Best Dishes for Sailboats: Galley Dinnerware Plates

Best Dishes for Sailboats: Galley Dinnerware Plates | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Elizabeth O'Malley

June 15, 2022

Wanna keep morale high on board? Choose the best dishes for your boat! Galley dinnerware can make (and hopefully not break!) meals underway and dockside.

Outfitting your galley -- whether you are dockside 90% of the time or a hard-core cruiser – means picking the proper dishes and glassware for safe, easy, enjoyable meals. From material to motif, consider the following when shopping for bowls, platters, mugs, and more!

Many sailors have amassed a mishmash of galley items over the years, and, while some are always going to be appropriate, newer options are making galley-stocking decisions more diverse from both functionality and aesthetic angles. Whether it’s the way a plate stays in place when heeled over 30 degrees or the way a wine glass feels in your hand, on your lips, and when it crashes to the deck, you’ll want to consider your personal dinnerware preferences and design taste as you outfit or upgrade your galley.

As a person who spends a lot of time on both sailboats (and, yes, power boats) and as a person who loves to entertain family and friends on board, I have come to appreciate the interplay of how dinnerware works, stows, and looks.


Table of contents

Best Dishes For Sailboats

Plates, dishes, and bowls can be made from the same materials as dinnerware in a landlubber’s kitchen, but boat life presents different considerations for the composition of galleyware. Here are various options for galleyware, presented in order of my least to most favorite:

Disposable and Paper Plates for Boats

While paper plates are easy and disposable, the mere thought of a true sailor opting for such an environmentally-antagonistic product makes me a bit seasick. Literally, the disposable nature of today’s society is making our seas sick and why any self-respecting sailor would opt for this, I simply can’t fathom.

Stainless Steel Plates and Bowls for Boats

Stainless steel – plates, bowls, mugs, and glasses – can certainly stand up to the rigors of boat life, much as they do for camping life, but dropping a stainless plate on pine-needled forest floor versus the deck of a boat has different outcomes. Yes, stainless steel, with regular use becomes pretty dented and we’ve had plates get bend-y and not flat after a while. Possibly more so than the denting, I just don’t like the taste of metal or the sound of metal while I’m eating. Clink, clink, clink. While I do like the clink, clink, clink of a halyard at night (yes, I know, many people hate that sound), I don’t like the sound of utensils clinking on a metal plate. And food really does taste differently when served on metal. It does, really! Having said that, if you feel compelled to go with stainless steel galleyware, here’s a complete stainless galleyware set folks seem to like. Candidly, I’m kind of a sucker for the “packaging” of these various pieces -- but practically it does seem like a good option for people who may step ashore for some hiking (or even beach camping which some pals of mine do because they “sail to surf” all over the world!).

Although it doesn’t necessarily fit in the “plate-dish-bowl” category I’m covering in this article, one stainless steel galley item that you may want to add to your wish list (especially if you do a lot of onboard cooking) is this set of nesting stainless steel cookware.  It is 100% 18-10 marine-grade stainless steel and a real space saver.  When nested, it stores in less than 1/2 ft³ of space.  While I haven’t used it before, to me this stainless tiered, multi-step lid that can work for different sized pots and pans seems like it’d be helpful to have on hand.

Plastic Plates and Bowls for Boats

Plastic is a popular option and, admittedly, I’ve got plastic drink tumblers that get regular use. I sort of feel like plastic is just one step above paper relative to its environmental impact but I can’t argue that it stows well, is lightweight, takes a beating and (unless it’s a more brittle plastic) rarely breaks or shatters. Over the years, most of my food storage containers are plastic – and the only real negative with that is they’re prone to absorbing color and odors, which seems even more prevalent in damp boating conditions.  I started with a version of this lightweight, unbreakable plastic dinnerware a while ago, and it may suit your needs if you’re comfortable with plastic and not too considered about attractiveness.

One of the clear advantages of plastic is that it can be microwaved -- and in some cases put in the oven (typically at no more than 300 degrees and for no longer than 45 minutes if you take it from freezer to oven). If you’re a big fan of the microwave, plastic definitely is a leading contender for galleyware.

I recently visited with a friend and her husband who were on the Intracoastal and docked in nearby Beaufort, North Carolina for several days. I fell head over(board) heels for the personalized plastic plates they had on their boat. It came as a big surprise to learn that she had purchased the plates from Amazon and, while $20 a plate is more than I think I want to spend, if you want to keep up(wind) from the Jones, you can check these fun, classic customized plates out for yourself right here.

Plastic is probably the most common material that I see folks using, and I definitely get the benefits of it.  Like paper plates, though, for me, it has a pretty substantial drawback -- it’s just so not eco-friendly.  

Wooden and Bamboo Plates and Bowls for Boats

Wooden galleyware has a nice warm feel to it, and aesthetically, at least for me, it often works well with a boat’s appearance. Wooden plates and bowls are great in terms of the breakage and the bounce-factor and they can hold up to regular use. When stored and not used on a regular basis, though, I have seen wooden galleyware deteriorate from the damp environment typically associated with boats; however, when I was in San Diego for a decade, the desert-like dry air (even dockside) never impacted the bamboo trays that we used on board.

I still have an earlier version of this wooden galleyware,and every now and then still use it casually (but not for impressing guests). If wood is your thing, they do last well but will eventually begin to splinter here and there. These bamboo plates are nice because of their square shape – they seem to take up less space than round plates but maybe that’s just my imagination. My wooden beer mugs always elicit a variety of comments – mainly the surprise that there’s even such a thing as a “modern” wooden beer mug. And these coconut shell bowls are also a fun favorite due to both their depth and their material.  They are not supposed to be used for very hot items but I’ve served soup in them before -- just not piping hot, burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth hot.  

Melamine Plates and Bowls for Boats

My absolute preference for dishes and plates on the boat – and my ever-growing collection of it reflects my affinity for it – is melamine. Like plastic, it’s fairly lightweight and stacks well without sliding around too much (and options with non-skid material on the bottom alleviates this issue). Melamine galleyware comes in soooo many attractive designs – that rarely fade and hold up well to rough-and-tumble boat life. The biggest negative to melamine is that it is not microwavable. So, a quick reheat of last night’s leftovers can’t happen on those cute anchor or nautilus shell-themed plates. For me, that’s a tradeoff that I’m comfortable with but if you’re a leftover hound (and use the microwave a lot), keep that con in mind.

Melamine isn’t a whole lot better for the environment than plastic -- it’s actually just really hard plastic. Sigh. It just seems like the design options (both dimensions and graphics) are better and, dare I say, classier than plastic.  In my mind, melamine is like the Nordstrom of plastic so if design and appearance really matters to you, I suspect you’ll find much better choices than with plastic. As an example, I love this setting for four for its minimalist in design -- it can be mixed and matched with various patterned napkins, charges, placemats, etc. A plastic version of this would look and feel, well, chintzy.  

If your see-worthy taste tends toward nautical (and isn’t that way you’re here on this site?) this melamine set with a nautical flag design might just appeal to your sail flag fetish. There is a third melamine set that I have my eye on and it is from a small, woman-owned business (Relish in Atlanta).  This style marries the look of pottery with the efficient ease of melamine.

Bowls on Board Sailboats

While not something one might think to consider when acquiring galleyware, you should definitely ponder the seemingly simple bowl before you buy.  Bowls by nature are intended to corral foodstuffs that don’t cooperate with a flat surface, i.e. a plate or dish.  When sitting still on land or even standing at a cocktail party, it’s fairly easy to eat off of a plate without too much risk of food falling or sliding off.  But it goes to a different level of complexity on a boat -- which means that bowls become much more often used vessels for meals.  

Bowls come in different sizes (as you can see with the three different melamine set options I have already linked) and size matters. It’s sometimes better to get a bigger bowl (20 oz versus 16 oz) so you can put the same amount in the bowl but the contents don’t  come up as high on the sides of the bowl – just in case you’re eating while it’s a big rough on the water. No one likes to see their Rice Krispies sloshed onto the deck…

And because the contents of bowls tend to be more slippery than plated items (think cereal versus sandwich), anti-skid bowls are definitely something to look for.  I recommend purchasing more than you think you’ll need -- all the same size because you want them to be nesting and stackable.  The more variety you have the less likely that they’ll nicely cozy up with one another and then you’ve got a jumbled mess in your galley cabinets. I’d recommend this good looking and versatile stacking, nesting, anti-skid bowl, recognizing that it is melamine and not recommended for microwave use.  For something of the microwave-friendly variety that apparently is eco-friendly, check into this set of eight deep and large (30 oz!) bowls.  (Note: they do not have the non-skid feature.)

While i think it goes without saying, I’ll mention it just in case:  anti-skid or non-skid/non-slip features are certainly helpful to have on plates too.  It’s not just bowls that move around.  

Using anti-skid placemats can be another way to address the slip-slide challenge.  Some placemats are non-skid between the mat and the tabletop, and others are non-skid between the mat and the plate or bowl on top of the placemat.  The latter are often made of silicone which grips both on the top and the bottom side.  Regretfully, I have yet to see a really attractive silicone placemat but the light gray one linked here is neutral and at least not primary-color childish or amusement-park garish like most of the other silicone mats that I have seen out there.

There are plenty of dinnerware material options from which to choose when it comes to having a well-stocked galley, regardless of whether you’re a solo sailor or the hostess with the mostess. You may have learned some of your preferences through trial and error and hopefully I’ve covered (and linked) some unique plate, dish, and bowls considerations here.  In a future article, I will provide an overview of some of the best beverage containers and family-style serving pieces for boats that have made for plenty of convenient, fun, and fine dining experiences on the water. When you’re on the water and the food is good and it stays where it is supposed to stay, you can be pretty sure that the crew’s morale (and the cook’s too) will be better than shipshape!

Best Dishes for Sailboats: Galley Dinnerware Plates
Elizabeth O'Malley

Elizabeth O'Malley

Elizabeth has sailed Sunfish, Catalinas, Knarrs, and countless other boats. Forty years later, she finds herself back on the waters of Bogue Sound, where she lives and sails with her daughter, Morgan, and chocolate lab, Choco.

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