From CruisersWiki

Revision as of 22:37, 14 May 2016 by V-1 (Talk | contribs)
Jump to: navigation, search

The Cruising Yacht Interior

The individual selection of cruising vessel often has as much to do with interior comforts as it does with sailing and heavy weather performance. The cruising boat's cabin must first protect the crew from the elements, be capable of carrying tons of supplies for long journeys, and be set up ergonomically for all the activities of ordinary living while at sea.


Cruising yachts of the early 20th century were by-and-large based upon working boats rather than racing yachts. Interiors of working boats and racing boats both focused on purpose-built spaces. Blue-water boats tended to have spaces more tightly confined to prevent crew from falling large distances in heavy seas; blue-water boats also tended to have fewer port holes, limited deck lights or hatches which might allow water ingress. This provided for cramped and dark space below decks. Later in the 20th century, cruising yachts began to copy more racing yacht hull designs but still retained many of the purpose-built spaces of working boat interiors. The majority of modern yachts cruising today tend to be built less for blue water passage and more for the crew's enjoyment of well-lit and spacious interiors.
Early 20th Century Racing Boat Interior

Purpose-Built Spaces

The typical cruising yacht will include galley/eating, head, saloon seating, stateroom/sleeping berths, and navigation purpose-built spaces and fittings. Additionally, space will often be built to accommodate anchoring activities, engine/mechanical as well as stowage space.

The smaller a cruising boat is, the more likely that the purpose-built spaces will overlap or be combined. It is not uncommon for the main cabin of a small vessel to combine cooking, eating, relaxing, navigation, and sleeping functions all in one small area by the clever use of purpose-built furniture and fittings.


A galley is the kitchen aboard a vessel, usually laid out in an efficient typical style with longitudinal units and overhead cabinets. This makes the best use of the usually limited space aboard ships. It also caters for the rolling and heaving nature of ships, making them more resistant to the effects of the movement of the ship. For this reason galley stoves are often gimballed, so that the liquid in pans does not spill out. They are also commonly equipped with bars, preventing the cook from falling against the hot stove. Alex W. Moffat, an early Commodore of the Cruising Club of America, once said "Lucky the crew that numbers among its members a person who likes to cook. There are such happy individuals, but generally the task of cooking is tolerated as one of the few disagreeable duties of cruising, and each member of the crew is likely to try his or her hand at the stove with varying degrees of success."

The Galley Stove

As Mr. Moffat noted, the most important bit of kit in the galley will be the galley stove. Marine stoves are generally compact to fit in the confines of boat galleys and have special modifications for use underway. Sailboat stoves are different from household appliances: They have to operate normally at angles up to 30° without cookware sliding off. Oven doors are latched securely so they can't be forced open by the weight of baking containers inside if the boat heels. The controls are located on the front or along the side, so the cook does not have to reach over hot cookware on a moving boat. There are no continuous pilot lights that could cause a fuel explosion. Most stoves on boats rely on combustible fuels: either alcohol, kerosene, LPG (liquefied petroleum gas/propane) or CNG (compressed natural gas). Some powerboats and larger sailboats rely on electrical appliances in their galleys, which run off the engine's alternator and an inverter, shore power at the dock or a generator onboard that can produce 110V AC electricity. Modern stoves are made from non-corroding materials like stainless steel. Most will have two or more burners on the top to heat pots, and many have a burner in the oven for baking. Some have a broiler, with a flat burner on top of a broiler compartment so sandwiches, steaks and other foods can be broiled. Both power and sailboat stoves have potholders, which are bracket/clamps that encircle the base of the pot or pan to keep it from sliding.
A Small and Simple Galley in a Cruiser/Racer. The port sink is covered by a countertop inset when not in use and a 1 burner stove is cleverly hidden in a drawer which pulls out from the starboard cabinet

Alcohol Stoves

These have been common on production sailboats and powerboats for decades. Alcohol is a relatively safe fuel that, when liquid, does not explode. Its fires can be put out with water, but it has low heat content compared to Kerosene or Diesel, and, like propane, gives off a lot of water when it burns. Alcohol fuel is also expensive.

Pressure-style alcohol stoves

These generally use pressurized tanks feeding burners that must be pre-heated with liquid alcohol to make them hot enough to vaporize the fuel so it can burn effectively. This process, although not difficult, must be done correctly or the stove will tend to flare up and send flames high above the surface of the stove. This can also lead to an overflow of liquid fuel, which can leak around the stove causing a large, low intensity fire when it ignites. Many boat fires are caused by alcohol stove flare-ups. For these reasons, the number of alcohol stoves using pressurized burners has declined dramatically.

Non-pressurized alcohol stoves

These store the liquid fuel in an absorbent material, rather than a pressurized tank are very safe. A special burner that looks like a small chimney creates a draft and intensifies the relatively gentle flame. There is no priming, no flare-ups and much less danger of fire on board. Although any fuel can be dangerous in an enclosed space, modern alcohol stoves that do not use fuel under pressure are much safer.

Kerosene and diesel cookers

These are less common, used mainly by northern-latitude cruisers and commercial boats. Kerosene and diesel burn extremely hot, are quite safe in liquid form, and are compact to store since the fuel has a high heat content. If diesel is used, the ship’s fuel tank can be used to power the stove as well as the engine. Kerosene and diesel are also cheaper to operate than alcohol. The disadvantages are that both have to be pre-heated like alcohol, diesel stoves must be vented (chimney) whereas kerosene is much cleaner burning. The alcohol pre-heat will cause a bit of soot on the bottom of pots as well. Some people do not tolerate the mild smell of kerosene or the stronger odor of diesel. The safety factors outweigh the bother of having to pre-heat the stove for many people, though.

CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) stoves

These are very uncommon since the fuel is hard to find except in certain areas of the USA like Southern California. CNG is compressed methane gas, stored under very high pressure in gas form (2400psi at 100°F). Monitoring the amount of gas in the cylinder is easy, as the pressure declines steadily as the gas is consumed. CNG has a much lower heat content than other common fuels, so it is not tremendously efficient at cooking and heating. CNG is lighter than air but it is still dangerous and potentially explosive, so CNG systems must be vapor-tight to the hull interior and well ventilated.

Propane stoves

For non-cruisers, LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas, or propane) stoves have largely replaced other fuels used on most new non-cruising production boats. LPG is compact, since it is stored as a liquid and burned as a gas. LPG remains in liquid form when stored under pressure at room temperature The benefits are that it is very familiar--like cooking on a gas stove at home; it lights instantly without pre-heating; and burns with an odor which most people tolerate well. It does release a lot of water when burning and this can be a problem causing condensation aboard a boat used in cooler climates. Propane is not as safe to use aboard a boat as other fuels are because it heavier than air and will settle as a gas in low areas of the hull if not stored properly in a locker vented overboard. If it settled to the bilge because of a leak, it can ignite and literally blow up a boat. Because of this explosion danger from propane if used in enclosed spaces like boat hulls, propane stoves must have special safety devices to shut off the flow of propane if the burner is extinguished.

Electric stoves

These are are only common on power boats or large sailboats that have plentiful 120V AC power from a generator or from shore power. Electric stoves are probably the safest stoves available, because they don’t introduce explosive gases into the cabin and they don’t have open flames or produce carbon monoxide. However, like any resistance heater, they require large amounts of electricity to operate. They are impractical on all but boats with AC gensets.


Some people cruise without refrigeration but the majority of cruising boats are outfitted with some type of refrigeration. For small craft, it may simply be a portable ice chest to be used for perishables. Block ice or dry ice may be purchased for use in ice chests. Larger cruising boats may have one of several refrigeration systems in place.

Mechanical refrigeration is the most common type on cruising boats today. Essentially it comprises a compressor and a coil filled with a refrigerant fluid of some kind (usually a hydrocarbon these days as CFCs have all but been phased out). The compressor compresses the fluid into its liquid form, and then it is pumped through a series of tubes where it is first cooled (by use of a fan or similar blowing over the tubes), and then allowed to evaporate and expand, which causes it to become very cold, absorbing heat from the area around it. The expanded liquid is then pumped back to the compressor and the cycle begins again.

Depending on the type of refrigerant used, the level of compression and decompression used, and the amount of work the compressor is allowed to perform before shutting down to rest (usually controlled by a thermostat), a mechanical compressor based refrigeration unit can be used either as a refrigerator (keeping items cool but above freezing point), a freezer, or both.

Two main systems of mechanical refrigeration exist on boats, these are cycling and eutectic systems.

Cycling Refrigeration

Cycling refrigeration is the same as the normal type of refrigeration unit that one would find in a house. Basically this is an insulated box with a metal panel around it, along one side, or along the bottom or top. Attached to the panel, or embedded in it, are the coils containing refrigerant that have been run from the compressor and are being allowed to expand and draw in heat.

A cycling refrigerator runs more or less constantly. The plate draws heat from the surrounding cabinet space until a certain temperature is reached and then a thermostat signals the compressor motor to shut down, which it does. The temperature of the panel is kept in a fairly tight range to more accurately control the desired temperature of any food stored in the cabinet.

Eutectic Refrigeration

Eutectic refrigeration compressor and plate -

Eutectic refrigeration relies on having a plate or a thicker panel filled with a solution of some kind -- normally ordinary automotive radiator antifreeze solution is used. The coils from the compressor run through the plate and the plate is cooled until the solution freezes hard. The thermostat then signals the compressor to shut down.

Over time the solution unfreezes, absorbing heat from the surrounding cabinet. When the solution has completely unfrozen it will continue to absorb heat and rise in temperature until the thermostat kicks in again, starting the compressor and allowing the process to repeat.

Because the eutectic plate absorbs a lot of heat due to the latent thermal energy of the solution, it can remain at a low temperature for a longer time. This means that a eutectic plate only needs to be cooled (and the compressor run) once or twice in each 24 hour period. For example it can be run only when sufficient or surplus energy is available from the solar panels, and shut down at night, and the cabinet will still remain suitably cold overnight.

Eutectic refrigeration relies a lot more on having good insulation around the cabinet -- running a eutectic refrigeration plate in a standard household refrigerator cabinet is not usually efficient because a lot of heat leaks in through the walls of the cabinet. Thick expanded foam or vacuum insulated panels need to surround the refrigerator cabinet on all sides.


Traditionally insulation around a refrigerator or freezer (especially eutectic) has been achieved by surrounding the cabinet with a thick layer of expanded foam such as polystyrene. A number of yachts are starting to become equipped with vacuum insulated panels around the refrigeration cabinet, due to their greater insulating efficiency in less space.

Types of Compressor

  • Engine driven
  • Inverter 110V/240V
  • 12V

Built-in Iceboxes

Early cruising boats or boats owned by sailors who like to keep things simple are often equipped with built-in iceboxes. They come in a variety of sizes commonly able to accommodate between 20 lbs and 500 lbs of block ice. Iceboxes that are entered from the top are preferred to those entered through a side door for reasons of cold air escaping and food falling out when the boat is pitching and rolling. The temperature of an average icebox will be about 40 degrees F. Tips for using the icebox:

  • If the icebox does not have compartments with food one one side and ice on the other assure the food stowed directly on the ice is in a watertight container so the melting ice will remain clean.
  • For a box which can hold about 200lbs of block ice, four-to-five gallons per day will be drained off. This fresh water should be pumped or drained several times each day so that it will not accelerate the rate of ice melting.
  • The shape of the box, shelves, and compartments will drive how it is packed for a passage. Dairy should be stowed in the coldest area but not in contact with frozen foods. Beverages should be readily accessible.
  • If there is an unpleasant smell aboard, it is likely to be the icebox water if it drains directly to the bilge and food has not been kept in watertight containers in the icebox.
  • Block ice lasts longer than cubes.

Main Saloon

The Efficient Main Saloon of the Herreshoff Designed Newport 29
The main saloon on most cruising yachts is used for relaxing and entertaining in port and is often used for sleeping on passage. To accommodate the latter, the settees must be long enough to double as berths. This will typically mean at least 6 ft 2" of length. It is not comfortable to sleep on a settee which is less than 20" wide. Seat cushions should be made of closed cell foam (e.g. latex foam) to prevent mildew. If saltwater gets into the open cells of ordinary foam, the cushions will readily mildew. The main saloon table is often used for dining. If the boat is over 13 feet wide, it is possible to have the main saloon table offset to one side of the boat. The main saloon will typically have storage behind and under the seating as well as bookshelves installed.
The modern main saloon is also an entertainment center for crew. TV, DVD, stereo systems all require thoughtful placement. In particular, the TV must be located where it is comfortable to view. With very shallow flat LCD and LED screen TV monitors, it is now possible to place on a wall or in a smaller storage location than what would have been required just a decade ago. Bookshelves can be used to store CD and movie DVDs as well.

Like the boat pictured at right, many mid-size cruising boats have pilot berths outboard and above the built-in settees and a cabin-table which gimballs. Many boats are set up with lee cloths so both the pilot berths and settees may be used for berthing a large crew or during rough seas when berths further forward or aft would be uncomfortable.

Sleeping Cabins and Berths

A double berth

While beds on large ships are like those on shore, the lack of space on smaller yachts means that beds must be fit in wherever possible. Sometimes the berths can be placed in a stateroom providing privacy, but typically berths are fitted in clever spots aboard a cruising yacht. Some of these berths have specific names:

Quarter berth

A single bunk tucked under the cockpit. Usually found in smaller boats where there is not room for a cabin in this location. Typically, the head and chest will be in the main saloon, with the remainder of the body extending into a small compartment leading aft. These berths are sometimes called "coffin" berths because as much as 2/3 of the berth can be well-confined under the cockpit. These berths are sometimes preferred by some skippers as they can be close to the cockpit while off-watch; there's also no possibility of falling out of bed.

Settee berth

The archetypal layout for a small yacht has seats running down both sides of the cabin, with a table in the middle. At night, these seats can usually be used as beds. Because the ideal ergonomic distance between a seat-back and its front edge (back of the knee) makes for a rather narrow bed, settee berths will often have a system for moving the back of the settee out of the way; this can reveal a surprisingly wide bunk, often running right out to the hull side underneath the lockers. If they are to be used at sea, settee berths must have lee-cloths to prevent the user falling out of bed. Sometimes the settee forms part of a double bed for use in at anchor or in port, often using detachable pieces of the table and extra cushions. Such beds are not usually referred to as settee berths.

A Berth is fitted to the hull shape

Pilot berth

A narrow berth high up in the side of the cabin, usually above and behind the back of the settee and right up under the deck. Sometimes the side of this bunk is "walled in" up to the sleeper's chest; there may even be small shelves or lockers on the partition so that the bed is "behind the furniture". The pilot berth is so called because originally, on working boats, they were so small and uncomfortable that nobody slept in them most of the time; only the pilot, if he had to spend a night on board, would be offered it. Modern cruising sailboats do not often have pilot berths but rather provide re-configurable seating in the wide main saloon area which traditionally housed parallel settees and outboard pilot berths.


Almost all small sailboats have a bed in the extreme forward end of the hull (usually in a separate cabin sometimes referred to as the forepeak which is another name for a ship's forecastle or fo'c'sle. Because of the shape of the forward hull this bed is triangular, though most also have a notch cut out of the middle of the aft end, splitting it partially into two separate beds and making it more of a V shape, hence the name. This notch can usually be filled in with a detachable board and cushion, creating something more like a double bed (though with drastically reduced space for the feet; 12" wide is typical). The term "V-berth" is widely used in the USA but not world-wide.

Because of the unusual shape of most berths aboard a cruising boat, the mattresses will typically be custom-made for each berth. Similarly, bedding will often be custom fitted to each berth. All materials must be mildew resistant and proper ventilation provided to keep bedding fresh.


A Lee-Cloth In Use

Unless the structure of the berth itself renders them unnecessary (quarter berths, pilot berths with partitions), bunks on a yacht will have lee-cloths to prevent the sleeper falling out due to the motion of the vessel. These are typically sheets of canvas attached to the open side of the bunk (very few are open all round) and usually tucked under the mattress during the day or when sleeping at anchor or in port. Lengths of rope are attached to the upper corners of the lee-cloth, and fittings are provided above the berth to which these lines can be tied, holding the cloth in place as a kind of wall across the open side of the bunk.

Lee cloths have some secondary uses:

  • If the cloth is fairly tall, it can serve as a kind of curtain to the berth, in an attempt either to provide privacy (something of a lost cause on board a small boat) or to avoid being awakened by the activities of those on watch.
  • Instead of tucking them under the mattress, some owners pull the lee-cloths across the top of the settee berths during rough weather, providing a protective cover for the fabric below and allowing the crew to sit down in wet clothing without damaging it.
  • Pilot berths are sometimes used as storage on short trips with large crews. Each person's kit is kept in a large bag or holdall, and during the day all bags are placed in the pilot berths and tied down under the lee cloths.

Navigation Station

A Small Chart Table Provides Space for Chart Book and Navigation Tools
A full size chart table takes a lot of space and with more use of computers, chart plotter and electronic charts, the desire for for large navigation stations is waning and chart tables in new boats are smaller and smaller. Prudent cruisers still keep and use paper charts aboard--if only for those times when electronics fail. Many cruisers in small boats have always used the main saloon table to spread out a large chart and now even larger vessels do the same without a dedicated full size chart table. A full size chart table will be 36" by 30" or larger. Navigation stations often include communication equipment of VHF and SSB radio as well as computer console, radar, chart plotter, weather station, weather fax, and other electronic equipment. Often the boat's electrical panels are nearby as well. Careful thought should be given to placement of gear at the navigation station. There should be a place for books, tied tables, light lists, cruising guides, and sight reduction tables for example. Since charts will be stored in a variety of spots elsewhere aboard, it is a good idea to keep the chart inventory with storage location noted at the chart table itself. Night time lighting needs to include a dim light which will not ruin the night vision of the navigator. The navigation station should be so placed in the boat that it will remain dry regardless of weather. Because of this need to avoid opening ports and hatches near the station and because of the heat generated by electronics kept at the navigation station, a small fan is often mounted to provide a cooling breeze at the navigation station.


Wet Locker

Cruising boats of the early to mid 20th century include a sizable wet locker. Newer cruising boats typically do not do so. This doesn't mean they are not needed. Decent stowage must be provided for sea boots, hooks for harnesses, and hanging up foul-weather clothing.

Chart Stowage

It is difficult to stow full size charts flat and unfolded aboard. Therefore, they will be either rolled or folded somewhere. Many cruisers stow folded charts (in plastic trash bags) flat under the berth cushions. Other cruisers stow rolled charts up against the overhead using small bungee cords attached to cup hooks.

Sail Stowage

Food Stores

Spare Parts


info needed

Engine Room


Interior Fittings


List links to discussion threads on partnering forums. (see link for requirements)


Links to relevant websites.

References & Publications

Publications, Guides, etc.


We welcome users' contributions to the Wiki. Please click on Comments to view other users' comments, add your own personal experiences or recommend any changes to this page following your visit.

Personal experiences?

This page has an outline in place but needs completing. Please contribute if you can to help it grow further. Click on Comments to suggest further content or alternatively, if you feel confident to edit this page, click on the edit tab at the top and enter your changes directly.

SailorSmiley.gifContributors to this page

Names: Redbopeep, Delatbabel


Personal tools
Friends of Cruisers Wiki