Cooking Options For Live-aboard Voyagers—Part 1, Electric

Talk about mission creep! Three months ago I did some experimenting with induction cooking and wrote about it. And that spawned four more articles as I investigated the changes to a cruising boat's electrical system required to support high loads like those from electric cooking.

During that process, members added a lot of wisdom in the comments, not only on electric cooking, but also on alternatives.

So now I'm going to pull all this together to come up with recommendations for the right type of cooktop and oven (if required) for various usage profiles.

The options are:

  • Propane: By far the most common.
  • Electric: Induction cooktop and in most cases a small electric oven—there is no such thing as an induction oven.
  • Liquid fuel:
    • Diesel
    • Kerosene
    • Alcohol

No, I'm not getting into solar stoves and slow or passive cookers. While interesting adjuncts, these are not practical as sole cooking sources, and we have to cut this off somewhere.

Also, I'm aiming this squarely at live-aboard cruisers who spend most of their time away from shorepower and who expect to be able to cook good meals at sea offshore.

It's All About You

As so often in these things, the first step to making a good decision is to think realistically about our own needs. And in this case, our relationship with food.

In my experience, cruisers and prospective cruisers are divided into two groups:

  • Those who live to eat, who are also almost always good and committed cooks, and who will not live anywhere without full-on cooking facilities.
  • Those who eat to live, who can make do with a freeze-dried meal or sticky pasta and bottled sauce, cooked on a single burner, and think nothing of it.

I have been both. Back in the early days of my cruises to the high latitudes my idea of provisioning was a couple of cases of dried meals—came to be known on Morgan's Cloud as "barf in a bag"—and some tins of soup and bottles of pasta sauce, together with a pile of terrible-for-you snacks. We had a three-burner stove with oven, but we could have gotten away with pretty much any cooker.

But then Phyllis, who is definitely a live-to-eat person, came into my life and things got better, in a whole bunch of ways, including the food.

A quick aside on Phyllis and food. While in her twenties she named her stomach Eleanor. She doesn't remember why that particular name, but the reason was that she wanted to be on a first-name basis with a body part that made so many of her decisions, much like guys...oh, never mind.

Anyway, today Phyllis and I are total foodies who cook most of our meals from scratch and eat almost no processed food or prepackaged meals.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not claiming any virtue or superiority over the eat-to-live crowd, just making sure you know where I'm coming from, as it colours everything that follows.

So here's the key takeaway when thinking about galley setup: The first thing each of us needs to do is figure out which of the above we are. But the thing is, that's surprisingly difficult, at least for the eat-to-live group—us obsessed live-to-eat types know it—so here's a test:

  1. Do you have a shelf full of cookbooks and/or hundreds of browser links to cool recipes?
  2. Do you have more than 20 herbs and spices in the cupboard?
  3. Do you never, ever forget to eat a meal?
  4. Does your day start with a discussion of the day's meals and probably tomorrow's, too?

If you answered "no" to any of the above, you are an eat-to-live person, or at least leaning that way. That's cool, particularly since, as we will see as we continue, you have a lot more stove and fuel options than we live-to-eat types do.

By the way, if you have a partner who is of the other persuasion, there's a simple answer. The eat-to-live one must go along with the live-to-eat program, or the relationship is doomed. We live-to-eat types are just not capable of going the other way—see, told you there was no virtue in our position.

The other thing to keep in mind is, if you are an aspiring cruiser taking advice from others, to make sure the ones you listen to are on the same side of the divide as you are. And watch out, because a lot of eat-to-live types are in denial. Perfectly understandable since they are happy with most anything put in front of them—a good attitude, too, particularly for a cruiser!

OK, with all that out of the way, let's compare the options:

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Stein Varjord

Hi John,
I’m definitely belong to the “eat to live” group. My girlfriend too, but closer to the “live to eat” side. However, we’re both capable cooks. Eating nice food is more pleasant than boring food, and the extra effort is minimal, so why not enjoy it?

We also try to avoid factory processed foods and constantly explore how we can improve our sources. That’s mainly because we want to eat healthy, but also because we don’t want to support the ugly part of the food industry, which is indeed really ugly. For the same reasons, we’re mostly vegetarians. I normally say: “If you’re not willing to kill the animal yourself, why do you have a right to eat it?” Two videos to illustrate those claims:
A 5,5 minute candid camera funny thing: https://youtu.be/NG4WhppBNCM
A 7 minute talk by a brilliant lady: https://youtu.be/mKTORFmMycQ

Our conclusions are mainly the same as yours. We cook with propane, have a loose single induction plate and an electric oven. Both the electric appliances we only use on shore power.

However, I think we’ll move to a split solution in the future. Two propane burners and two induction plates mounted next to each other. That means we can choose the preferable solution in each case, as two heat sources simultaneously is enough for most meals. If more is needed, it’s short duration. As we have a cat, they don’t need to be gimballed. The induction unit will have a thin silicone rubber cover on top, which keeps the kettles from sliding. The induction works just as well through the silicone cover.

I totally agree about the complications of getting enough power for electric cooking when off grid, but I might be a bit more optimistic about the price. Both solar and lithium battery solutions are getting way cheaper and better every year. It’s important to choose separate prismatic cells with external BMS etc, not “drop-in” 12V batteries, which are more expensive, last less than half as long, have a fraction of the current capacity and are way less reliable.

We will probably never have a generator, but we can get more than 2 kiloWatt of solar on our salon roof, and if needed could add the same on a stern arch. Cats have a lot of available space. 2 kW solar will typically provide 3 to 10 kWh pr day, almost no matter where. At the moment we have 800W old panels, at less than half capacity. They keep up with our daily consumption now, even with no other charge sources.

With 4 kW solar we could easily supply enough charge to cook electric without a generator. However, we’d have to store it too. In that case, we’d go for a 24 V 800 Ah lithium house bank, which would be possible to make for about 3 000 Euros for quite good RJ cells, top notch REC BMS and connectors etc. 4 kW solar including top notch Victron regulators would be about 4-5 000 Euros. On top of that comes several other costs from adapting the boat systems, but a massively powerful battery and charging system for not much more than 10k is definitely possible, if we’re capable of digging into the knowledge ourselves.

If we tell the marine professionals to build it, the price will be several times higher and quality will most likely be vastly inferior. In this area the level of competence among the majority of marine techs is nothing short of appalling.

Conclusion (in my opinion): Unless we’re nerds, like me, and willing to put in the time to gather enough knowledge, plus do the job ourselves, propane is easily the winner for cooking on boats, but that conclusion will not last a long time…

Dick Stevenson

Hi John and all,
Agree completely with all you say about propane: especially what you say about its having its challenging moments. Over close to 50 countries now, the only thing I have not done is decanting although I have friends who did this commonly.
To some extent, I would suggest, that the propane procurement costs (including adaptors, tanks as well as the gas) should be considered part of the anticipated costs of wide-ranging cruising boat. Too many cruisers (in my estimation) complain about these personal efforts and monetary costs rather than experiencing them as the price they pay (only occasionally) in effort and money for the fabulous life they are living. I do not hear similar complaints to the transformers, adapters, cords etc. that are commonly bought for electrical use.
We were 15+ years away from US so, eventually, we chucked our US tanks. For 6+ years we used adaptors and Camping Gas bottles, then UK adaptors and UK bottles and finally Scandinavian. We were never without gas and I would guess we spent, on average, less than a $100US every year on equipment (probably closer to 50).
As to safety, we have 2 sniffers and a remote-controlled solenoid in the propane locker. The sniffers are tested regularly for functioning. I agree that electrical fires are far more common, in my casual observation over the years, than propane explosions or propane problems.
We carried a one-burner hob one season when we worried in Norway about getting gas. In Norway we were on pontoons a lot with power and it did come in handy, but gas was also able to be found. We also carried an electric kettle (not generally a US habit), which when on shore power, probably saves 50% (or more) of your gas if you are tea/coffee drinkers.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Stein Varjord

Hi John,
As mentioned, we’re not going for electric cooking quite yet, but I have explored the alternatives relatively well. The mentioned prices are actually with a bit of margin. Cells and connection bars for an 800 Ah 24 V bank (same as 1600 Ah @ 12 V, for those less into this than John) are possible to have delivered in Amsterdam, from a tested reliable source, all transport and taxes included, for 1700 Euros last I checked. (RJ-lithium.com, with some discount) I’d prefer to have ThunderSky Winston cells, which is at least twice that amount, but worth it. 1300 Euros left is plenty to get the best BMS (REC, 3-400 E) and other components. If going for a full package of new top notch control systems, alternators, regulators, relays, etc, it will go higher, but not a lot.

Quality solar panels are rated at about 200 Watt per square meter nowadays, even for some semi flexible ones. The numbers improve every year. I did put a bit of space in that calculation too. Seemingly nice panels made in Poland. Some from Sweden might be better but cost more. Claim 20 year under 20% capacity loss, semi flexible.

Perovskite solar cells are expected to influence the market even this year. At the moment they have the same efficiencies as silicone cells, in combination panels, and are expected to improve significantly. Production is much easier, much faster and uses no rare expensive materials.

Anyway, in my experience a panel will give about 4-5 times its rated hourly Wattage on a decently good day. Meaning a 100 W rated panel can be expected to quite frequently give up to 4-500 Watt hours pr day, (except in high latitude summers). On our boat good panels on a fully overcast but bright day will give a bit over 1 x in Wh. Even overcast days give enough to be noticed. That’s 2 – 10 kWh per day, averaging at least 5 kWh, with panels only on our salon roof. Since lithium has almost 100% charge efficiency, that’s the power available to use.

At the moment we have no inverter and no need for one. Everything runs on the onboard voltages (mostly 12V + some 24V). If somebody needs to charge a laptop, they can use a 12 V adapter, which will reduce its total consumption by almost 50%, when all is counted in. Thus, no inverter allowed onboard. Running stuff off inverters fed by low voltage DC is really not good, as you have shown in several articles. If we go for partial induction electric cooking in the future, we’ll have to accept using an inverter, but nothing else than the occasional power tool will be allowed on it. It will be disconnected by default. An inverter charger combo will never come on any boat of mine. They are a sedative making users believe they can be as mindless as they are ashore. A 3 kW pure inverter will be ok for max two not too powerful cooking plates. There is an induction cooker that can be programmed with a max combined consumption and will reduce the other plates if one goes to high.

With a 800 Ah @ 24V lithium bank, I’d prefer to typically not use more than perhaps 600 Ah. They prefer to cycle between 20% and 90% state of charge, but using the full capacity at both ends is totally fine, now and then. 600 Ah x 24 V = 14,4 kiloWatt hours. If we say the cooking is using the full capacity of the inverter constantly while cooking, and the inverter and other elements waste 20%, we can still keep that up for 4 full hours, or more than 5 if we need to. That’s pretty solid full power cooking! 🙂 Since lithium has almost no Peukert effect, (exponentially higher actual chemical drain at higher currents) and minimal sag (Voltage drop at high current) the losses are way lower than with lead batteries.

I really think this is realistic, but it still needs a nerd to actually design, configure and use it. As mentioned, I’m such a nerd and I’ll wait a bit. When we do go for induction, it’ll be to be less dependent on shore supplies, get less heat and moisture inside, and we’ll still keep propane next to it. I’m no fan of trying to cook on top of the running engine, as some YouTube celebreties recently tried. 🙂 (La Vagabonde, ran out of propane first day going from Azores to Madeira, and tried it mostly as a joke).

Stein Varjord

Hi John,
The separate prismatic cells are mostly just as well enclosed as normal batteries. Winston is at least on par with top notch lead batteries. They use massive 14 mm bolts for the posts. The posts themselves are way bigger than normal, to ensure stability and enough contact. See picture below. This is a 1000 Ah cell with triple + and – posts to handle the enormous power capacity. It can can deliver 2000 Amps without breaking a sweat and five times as much in a short pulse.

Since lithium of the same available power as a lead bank is much smaller and less than a quarter of the weight, the physical loads during use are also smaller. The cheaper cells often have aluminium enclosures, which means they save some space, weight and cost. They are theoretically slightly more vulnerable to corrosion or shorts, but that’s not real issues in a good installation. Some of these have a bit vulnerable terminals.

4 prismatic cells make up a 12 V battery. It’s recommended to use compression plates to help them survive severe misuse, which can cause bulging and internal delamination. The compression structure is useful for attaching to the boat. Even without it, we can use straps as with normal batteries.

It’s also possible to buy “pouch cells”, where the plates are enclosed in soft plastic flat pouches, as the name indicates, for reduced volume and cost. They are the same as prismatic cells, just without the had case. They perform just as well, but transport and installation is a more sensitive affair. These are probably only interesting for special projects.

The main problem with buying from the factory is to be sure that you deal with an actual factory, and the right people there, so you get what you expect. Many traders pretend to be a factory. There are lots of cases where contact via Aliexpress etc has been some level of scam, like used cells, cells discarded from a production line or just vastly below spec. All those problems are more prevalent with 12V cell packs, though. It’s easier to cheat. “If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.” 🙂

When it comes to solar cell efficiencies, there are loads of confirmation bias and guesswork going around as “facts”. I can’t supply actual proof for my estimates. However, our Victron SmartSolar MPPT 100/50 regulators record statistics from each day one month back and present the numbers (also graphically) in the app or on the PC. I’ve also looked at other boat installations. The estimates seem reasonable even here in far from sunny enough Amsterdam.

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Matt

A few years ago, I’d have agreed with your concerns about lithium (and I think the articles we worked on together 5-10 years ago are probably among the sources of that concern).

But now, in 2021, the marine industry has settled almost entirely on prismatic 3.2 volt LiFePO4 (often called LFP) cells with rigid cases, which are significantly safer than the other types. Their fire/explosion risk is, as far as we can tell, not significantly worse than AGM lead-acid, and the construction of LFP battery restraints and enclosures is similar to those for AGM.

The main remaining question is just about how the pack is assembled. Most (all?) of the commercial “drop-in 12V replacement” 100Ah LFP modules are just four of those same 3.2V, 100Ah LFP cells, about $55-$80 each wholesale, strapped into a plastic box with a BMS pre-wired, and marked up to $1000+. They’re fine if you’re just replacing one, or a few parallel, lead-acid batteries at 12V, but the integrated BMS often doesn’t like being series-wired, and a chain of distributors, integrators, and retailers are making bank along the way. For a large 24V or 48V pack, you get better results at lower cost by buying individual cells, and wiring them in series and adding an external BMS with auto-balancing. Doing it that way is now within a rounding error of being superior on lifetime cost to AGM or flooded, over the 3000+ cycle life of the smaller and lighter lithium pack. But it’s not amateur-friendly; considerable knowledge of batteries and wiring is required to design, install, and maintain such a pack.

Philip Wilkie

The transition to lithium is well underway and as I suggested elsewhere I think it will be more or less become the default by the end of this decade. The difficult part will be educating owners that the new technology is not a ‘drop in replacement’.

The critical nature of the BMS system and the battery high and low voltage disconnects must be considered. Separate busses for charge sources and discharge loads, correct fusing and wire sizing are the minimum issues to manage.

Then there is the correct programming of all the charge regulators and any inverters … and of course the thermal management of the engine alternator. Plus a host of other small details.

My advice to any non-technical owner considering the conversion is to hold off a few years. The technology is here right now, but the availability of the necessary skills to reliably integrate it into your electrical system is very patchy imo. This will hopefully improve with time>

I can understand the temptation to sell lithium batteries packaged up as ‘drop in replacements’, but as Matt says above, it’s really a sub-optimal approach. There are some very good equipment vendors out there, but you still need someone fully conversant with the technology to design, install and commission it correctly.

Dave Warnock

I’ve been wondering whether to comment on this for a while as I found many of your opinions and the way you expressed them offensive.

“It’s All About You”: No it isn’t. All our choices have an impact on others (as theirs do on us). Making the choices you do about diet is not something available to most of the world’s population and doing so is not consistent with internationally agreed targets for the Climate Emergency (which is already directly impacting cruisers everywhere).

“who cook most of our meals from scratch and eat almost no processed food or prepackaged meals.” As if there are no options for healthy, enjoyable, sustainable diets that do not involve roasted red meat or hours of cooking. As if the quality and enjoyment of food is directly related to using excessive resources to produce, store, and cook. As if the only alternative to excessive, unhealthy, unsustainable consumption is an unhealthy, wasteful, unappetising, expensive, unsustainable, factory-produced diet.

“And watch out, because a lot of eat-to-live types are in denial.” of course anyone who makes different choices to you must be living in denial.

“No, I’m not getting into solar stoves and slow or passive cookers. While interesting adjuncts, these are not practical as sole cooking sources” where is the logic in this? Within the article, you present as a “Lightbulb tip” carrying a secondary cooking source, namely an induction hub. Do you use only one pan, one knife? Do you not advocate for alternatives to critical items for safety when going offshore?

And the irony of publishing these views under the heading “Attainable Cruising”, for whom do you think this is attainable? Does Attainable have to mean only for those who don’t care about the impact of their choices?

Stein Varjord

Hi Dave,
I’m not John, but thought my angle might be useful. I’m mostly a vegetarian and avoid processed foods as much as possible. The reason is that I don’t want to support the food industry and other industries hurting the world in so many ways. We also have no car. I think I can be described as having pretty extreme views and practices in the issues about nature etc. John seems to agree with me on most of what I find important in this type of topic. Actually the majority here seems to do so, albeit with different degrees of strictness and implementation, which I think is just great.

I think you might not see the little sprinkle of discrete humour and self irony John frequently uses in his texts. I love that, but we’re all different. The other issue here might be that John seems to frequently strive for clarity to achieve an easier overview and easier conclusions. He has proven to be more than able to see that nothing really is simple. Still when discussing, it’s useful to distill the topic, simplify to be able to see the items we need to see well before making decisions.

So as I understand it, your reaction, Dave, is understandable, and it’s laudable that you take action on such issues, but I think this still misses the target, as John might agree with you on most of those topics.

Iain Dell

I’m afraid I’m at the opposite end of the ‘food chain’ argument from Stein, in line with that large motorway sign with a picture of a Moose and the words: ‘There’s a place on Earth for all God’s creatures – right next to the mashed potatoes’. However, I respect Stein’s choices and I certainly respect the way he makes his argument in support of them.

The same with John’s columns. I’ve found these articles of incalculable value, not always just for the conclusions but for the challenges to my thought processes. The additional comments from the many people with a clear wealth of experience often develops the debate adding to my understanding of the issues. Yes, John’s wording can be a bit ascerbic and a tad profane at times – but then that provides clear evidence that you’re communicating with a real person with real experience who is passionate about his subject. John writes as many people actually speak on the dockside, at least where my boat is berthed! You can read any amount of bland cr@p in the yachting press where the journalist’s editor is too scared of corporate kickback to permit any real analysis.

Stein Varjord

Hi Ian,
I think we might be less opposite than it might seem. I used the words “mostly vegetarian”. I’m not vegetarian for dietary reasons. I avoid meat and other produce in the shops for idealistic reasons. I just want to change the world. That’s all. 🙂

Moose is exclusively a wild animal. Its meat never comes from the food industry but from hunting in nature, probably fairly close to where you eat it. The animal had a good life and the whole process of its life and its way to your plate probably made very little damage to the planet. The whole thing is a lot more hands on, less shop product in a vacuum pack. The film clips i linked above show some of how people pretend to not understand that meat is actually a dead animal. If they have to be closer to or part of the killing, they can’t eat it. That’s not OK.

Being Norwegian, I have eaten lots of Moose, Reindeer and other wild meat. The taste and general quality is in a different league compared to what we can get in normal shops. In Norway lots of shops actually have all this, but here in Amsterdam, nope!

So I’m at “war” with the meat industry and the food industry in general, which is among the worst industries on the planet when it comes to destructive behaviour. I’m not at all against eating meat, or most any other food in general, of course. I’m against the vast majority of those supplying the food. I also prefer to eat healthy and enjoy the food. That same industry fails miserably on those items too. Thus I gladly pay a lot more for better alternatives.

Actually there are indications that farm animals might be one part of the solution to many problems in modern farming. Farming in general went through a revolution after the war, partly made possible by industrial fertiliser. That and the new methods are very destructive to the soil and release loads of carbon dioxide. That change should probably be reversed. “Regenerative agriculture” is a hot topic these days. A 14 minute video from the interesting channel “Just have a think” explaining that topic: https://youtu.be/yZopUOb_7wA

Marc Dacey

Stein, I have considered at more than one point that, should we ever own rural land, I would limit my meat consumption to deer, elk or moose. In southern Canada, deer are often in a state of overpopulation, thanks to the extirpation of wolves in many places. Hunting and preparing one’s own meat avoids the worst aspects of the farmed meat industries and, like yourself, I would find it more philosophically satisfying to eat what I myself had killed. The same goes for non-local produce that requires long-distance shipping here during the winters. But it would be hard to give up coffee, which is unlikely to ever be grown in Canada.

Iain Dell

Hei Stein

I spent 7 fantastic years living in Stavanger sailing a Rassy. I understand your points and appreciate the constructive arguments you make. I learned a lot about Norwegian and the wider Scandinavian cuisine – but what I really couldn’t accept was the mental trauma caused when my Swedish girlfriend opened two cans of surstromming. Now THAT was a real crime against humanity!

Stein Varjord

Hi Marc and Iain,
I’ve also thought about getting some farmland, but I need it to have a coastline, of course, which makes it a bit expensive… 🙂 I was even looking at that for fun this morning, in southern Sweden and Norway. They’re two expensive countries, but property is way cheaper at a bit of distance from cities, since the areas are vast compared to the population. Here in NL a dull apartment in a boring location costs the same as stunning properties with several houses in top shape in rural Scandinavia. Found a whole fairly big island in a lake in Sweden for sale for 800 000 euros. The lake is connected to the sea via deep canals and locks. If I had the money, I’d buy!

The Swedish “Surströmming», very fermented herring, is definitely an acquired taste! I actually like it, but the smell is almost scary bad. 🙂 An almost as difficult to like dish from Norway is “Rakfisk”, fermented trout, served raw on ice with Aquavit. Doesn’t smell as bad and taste as strong, but still a challenge! My favourite dish!

Marc Dacey

“A bit ascerbic and a tad profane at times” is mild-mannered for most sailors of my acquaintance, including my wife, the Admiral. I find John’s writing manner brisk and succinct, particularly given the complex and many-faceted aspects to some of the topics covered here, which may never have right answers, but merely “less wrong” or “suit yourself”. Even when I disagree with his advice, which is not often, I know it is given with sincerity and conviction and with respect for dissenting views…if dissenting views are aired respectfully.

Iain Dell

My thoughts exactly. Long may it continue!

Dave Warnock

John,

Realistically we both know that when you need to add a disclaimer that you are not claiming any virtue or superiority, it is because when reading what you are written you realised that was how it was going to come over.

I’m not looking for soft opinions couched not to offend but equally, there are consequences when we choose a style of expressing ourselves. So I will push back (politely I hope) when I find your writing offensive and that sounds entirely reasonable to me.

I think many of your assumptions and premises in this article are unhelpful. In your phrase Living to Eat you make the assumption (in the image you chose as well as the numbers you put into calculations) that to do so means a diet that requires a lot of energy to cook (for example roast meat, ovens). In doing so you ignore many beautiful cuisines from cultures where eating is a really important part of life (Chinese and Italien as 2 very different examples).

Dave Warnock

John,

My problem with the roast and the way you describe a good food diet in the post is that you seem to be deliberately choosing to present as good food, a diet that does require such significant amounts of energy to cook so that you can say Electric cooking is not an option.

You can cook a great deal of fried Tofu without using much electricity! The same with high-quality food/diets from other cultures than North America/England. A few examples stir fry, pasta dishes, lots of fish dishes, many stews and curries (these in an electric multi-cooker). If I am going to eat Pork for example then my favourite would be a sweet and sour pork stir fry – but even then there are vegetarian alternatives that are absolutely delicious.

There are lots of things that we like to cook in bulk such as chickpeas to make humous that ends up being very tasty and energy-efficient per serving.

The tone of the original article makes all these seem lesser, unworthy of someone who likes to eat and therefore your key plank in “proving” that Electric cooking isn’t reasonable.

Philip Wilkie

One option that’s really popular here in Australia is a small enclosed barbecue mounted on the stern pulpit rail. This takes the place of the traditional galley oven and is a lot more flexible.

The barbecue is of course light enough to be quickly demounted and stored below when underway. It carries the bulk of the ‘energy load’ of cooking and leaves quick low demand meals like hot drinks/noodles/snacks/breakfasts to be carried by the electrical system.

The gas bottle can be a lightweight composite, also mounted on the rail, which eliminates the need for a gas locker, solenoids, sniffers and the like. It doesn’t need certifying and it’s one less system to maintain and worry about.

The reality for most cruisers is that 90% of the time you’re going to be cooking a proper ‘live to eat’ meal while at anchor in a hopefully pleasant, sheltered spot. Having all the heat, smell and grease outside is a huge bonus. Maybe our climate favours this arrangement, but virtually all the boats in our marina (that actually go out this is) have some version of this.

Marc Dacey

This is exactly how we operate. We get a lot of time out of our propane supply because much of it goes to a small barbeque on the aft deck. Actually having the oven on in the galley is comparatively rare for us. We also have an electric grill top we use when shore power is available, but our rather capacious inverter is rarely on at sea unless there’s a need to boil water for hot drinks. Planning meals in advance and, in some cases, cooking foods that can be reheated helps to curb fuel and watt usage; a example of this is cooking lasagnas and stews partially on a stove top and then using a “Wonderbag” to continue to slow-cooking process for several hours until dinnertime. This uses minimal amounts of propane and/or electricity and gives excellent results. Of interest to sailors, it’s essentially a hollow pillow and can be stowed inside a slipcover and used as a backrest when not in use. https://www.wonderbagworld.com/

Dick Stevenson

Hi all,
All this talk about different ways of cooking reminds me of 2 things: the import of redundancy on mission critical gear (and eating is definitely mission critical on Alchemy) and meeting 2 young men in the Azores.
First, the 2 young men. They had left the eastern Carib for a straight shot to the Azores on a small sailboat. Like many on a small budget, they had lots of rice and beans and the like, all needing hot water to make edible. Each had thought the other had taken the propane tank to be refilled. It did not get done.
For a few days, the dregs in the propane tank led them to believe the tank was filled. Then they used their grill, but the small bbq type gas container ran empty quickly. Then they collected random burnable materials they came across and burned it in the grill. In their own hindsight, they should have turned back or bailed to Bermuda, but they pressed on and had a quite hard time of it.
It is not common, but there are lots of ways that a propane system can fail. It also seems clear from the comments that an all-electric system has vulnerable elements. On a passage, not being able to cook can be life challenging, sometimes threatening, (as it was for the 2 young men) and might be one of the more embarrassing scenarios for putting out a call for help.
On Alchemy, redundancy in cooking is accomplished by:
Much of the propane system (regulator, solenoid, attachments, etc.) was swapped at 15+ years of service for new and the old, still functional, gear was put in stores. So, I can redo most of the system (bar hose although I have a few spare pieces of hose and attachments/connections).
The PO had a microwave which we chose to keep (and have found useful).
We have a Refleks heater/stove with a cookplate top which we use at anchor for tea and stews/porridge etc. could be easily cooked on it.
We have one larger propane tank and one medium-small to give us some wiggle room to refill the big tank when it runs out. I also have an adapter that can allow the small BBQ type gas cannister to be used in my ship’s propane system as these small propane containers are sometimes easier to obtain off the beaten track.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Alexander Srank

John arent you a bit on a grandiose end here?:)

What I am thinking is more like a single induction top and one of those portable batterries that can keep 2kWh of charge and have an integrated invertor (EcoFlow or PowerOak or something like that) and can be charged with 12V – charge it completely on shore power before you go and top it off when you have plenty generation.

Plenty of generation to me is first and foremost hydro. The controller regularly shows “Infinity” ie that I produce more than I spend on my Pogo just with the W&S (or W&S and a single 100W solar panel) on a lighter wind day and often I have to pull the leg out of the water when the battery gets full – this could be time to top off the portable lithium.

What do you think about such a simple setup? How would you go about gimbaling the cooker? – I can so vividly imagine the pans and pots flying off the glass as soon as you hit a wave…

Many thanks in advance for comments guys,

Alex

Stein Varjord

Hi Alexander,
My take on your suggestions is that they’re in line with the article. One single induction top and 2 kWh of battery to run it is far from able to cover the needs of even one undemanding person living aboard for extended periods. If that person is interested in more than very basic cooking, the one top won’t even cover a major part of it. One would need something more, like propane.

Also, hydrogen is great, but only while sailing. Long distance trips tend to be about 10% sailing and 90% at anchor, almost never in a harbour. (According to a discussion on a 10k member long distance sailor facebook group I admin) Also, only relatively fast boats get good effect from hydrogen much of the time, as 6 knots seems to be the lower limit and 8 knots can give 3 times as much.

We do have a single induction top, but at the moment only use it when on shore power. I’d think gimballing it should be reasonably easy, but haven’t tried it, as we live on a cat. We have a thin silicone rubber sheet on top of the cooktop. That’s perfect for holding the kettle in place. The induction works just as well through it. Works way better than anything that can be used on other types of cooktops. As John, I love induction, but see its limitations for long distance cruising. I do see that changing in the near future, though, as better batteries and solar panels become more available.

Stein Varjord

Hi John,
My wording was misleading. What I intended to say was rather: “….when better batteries and top notch panels become financially more available and functionally more usable on our boats.”

There is definitely a limit to solar efficiency. Some claim it’s well above 30%, perhaps 40%, with layered partially transparent panels picking up different wavelengths. Even more with targa mounted panels that can absorb reflected light on the underside. Available now. Perovskite / silicone combos are already at 29% and that’s expected to increase rapidly. However, an efficiency increase will help, but that alone will never be enough to fully support serious electric cooking. To manage that, we need several cooperative factors.

The available LiFePo4 batteries are a giant leap in charging efficiency. In real life this type of battery already typically more than doubles the amount of available watts per day, with the same charging sources. Especially solar will benefit from this. Actually this is probably the most noticeable difference when going from lead to lithium.

Much cheaper top notch solar panels will make it easier to get much larger panel areas. This especially because they will be more flexible and robust than now, and can be other colours, so the boat can have a very large solar panel area without looking like an oil platform. 🙂 Boat types with much more available area, like cats, becoming more prevalent each year also helps in this. It’s expected that even the sails and hull sides can generate electricity, albeit at reduced efficiency, without changing their visual appearance noticeably. Some of the latter is already available, but not really attractive yet.

To sum it up, the factors that will help electric cooking become a possible option are:
– Higher panel efficiency.
– Much larger panel area, due to lower price, much more space and installation flexibility.
– Much better total charge efficiency, due to the batteries, giving at least twice the gain per solar area.
– Much bigger battery capacity, due to lower price and higher energy density, giving more available charging time.
All this adds up to tens of times as much available energy as on the average cruisers now. That makes electric cooking realistic for most, starting late this decade. At the moment, it’s just possible, but clearly not a good choice for most. As mentioned in other comments, even with a fully capable electric cooking system, I would keep another good cooking system. Food is mission critical. 🙂

A side note:
Future battery technologies indicate entirely different levels of battery bank capacity. One promising tech is the sodium-ion battery, environment friendly, no rare metals and mining needed, mainly table salt and graphite or graphene, cheap and perhaps twice the energy density of present day lithium. Other even more potent chemistries are in development.

Now our banks are sized for keeping us running a practical number of days, often just over night. Most good days on many boats our batteries are full before noon. All incoming energy after that is wasted. With vastly more battery capacity at low cost, all that energy can be stored. We can keep the systems running through extended periods of low charging. However, the new tech won’t be available until late this decade, probably even next decade.

Alexander Srank

Hi John I am sorry if you read it that way it was certainly not my intention at all. Thank you for your comments.

John Crossen

After reading your first article a month or 2 ago, I have been eagerly looking forward to your next one on induction cooktops. But instead of talking about induction cookers, or describing the goods and bads of different units, all I read is a discussion of your preference for cooking/eating??? As most of us do not enjoy room for a 20+cf refer and freezer on board, so quantities of prepackaged foods are not onboard and most meals are “from scratch”; I’d guess we’re heavy into the eat-to-live category. Based on the Admiral’s “strong preference”, we converted to electric cooking about 16 years ago(with a propane BBQ on the back rail), and we use our genset to do it when not in a marina and plugged in, which is rare. In fact, our boat (a Taswell 43) is pretty much set up around it-our refer system is a 230v AC system, as is our watermaker, augmented by some solar and a windgen. Typically, we run the genset both in the morning-to pull down the refer+freezer, top off the batts, and make coffee-and in the evening-again, to pull down the refer+freezer, cook, top off the batts, run the watermaker(1 day in 5),etc. We average about 1.5hrs/day….much less than a gallon per day in fuel.
I can easily appreciate the need for a very large and sophisticated battery system to totally support an induction cooker/stove, to the point it becomes impractical. But how about some insight into available induction cookers, their practicality, features, goods and bads, etc….for all of us that do have (and use) gensets? Without ever having used induction, I’d really like to know what to look for, what they cost, and if it makes sense to spend $$ to either replace my smooth glass 3-burner top, or to augment it….or neither. Are there benefits to switching to induction? Are they worth the cost? Which manufacturers/models seem best? Are they more energy efficient than a conventional electric stove? By how much? etc,etc,etc.

Stein Varjord

Hi John,
I feel what ask for here seems outside the scope of this site. Attainable Adventure Cruising is a descriptive name. A lot of tech is discussed on the site, but only items and systems that are boat specific. The recent articles have discussed the core issues about cooking systems, to make us able to choose which road we prefer, and why. I strongly believe that’s the right way to discuss anything.

If this site were to start testing induction tops, it would not be able to get anywhere near the quality you’d find in a moment by using google. Innumerable web sites specialise in testing household appliances and everything else. The majority is tainted by what they make money from, but it’s mostly not too hard to find up to date and reliable tests. This type of info is mostly a question of lots of capacity. The quality of AAC is experience and knowledge on the narrow topic described in the name, and then applying good thinking on that base. Trying to compete with all of internet on the rapidly changing topics outside of that base is not smart.

Anyway, as I also have a bit of an interest in this, I have noticed that there is apparently only one product directly aimed at off grid applications. Safieri has a cooktop that can be set to a limit in total output. If more areas are turned on, so the limit is passed, it automatically dials down other areas. This protects the inverter and shore power fuses.
https://www.safiery.com/induction

Jonathan Clarke

Foodie here, but my issue with propane on a boat (other than fire risk) is the amount of moisture it releases into the atmosphere. In a small, enclosed cabin, the resulting relative humidity makes for an uncomfortable environment, especially in the lower latitudes I sail. I’m hopeful that lithium technology will improve over the next 5-10 years to allow electric to be a more viable alternative.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Jonathan,
I support John’s observations. We used propane in the higher lats without a problem, sometimes cracking open a portlight, sometimes not.
We featured that in cruising mode we were in and out of the boat going on deck enough to keep moisture levels at a reasonable level. That and we used heat to help: Refleks and Espar. When living aboard in colder areas and not cruising, moisture levels could become an issue (and not just cooking, but mostly just bodily exhalations). Those times we frequently had shore power available and a dehumidifier was pretty much essential to our well-being. If memory serves, I emptied 2 liters a day.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Dick Stevenson

Hi Jonathan,
And, you mentioned fire risk, by which I suspect you meant explosion from accumulated fumes. I think a properly designed system with a couple of sniffers poses little danger of explosion and is, perhaps, safer than other cooking methods.
If you did mean fire, then I concur that propane tanks are potential bombs in a fire and should be taken into consideration in a fire response protocol for each individual vessel. This is especially the case for the small 1-pound containers which many people treat quite casually.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy