Best Boat Galleys: Design Trends In Boat Kitchen Innovation

Cooking aboard is a vastly underrated endeavor and everyone it seems, is trying to make it easier by tackling the question, “what makes a great galley”? As the chef, you have to whip up great meals just like at home but in a kitchen that is typically smaller, less well equipped and sometimes moving. When you’re the chef, it’s not easy to stay on your feet on a boat under way, to find a place for cooking tools and provisions, to keep dishes from flying and to fight seasickness. However, culinary entertaining is very much a part of our boating experience so boatbuilders have taken on galley innovation since boat kitchens have become focal points worthy of much attention.

Placement, Proportion And Shape

Let’s start with where you can find the galley. This depends on the size and type of vessel. Superyachts usually tuck galleys away, so food prep is done out of sight of the guests. Crewed and chartered yachts may have large, home-style galleys where owners never venture. On the other hand, smaller owner-operated yachts often subscribe to the “great room” concept where the galley is incorporated into the salon and becomes the gathering spot when entertaining. Space-saving has become the name of the game in modern day boats and family cabin cruisers in the 30-40-foot range, such as the Boston Whaler 405 Conquest.

Galley on 2021 Boston Whaler 405 ConquestAbove: The smartly-designed galley onboard a 2021 Boston Whaler 405 Conquest. Photo via Boston Whaler and B & E Marine, Inc. in Michigan City, IN.

A mid-way point has become popular on yachts in the 60-90-foot range like on some Outer Reef models. Here, the salon usually runs forward into a defined dining area which gives way to the galley just ahead. Moveable wall-like structures can close off the galley for formal dining or be open when just the family is aboard. Another benefit of being able to close off the galley is when it’s near the pilothouse. When running at night, light from the galley can blow out the captain’s night vision. It’s important to close off the space so the cook and captain can coexist in close (but separate) proximity. Sometimes galleys are used as separation spaces such as on Dufour sailboats where the galley provides the master stateroom forward some privacy from the salon which is aft.

Bringing The Outside In: Aft Galleys

A significant trend has been to place the galley all the way aft with opening doors and windows that lead directly into the cockpit. Cruisers Yachts are well-known for this. The Cantius 42 for example, blends the inside with the outside so the cook can serve in the salon or the cockpit with ease. When the window is open, you can sit at a bar on a stool facing the galley while enjoying breakfast or cocktails. Almost all Prestige Yachts have adopted the same concept and it’s grown immensely popular if only for the great light and ventilation it affords the galley.

Galley Onboard The Cantius 42 by Cruisers Yachts

Above: The stylish galley onboard the 2021 42 Cantius by Cruisers Yachts features clean lines and an open air design that provides an effortless entertainment area with ample storage, a microwave/convection oven, sink with spray faucet, 32″ flat screen TV and refrigerator/freezer. Photo via Cruisers Yachts and MarineMax in Pompano Beach, FL.

The Beneteau GT series of powerboats as well as the Dufour Grand Large line of sailboats have added another dimension to outdoor cooking by integrating a sink, prep space and grill into the transom where the chef stands on the swim platform and cooks en plein air. This keeps the cooking heat and odors out of the boat and the chef in the middle of the party in the cockpit. Additionally, lots of smaller express boats now have an outdoor or “summer” galley incorporated right into the cockpit combination which leaves more room for sleeping accommodations below.

Lower Level Vs. Upper Level Galleys

A large debate has been the “galley up/galley down” concept. On some powerboats as well as sailing catamarans, galleys are placed on a lower level than the main deck. The pros of galley down is that the chef has privacy, all moving liquids (on the stove or in the sink) are at a lower center of gravity so presumably are less likely to spill, and the galley doesn’t squeeze the salon space. The cons of galley down are that the cook is cutoff from the party, there is usually worse ventilation down low, there are few or no windows to provide light and a view of the horizon for a queasy chef, and the food must be carried upstairs which can be dangerous when the boat is under way. Today, the trend is toward incorporating the galley (up) into the living area just like at home.

A note on galley shape. Lots of open designs look great at a boat show but not all of them work well at sea. Galleys that are U-shaped or are tucked into passageways like on the Hylas 56 sailboat, help keep motion contained so the cook doesn’t go flying. There should always be a bracing point like an island so food can be prepared and dishes can be washed even when the boat is thrashing or heeling. Even superyacht galleys have filled their spaces with islands or extra cabinetry to keep the crew secure.

Galley Size: Living Space Vs. Cooking Capability

Then there’s the issue of size. Kitchens in houses have grown to immense proportions but space on a boat is limited, so a large galley will always be a tradeoff with the rest of the living space. To better incorporate galleys into the existing area and overall aesthetic, high end finishes help make them stylish so they’re welcome to be seen and experienced. To this end, natural stone, wood, matte metal and earth tone fabric finishes have brought a level of polish to an otherwise utilitarian space, allowing it to become a more versatile area on the boat, and therefore perhaps a bit bigger. Obviously you can cook more with a 4 burner stovetop and full-size oven and store more in a full size refrigerator/freezer combo but those appliances come with a cost.

Galley Design - Albemarle 41 Custom Carolina

Above: The galley onboard a 2021 Albemarle 41 Custom Carolina sportfishing yacht doubles as a part of the living area in the main salon within the boat’s cabin interior. Photo via Albemarle and Unique Marine in Tavernier, FL.

A major recent trend in boats under 30 feet has been the incorporation of capable galleys that would usually be found on much larger yachts, made possible by the ingenious multi-use of space and lightweight modern materials. For example, lighter flat screen TV’s can be mounted to cabinet doors on gas struts, allowing them to double as an entertainment feature while still storing provisions. This is where we’ve really seen the envelope get pushed in terms of how much cooking capability you can squeeze aboard even a modest-sized trailerable boat or day yacht. Modern electronics and compressors are more efficient and compact which helps makes this possible.

Galley Cabinet Door On An Albemarle 41 Custom Carolina Sport Fishing Yacht

Above: A cabinet door with a heavy duty gas strut allows a flat screen TV to be mounted on one side within the galley of 2021 Albemarle 41 Custom Carolina sport fishing yacht for sale on Boat Trader. Photo via Albemarle and Unique Marine in Tavernier, FL.

Appliances, Countertops And Clever Ideas

Drawer refrigeration has taken the boating world by storm. Drawers are easy to access which means you keep a fridge open a shorter amount of time and don’t have to do a deep dive for the frozen chicken at the bottom. And because fridges are top energy hogs on boats, quick access to whatever you’re looking for is key. Stainless steel drawers are so handy that they’re becoming popular in houses too making the onboard and at-home experience similar.

You can never have too much countertop space. Whether you need to accommodate a cook and a sous-chef working simultaneously or must have a place to set hors d’oeuvres, counters are key. Many smaller boats fit cooktops and sinks with covers so they can double as counter space. Meanwhile, large yachts, (that can carry more weight) are opting for durable stone surfaces (like granite or quartz) which aren’t easily damaged by heat or knives. Smaller boats can add restaurant-style stainless steel counters that are lighter and often cheaper. Whatever the material used, it’s key to add fiddles on countertop edges to keep things from falling off. The Australian-built Cape 50 (designed by an ex pro-sailor) incorporates fiddles into the solid surface in its galley.

Meanwhile, pocket yachts and sedan-style cabin cruisers like Ranger Tugs and Cutwaters and clever center cabin cruisers like some Boston Whalers make their furnishings do double duty with seats that drop down or pop up to create counter space or hide a microwave or extra locker below.

Real Chefs Require Sizable Stowage!

There’s never enough storage space aboard for all the food, kitchen gadgets and accessories a chef requires and that’s made worse by yacht design that often creates dead spots which aren’t easily accessed and become wasted space. That’s why stowage of items like dishes, paper towels and dry stores often happens outside the galley in utility rooms and under floorboards or settees. However, builders have gotten clever with a variety of sliding racks, Lazy Susans and popups.

To take the Cape 50 as an example again, the designer leveraged the space in a dead corner by creating a multi-shelf storage unit that levitates out of the counter at the touch of a button. Everything comes up to eye level and disappears again when not needed.

Must-Have Luxury Galley Touches

Much of the above is based on the practical issues of boat building and design. Boats are smaller, they have odd curves that impinge on galley space, they’re weight-sensitive and they move – sometimes violently. That’s why builders have had to focus on innovations in the galley and its general appeal. However, galleys are about more than just the practicalities, so some builders now incorporate nice surprise touches that make a boat a home. Take for example, the integrated coffee maker and below floorboard wine rack on the Dufour 460 Grand Large. Sometimes, it’s the little things that provide the most delight.

Electric or plancha grills have become de rigueur so you can cook the day’s catch and eat fresh. That’s why on just about any flybridge design like the Leopard 43 powercat, you’ll find a grill up top that defines the best of summer entertaining.

Easy To Clean: Corian Countertops

Corian countertops are all the rage these days as they are lighter weight than other options and easy to keep clean. They are made out of a non-porous material composed of acrylic polymer and alumina trihydrate (ATH), a material derived from bauxite ore, so stains do no permeate the surface like they wood on wood or plastic, plus they inhibit the growth of mold and mildew which is important on a boat. When installed at the factory these countertops give a boat’s interior a clean, seamless appearance throughout the cabin interior.

Herreshoff Style Galleys: A Classic Yet Modern Look

The Herreshoff Style has become increasingly popular in recent times, with flat white surfaces and stained or varnished wood millwork for the moldings, trim and accents. Builders like Back Cove, Hinckley and MJM have perfected the classic yet modern look that has come to be a staple in many new yacht galleys, even down to smaller boats with dual purpose galley areas.

Boat Galley Design

Above: A Herreshoff Style galley and salon onboard a 20009 Jeaunneau Sun Odyssey 39i for sale on Boat Trader. Photo via Tracys Landing/Jeaunneau. 

Functionality: Another Serious Trend

Also, a serious galley trend is hidden functionality. Just as in homes, appliances are being hidden or masked by more appealing surfaces like wood paneling, leather accents or fabric. The goal is less clutter and cleaner lines especially where the galley is the social hub. Owners are also opting for hidden switches (afforded by digital switching systems) and less overtly visible functionality.

On superyachts, the galley is often self-contained and therefore hidden or camouflaged . But when it’s time for family cruising or less formal meals like breakfast, islands and tasting tables are popping up on various decks to accommodate easy snacking and a more relaxed atmosphere.

Galley Ambiance: Getting The Perfect Kitchen Lighting

Finally, lighting has changed throughout boats and that has reached the galley too. LED light bulbs are replacing traditional filament bulbs, offering greater lifespan as well as lower energy consumption. LEDs are now available in a wide variety of colors (as opposed to the old harsh white of earlier LED light bulbs) and can even come in “Edison style” or “smart” bulb technologies that can be controlled with a tablet or mobile phone app and allow chefs and owners to set the mood according to their desires. Brighter spotlights can be used at the stove or a prep station without the whole galley needing to be bright as an operating room. When blazing lights aren’t needed, indirect lighting at the cabin sole or behind valences sets a more subdued ambience, especially if the galley is exposed to the living area and must look appealing. We’ve even seen boat builders build illuminated glass panels and exotic integrated custom light fixtures according to customer requests.

Just Like Home

We go boating to get away, but truth be told, we love to take our lifestyle with us, so galley design has changed to accommodate our tastes. Boat galleys have morphed into social spaces rather than utilitarian rooms where only scullery maids venture. We applaud this and say, bring on all the attention a good galley deserves.

Written by: Zuzana Prochazka

Zuzana Prochazka is a writer and photographer who freelances for a dozen boating magazines and websites. A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana has cruised, chartered and skippered flotillas in many parts of the world and serves as a presenter on charter destinations and topics. She is the Chair of the New Product Awards committee, judging innovative boats and gear at NMMA and NMEA shows, and currently serves as immediate past president of Boating Writers International. She contributes to Boats.com and YachtWorld.com, and also blogs regularly on her boat review site, TalkoftheDock.com.

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