The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Provisioning For Remote Voyaging, Part I


A big part of preparing for an extensive northern trip such as the one we undertook this summer is provisioning. In this case, I had to provision for six months. Yikes!

A number of people have asked me how I go about doing this, so here goes.

Before I get into that, though, I have a confession to make: John and I love food. We love food so much that we spend a large portion of our income and time sourcing good ingredients: we try and buy local, humanely treated, grass fed animal products; we try and avoid additives (especially anything we can’t pronounce!); and we try and buy fruit and vegetables that have been grown without pesticides or herbicides.

Though we limit our use of commercially prepared meals to Amy’s soups (see next post), we do end up using a lot of canned produce (vegetables, fruit, legumes) and for these we tend to go organic because they are of much better quality than regular canned produce.

Note also that we have a large fridge and freezer that we fill to capacity and lots of locker space for food storage, which makes this level of provisioning possible.

Now, back to how I figure out what and how much to buy for long voyages:

What We Use

First of all, years ago, I set up a spreadsheet (which I update regularly) on which I listed everything we use, and I mean everything: every condiment…each type of herb…every kind of toiletry, stationary, cleaning product, etc. This took a while since what we eat changes by seasons, locations, and the whim of the moment!

How Much We Use

Then I kept track of how much of each item we used in a month. This also changed based on where we were and what we felt like at the time. So again it was important to look at this over a long period of time.

Once I had figured out about how much we used of each item in a month, then I could just multiply that by the number of months I was provisioning for.

Having some idea of what is available in the places we visit really helps out, too; for example, in the Abacos we could buy very good local chicken but other meats were not of the best quality; the opposite is true in West Greenland.

In the second part of this series I will share a few things I’ve figured out over the years (sometimes very slowly!).

How do you determine what and how much to take on a long voyage? Please leave a comment.

Further Reading

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figuring out the provisions needed is the easy part…the kicker is shopping for it all, hauling it usually between home and the vessel (not to mention hauling it home first), interim storage till at the vessel, rehauling it to the vessel, unloading it from the vehicle, reloading it onto the vessel, figuring out how to store it on the vessel to maximize space while addressing accessibility, and then putting it away…if one or the other of you does any of this without the other then further complications arise because now the other is somewhat in the dark especially when the other needs to find something not knowing where it might be leaving the one who knows as the continuous go-to for that important knowledge which leaves the one in the dark battling twinges of helplessness and the one who knows battling twinges of being over burdened…in time those twinges will typically become major stumbling blocks…for the cruising couple the solution may be to do all these steps together without fail…for more than just a couple i don’t know what the reasonable solutions might be…richard in tampa bay (m/v cavu’s skipper, formerly s/v sidra’s skipper)

John Harries

Hi Richard,

All good points, thanks. Although in our case, Phyllis is way more organized and meticulous than I am, so she does all the stowing while I stay out of the way! While the idea of both crew being involved in every task has merit, we have found that there is just so MUCH to do to prepare for a voyage that the only way to get it done is to divide up tasks based on each person’s strengths. Having said that, we are no “pink and blue” boat. I cook and clean and Phyllis does many mechanical tasks. Works for us.

Victor Raymond

Thank you for this post and we look forward to subsequent ones about your exacting provisioning techniques.

We have done well for short trips so far but are not experienced for the longer ones.

We also eat mainly organic but complicate it further by being vegetarians for 40 odd years.

We were fascinated to learn how the chinese provisioned in the 15th century for their globe girding adventures. Although I doubt we will ever have pigs, chickens and other livestock on board their multiple uses of soy beans is fascinating and helped them avoid scurvy while the westerners could not (for the most part.)

Much to be learned from both modern and ancient mariners.

Thanks again.


I think every cruising boat needs a complete inventory of the contents of each locker. If you make it a spreadsheet, then you can sort the data in various ways, including alphabetically, by category, locker number and so on. Then any member of the crew can find anything.

John Harries

Hi Scott,

It’s a great idea in theory and we do keep a continuously updated inventory for the freezer. And this summer, because of the remote area we were in, Phyllis kept an inventory for most of the lockers.

However, we don’t do that normally, simply because it is really pretty onerous to keep such an inventory continuously updated as every item comes aboard, gets uses, or gets moved to make room for something else. One of those tasks where the solution is worse than the problem.

Rather, we simple write it on a shopping list when we notice we are getting low, just as you would do at home.

P.S. Phyllis is traveling, so that’s why I’m fielding comments on this post.


Most impressive to someone like me, for whom provisioning for the remote means—having enough beer and pretzels to last though the football game when I’m in the easy chair with the TV remote.