Cutting Fish At Sea


With seasickness already a factor to contend with, giving your crew and everyone else on board food poisoning out at sea would be a truly abhorrent fate. Similarly, if you are sailing a charter for days or weeks, provisioning the boat so you have enough food for everyone until you can restock is a daunting task. Even experienced sailors struggle with this. But it does not need to be difficult. Here is the lowdown on getting your vessel stocked with provisions and safely handling and preparing food on board.


To take the stress of you the day before you depart, when you will have a million and one things to do and think about, start thinking about your provisioning early. Buy all the canned goods and non-perishables well in advance. If you don’t want to make a specific trip and carry everything in one load, add a few cans and non-perishable items to your weekly shop each week in the run-up to departure.

In terms of what you are buying, you want to think about health as well as convenience. For example, canned soup sounds great until you try to heat boiling hot soup while a boat is aggressively rocking backwards and forwards. I usually go for plenty of canned tuna, legumes like lentils and kidney beans, and canned vegetables like sweet corn, peas, and vegetable medleys. It is basic but healthy and easy to store and use. Powdered mashed potatoes are also quick and easy and don’t forget snacks like crisps, nuts and dried fruits.


Get plenty of sauces. If flavour is lacking, they are a good way of injecting some palate-stimulating flavour into your food. Ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and honey come on every charter with me. Tinned jalepeño chillies are also a secret weapon when it comes to injecting flavour, as are tinned olives and small ramekins of chutneys.


Although there should be fish-a-plenty, some variety of meat is also nice to enjoy. Placing a bulk order at a butcher will be the cheapest way and I have found if you ask nicely, they are also often willing to portion it up for you and vacuum pack it or freeze it. This takes all the work out of the process. If your butcher isn’t willing, you can do it yourself with a sharp knife and a vacuum packer. If you freeze it, you can also buy meat well in advance of your departure date.

This means the only thing you actually need to get on the day of, or the day before departure, are veggies. Get the freshest produce you can find. If it has already been sitting a day or two, it won’t last long on board.


So you have your food, now you just need to prepare it so as not to make everyone sick. Start with the fridge. It is imperative (I can’t stress this enough) that your fridge is 5 degrees centigrade or below. If you don’t know what your fridge temperature is, you need to buy a fridge thermometer as a matter of urgency.

Fill your fridge as much as possible. A fridge full of cold items will stay colder for longer. If you need to, fill a Gooner bag with water and freeze it, then stick it in the fridge to keep it cool. Add salt to the water to make it even colder. About 60gm of salt in the bag will mean the liquid won’t freeze until -4, keeping your fridge even more chilled.

If you have enough chopping boards, I would recommend using one for raw meat, one for cooked meats, and one for salad. However, I understand space is of a premium on board and this is a luxury many do not have. In that case, prepare all the salad items first, then put them in the fridge while you prepare the meat. This will reduce the risk of cross-contamination if you are only using one chopping board and washing it with detergent between uses.

Your fridge layout should have raw foods at the bottom. If there are any drips from raw foods into ready-to-eat foods, your unwelcome friend salmonella will be along to pay you a visit pretty fast.

Above all else, you must be washing your hands before you cook, after you handle raw meat and shellfish, and vegetables. Not a rinse, a thorough wash like your mother taught you, where you get under the nails and between the fingers.

Cleaning your hands properly should ensure that you don’t get an outbreak of food poisoning on board. This can’t be guaranteed but it will massively reduce the risk. The best motivation to keep food hygiene at the forefront of your mind; if you give everyone else food poisoning, you’ll be the most unpopular person on board and may be stuck with these people for days or weeks. That there should be motivation enough.


Do you have any food storing and handling tips from your time spent at sea? Let us know in the comments section below.

Peter Hollingsworth
Peter Hollingsworth

Peter has been fishing all around Australia since he was a boy. He loves camping, fishing and kayak fishing.