Entertaining Aboard

By Brian Gordon, Last updated: 8/25/2020

Man and woman toasting in back of boat


Mention the fact that you own a boat and invariably your friends’ eyes will light up. People are excited and attracted by the romance and adventure that boats represent and, regardless of your boat’s size or type, most will jump at the chance to attend a floating party! Attracting guests is easy. However, a bit of planning and preparation is required to assure a hassle-free event.

Getting Ready

When preparing a boat for entertaining, try to maximize the available space. To eliminate cardboard clutter, food items should be removed from their packaging and placed in dedicated, airtight, food-grade polyethylene or plastic containers. Of course, this will also help to keep these items fresh. When organizing your boat, keep this maxim in mind: “a place for everything and everything in its place.” Compared to the cupboards in your home, boat cabinetry is built to a smaller scale, so it’s important to select galley items that will actually fit in these spaces. Fortunately, the marine marketplace offers a wide range of utensils, ovenware and other items that will do just that. Items to consider include a nesting set of pots and pans, small size folding dish racks and nesting bowls that double as storage containers. Opinions differ on dinnerware selection. Some boaters, including experienced cruisers, prefer crockery plates, as a way to impart a touch of home to their tables. However, this can be risky on a pitching, yawing boat. Instead, we suggest you consider non-skid tempered glass or melamine dinnerware. Melamine is virtually unbreakable; and with the added advantage of non-skid feet, your culinary masterpiece won’t wind up in your lap or on the cabin sole.

Nesting pots and pans

Nesting pots and pans save space in tight galley spaces.

Food Preparation

If your boat is equipped with a propane range or grill, check to ensure that your LPG reserves are adequate for the event. The only way to accurately gauge this is by weighing the fuel tank. The pressure gauge remains relatively constant at all fuel levels, so it is not a useful indicator of how much fuel you have. You should also note the size of the oven. Most marine ovens will not accept standard cookie sheets or roasting pans, but as mentioned, ovenware of the correct size is available. If you plan on entertaining at the dock or during a day cruise, one way to minimize the work is to prepare as much of the meal as possible in advance. If your boat lacks a galley, or if you wish to limit the use of yours, consider installing a marine grill. This can be of the charcoal-burning type, but for convenience, propane is best. They are easy to install and are a great way to free up the galley for secondary dish and salad preparation. The innovative design of some of these barbecues permits use of standard pots and pans, so in addition to standard grilling, you can fry, sauté, simmer, stew and even bake! Perishables, especially meats, should be kept cold until ready to cook or reheat. If your boat doesn't have refrigeration, a cooler with plenty of ice will do the trick.

Nautical code flags raised above sailboat

Proclaim your party with a colorful set of nautical code flags.


Creating the right ambiance for entertaining is easy, as your boat and the water will have done most of the work for you. Boats, after all, ARE ambiance! A fun touch at the dock is a nautical-themed welcome mat. These mats are available in vinyl or embroidered polyester. In addition to providing a colorful welcome to your guests, they will help ensure that your guests don’t track dirt and sand onto your deck. For daytime, consider “dressing ship” with a colorful set of nautical code flags. When night falls, you can enhance the atmosphere with the warm glow of a kerosene lantern below decks or hang a traditional anchor light at the stern. If the cry of gulls or the sweet sound of water lapping against the hull isn't enough, then bump it up a notch with a marine stereo. Unlike automotive stereos, marine stereos feature circuit boards that are coated against corrosion. Recent innovations include multi-zone control, so you can adjust the output to satisfy your guests above and below decks. Complement the stereo with one or more pairs of marine speakers. In addition to being waterproof, marine speakers are now available with full-spectrum programmable LED backlighting so you can create a multi-color backdrop to your evening soirée. 

Creature Comforts

Sperry shoe sole

Since 1935, nonmarking soles of Sperry® boat shoes with Wave Siping™ have provided boaters with excellent traction on deck.

For your guest’s comfort, and to avoid the unsightly black marks that footwear can leave on gelcoat, encourage your guests to wear soft, non-marking shoes. If you own a trawler or other large vessel, providing a boarding ladder or dock steps is a thoughtful touch, particularly for older guests. Plan for the weather. Small boat gatherings are normally indoor-outdoor events, with the overflow of guests spilling out into the boat’s cockpit. This is wonderful on a warm day, but in case the air takes a chill, it’s good to keep an extra coat or blanket on hand. Other items to have on hand include sun block and an extra pair of sunglasses.

Enjoy Yourself and Be Safe

When having fun on the water it is important to put safety first. If your party will include the consumption of alcohol, drink responsibly and when away from the dock, make sure there is a qualified non-drinking person at the helm. Equipment violations can be costly, so make sure your boat is “Coast Guard-legal” by equipping it with all required safety gear and by meeting life jacket requirements for every person onboard.

Speakers with LED backlighting

Backlit speakers help to set the mood.

The excitement of catching a big fish, riding a wake or rounding a mark are all part of the enjoyment of owning a boat. So are the good times and more importantly, the friendships you will forge when you entertain aboard.

Additional Reading

For over 30 years, West Advisor articles have helped boaters make sound choices when selecting gear. Here are a few articles you may find helpful when preparing to entertain aboard: