic bin to prevent them from getting mixed up with the other clean stuff. You can then give them a proper wash once you get home.

One Last Thing

Remember that food residue can create the perfect ecosystem for bacteria and contaminants to thrive. If you’re bringing food on board, make sure to keep an eye on spills and crumbs, and to clean them up as soon as you can.

Any food residue that’s left on board after your trip can become the beginning of foul odors and deep-seated stains. As much as possible, try to contain all eating activities to a certain area of your boat so you can easily localize any places you need to clean.

A quick wipe down with some boat cleaner or DIY cleaning solution can help get rid of food and drink stains and spills. You’re also going to want to clean out all your containers, bins, bags, and storage items so they’re ready and sanitized for your next trip.

Proper Food Storage for Boats

Hey, bringing food on a boat is no picnic -- you’re going to have to plan for it. While it’s always fun to have a substantial supply of food on board, there’s no denying that it poses the potential for a monstrous mess, especially if you’re not completely prepared.

The next time you plan a picnic out on the lake, try out these boat food storage tips. By keeping things neat, organized, and sanitized, you should be able to enjoy a picture-perfect lunch on the lake like nobody’s business.