How to cook Christmas dinner on a boat

Debbi in the boating team shares her tried and tested tips for cooking a stress-free Christmas dinner onboard your boat.

Boat moored near the Scarisbrick Arms in the snow Pub visitor mooring in the snow on the Leeds & Liverpool canal

The festive season can be quite stressful if you're entertaining and usually involves quite a bit of planning. If you're entertaining on a boat, then it’s doubly important to do some planning, otherwise things will go wrong, and believe me they do go very wrong!

Here’s just a few things I’ve learnt from hard experience and from fellow boaters. If this is your first festive season onboard, you may find this blog rather useful as a means to prevent expensive repairs and ruined friendships.

Be prepared!

'Be prepared' is not just a motto for scouts and guides but most definitely for boaters too. Let’s start with the essentials and as a boater, trust me, you need to think about this lot before you even start thinking about food.

You need to prepare for guests onboard in very much the same way that you need to be prepared for bad weather or a long cruise.

  • Water tank full?
  • Fuel tank full?
  • Gas bottles full?
  • Batteries fully charged?
  • Toilet tank/cassettes empty?
  • Plenty of fuel for the solid fuel stove or heating system?
  • Medicine chest/First Aid cabinet stocked up?
  • Mobile phones charged?
  • Carbon monoxide/smoke detector working?
  • Emergency lighting? (solar lights, wind-up torches and candles/tea lights in glass jars, and don’t forget the matches!)
  • Tool kit & spares

Running out of any of the above can lead to frosty relations and frayed tempers even before an excessive amount of festive spirits have been broached. We once ran out of gas halfway through cooking Christmas dinner. It would have been a very miserable Christmas Day if we hadn’t have been moored within trolley walking distance of a petrol station selling gas.

Train your guests

It’s likely that your guests will be landlubbers who think it’s perfectly normal to shower twice a day for 15 minutes, to use half a rainforest of toilet paper on each visit to the tiniest room, as well as putting wet wipes and unmentionable inedible items into your toilet tank. Before the water runs dry and the loo gets blocked up, they will need to be instructed in the ways of the boater.

You may even wish to initiate your guests into the joys of the sanitary station, not only to lighten your load, but to make them appreciate the rules for using your boat toilet. This course of action is only really recommended for very good friends (with strong stomachs), or guests you’d really rather not have to stay.

Your guests will also need to be given instruction in how to safely embark and disembark, especially after that fifth cheeky little sherry. Accident & Emergency at your local hospital isn’t a bundle of laughs on Christmas Day. Neither will the ambulance service find yet another drunk with a broken this, that or the other amusing, especially if they have to find you on a mooring in the middle of nowhere.

Stocking up for the big day

Illuminated boat and christmas lights

In the run-up to the big day, try and do your advance shopping while your boat is moored within an easy trolley or bike trailer run of the shops, or a suitable drop-off point for an online shopping service. Tinned food and drinks, bottled water (for your fussy guests who won’t drink from the water tank), root vegetables, and anything alcoholic is always much heavier than you think, especially after a mile or so down a muddy towpath on a freezing cold day. If you haven’t got a shopping trolley, a small roll-along suitcase is surprisingly adaptable, although you do tend to get some strange looks in the shops.

Buy the perishable goods as late as you can, it saves on fridge space which can be used to pre-chill drinks. When you need the fridge space, stash these chilled drinks in the coolest part of your boat. With any luck they will stay cold, especially if insulated in newspaper or similar. If the weather is cold you don’t need to worry so much as you can use the free 'outdoor' fridge but be mindful of security. There are some Grinches out there who will spoil your Christmas given half a chance.

Share the load

If you really want a stress-free and fun Christmas dinner afloat, share the load with at least two other boats. As long as one boat has a large enough oven for the turkey it’s much easier to share the task of creating a festive feast. One of my best ever Christmas Days in recent years was a shared lunch with boating friends after a sparkling frosty cruise along the Grand Union Canal.

Ask one boat crew to sort out starters, one to cook to the turkey and the other to cook the vegetables. Share dessert and cheese board duty between you all. With three boats, there should be sufficient fridge, cupboard and cooker space for everything you want for your perfect Christmas Day.  

Go boating

Stocked up, with tanks full and/or empty as required, it’s time to take advantage of the festive window between navigation closures and go boating. Whatever you're roasting, whether it's the traditional turkey or something else, it will do well as a very slow roast. Put the bird in the oven on a low heat (no higher than gas mark 3) and don’t forget the foil and plenty of seasoning. Grab some hot drinks and mince pies and cruise somewhere lovely for Christmas Day.

The waterways are a perfect place to relax and over the holiday season you’ll find passing boaters and walkers are even friendlier than usual, or it might just be that they’ve had a few in a waterside pub. Life and Christmas dinner is always better by water.

Bon appetit!

Last date edited: 3 February 2021

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Our boating team bring you news of their work across our network, as well as the stories of boaters they meet

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