If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years of being a boat owner, it’s the simpler the food, the easier the day is.
And that’s where finger food comes in (aka boat food appetizers). It’s the perfect match for my family and how we enjoy our boating trips.
Because finger food removes the hassle of taking plates and utensils, it reduces the trash we generate, we don’t need to grill or re-heat food on board, we only need the bare minimum in cold storage (and sometimes no refrigeration at all), and it can be eaten with just the one hand.
And that one-handed approach to eating comes in very handy when I am trying to pilot our pontoon boat whilst simultaneously stuffing my face.
We also spend a load of our time pulling inflatable tubes, water skiing, swimming, and playing games. Those calories get burned through pretty darn quick.
Come lunchtime, nobody’s in a fit state to start cooking up a Michelin Star inspired meal or have the patience to wait for our boat grill to heat up.
Which is why having a list of great finger foods for boating trips is really very essential for an easy life.
And guess what? I’ve listed a load of them here to give you some inspiration too.
Below you can read through all the best finger food ideas, boat food appetizers, small buffet food suggestions, and simple snacks that you could take as food for your boat trip. They are all easy to make, or buy, easy to store, and will taste delicious.
Frozen Grapes & Strawberries
They’re healthy, simple, and refreshing on a hot day. All you do is place the strawberries and grapes into a freezer bag, then freeze up the night before your trip.
They can then be snacked out at any point during the day, plus will even help other foods stored in your cooler box or bag keep cold, as they act just like ice packs! And here’s a video showing you just how easy they are to prepare.
Sliced Fruit and Veg
In the hot sun it’s important to keep well hydrated, and sliced fruit can help with that. Fruit and veg can be easily stored away too. We slice ours and pack in aluminum foil.
Once wrapped in foil you should be able to find a small space to slide it between other larger items in your cooler box or into a bag if you don’t have refrigeration.
Vegetarian Snack Kabobs
These are great because you won’t need to keep them in a cooler. Just wrap in aluminum foil and keep them in the shade. To prepare, simply snap wooden kabob sticks into smaller halves, then skewer on your favorite veg or fruit selections.
Why not add some cheese too? That will give you an easy finger food appetizer that will fill you up and won’t leave a mess on your boat.
Pressed Sandwiches & Muffulettas
Boating takes up a load of energy. My kids get really tired out after a few hours of being active, so I needed something high in carbs and calories to get their energy levels back up. My weapon of choice here is pressed sandwiches or muffulettas. They are simply the the best finger food for boating with kids.
My favorite recipe here is to use thick bread, loads of mozzarella cheese, roasted red peppers, basil, tomato, then a drizzle of oil. I then press them down to get them compacted as tight as possible and wrap them up. Don’t ask me why, but they tend to taste better after a couple of hours.
Wraps are way easier to eat than sandwiches and should in theory lead to less mess on you boat. That’s what I have found anyway, But that’s providing you can tuck the wrap in at the bottom – disclaimer: I’ve never managed to do this successfully!
Ours tend to contain protein-rich foods to keep the energy levels high such as pre-grilled chicken then topped off with the usual suspects such as tomato, lettuce, and cheese. If you do choose a meat option, you will need to take a portable cooler box with you.
Handy Hint: If you have a galley and cooking facilities on your boat, click here for some easy boat recipe ideas.
Candy, Popcorn & Trail Mix Containers
For a very quick and easy finger food option, we find that filling up plastic containers with candy, trail mix or popcorn is best. The plastic pots also fit just right into the cup holders on our boat, so they can be positioned strategically around the deck to be in reach of all our passengers.
Nuts and trail mix are also a good option for wet hands, as they don’t get soggy and flaccid like a sandwich might do! It’s a great option for kids but can be a little messy with loads of crumbs left over – you might want to invest in boat vacuum cleaner!
High Protein Granola Bars
We always take high protein snack bars with us, as they can offer a nice little energy boost, plus are small and handy sized for any boat trip. And of course, they are the perfect finger food for a boat as you won’t need to keep them cool or refrigerated.
When my kids start complaining that they are hungry (literally as soon as we get on our boat), then I throw them one of these to shut them up. I don’t have a preferred brand here, but you can pick up so many different varieties at your local store or make your own if you are feeling adventurous.
Yes, I know, some people hate them, some people love them. But my kids fall firmly into the latter category. And they are fish-themed, so why wouldn’t take them out on your boat!
And an interesting fact; Goldfish Crackers were originally invented to be used as crackers to float on top of soup. Mind blown. I don’t recommend soup as a finger food idea for boating, but I hope you’d figure that one out yourself!
Tasty Tacos in a Doritos Bag
This one needs to be prepared the night before your boat trip but is definitely worth the hassle. All you do is cook up a taco meat mix and then store that in the refrigerator overnight.
On the morning of the boat trip, crunch up a bag of Doritos lightly, open up the bag, then add in the meat mix, lettuce, onions and cheese and shake it all up. Tastes great, but you will definitely need to lick your fingers afterwards!
There’s no need to keep cookies cool so no refrigeration is required with this idea. They also have that high sugar level that’s required after a few hours on the water. And why not make your own?
Do I make my own homemade cookies though? Hell no, I just take the easy option and buy a pack from my local store. You wanted easy finger food ideas for boating; this is easy.
Cooler Corn on the Cob
Everyone who ever comes on our pontoon boat loves this idea. It’s fun, tasty, and really simple too, with literally just 3 minutes of preparation required before you leave on your boat trip. Just grab a cooler box, place corn inside, then pour over boiling water to around 6 inches deep.
This will keep for hours. Whilst you’re all having fun on the water, the corn is cooking in the cooler box. Be careful when you open it up on the boat, as the water can still be very hot. Use tongs, spray with butter, and you’re ready to go.
Cooler or Thermos Hot Dogs with Steamed Buns
Using the cooler box and boiling water method, you can also cook hot dogs to eat on board. As with the corn, place the hot dogs in the cooler, cover with boiling water, seal up the box, and open it up in a few hours when it’s time to eat. Alternatively, you can use something like a 64-ounce Thermos flask which works just as well (see how many hot dogs you can fit in one!).
When you are ready to eat, you can also leave a sealed bag of bread rolls in the sun for 20 minutes. This steams the rolls up nicely, and then you can slide a hot dog in, little Ketchup, and you have the best finger food ever!
El Paso Mini Taco Boats
OK, so this one might create a little mess, so perhaps not great for kids, but for the adults most definitely. All we do is grill or pan cook some seasoned chicken tenders then add those to an El Paso mini taco boat with Havarti cheese, a pickle and mayo.
It’s a great finger food idea, but it will need to be contained in a cooler box and stored securely out of the sun and away from lake or sea water.
Stuffed Jalapeno Poppers
I couldn’t end my finger food ideas without including something spicy as I love hot food. I prepare this at home first by making stuffed jalapeno poppers with bacon, cream cheese, and sharp cheddar on my backyard grill.
They can be a little bit greasy, but I can overlook that due to the amazing taste. Just make sure you bring some paper towels with you to wipe your fingers clean afterwards.
Additional Finger Food Ideas & Comments
To supplement my own finger food ideas for boating I also asked around a few online boating forums that I visit to see what other people have to say. Here’s a selection of the best comments and feedback.
“We agree with you with regards to minimizing as much trash as possible on our boat, so everything that we take is designed to be eaten with our fingers with no need for cutlery or plates. All our food can be eaten from the hand or by using a paper towel. Our recipes and ideas are very simple and include large pre-cut subs, olives, cookies, pre-sliced cheese, And of course… beers!”
“Salads are a no-no as they take up far too much space and get messy if you don’t have plates. It’s also hard to keep them cool without the salad wilting in the heat. All we do is make up loads of sandwiches using ingredients that hold in the bread easily, so no smaller and bitty pieces of food. We also pack foods that don’t need refrigeration such as chips and cookies.”
“Trying to put together food when on a ski boat is nigh on impossible, so choose foods that can be eaten one-handed. We just take sandwiches in those small plastic food bags or in wax paper as this keeps crumbs on our boat down to a minimum.”
“I do take pasta salad on our boat but only because I can keep it cold as I have very good cooler. If you can’t keep it cold, then don’t take it as it can be a food poisoning risk. Instead look to simple foods that can be eaten using just your fingers such as sandwiches, cookies, raw vegetables, hummus, and fruit.”
“Hard boiled eggs that have already been peeled and fruit always tends to be a big hit on a hot day. The eggs are small too, you can eat them in one bite, and they are very filling too so are just ideal as a boat finger food idea.”
“We take a large Ziploc bag of carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes plus a ranch dip. Add some pre-made hoagie sandwiches, peanuts, pistachio packs, peanut butter cheese crackers and cookies and you’ve got a load of finger food ideas right there!”
“In addition to munchies like chips and peanuts we also like to buy a big sub from the grocery store deli, slice it up and package it tight so no water leaks in from the cooler. It’s the best lunch to have on board and keeps everyone very full.”
“You want to know the best finger food for boating? How about my idea? I make up my own veggie tray and then put it in a good Rubbermaid container so water from the cooler doesn’t leak in. This idea has served us well for years.”
“I bring bags of veggies with a dill dip. The healthy people eat the veggies and can use as much dip as they want. Cucumber, cauliflower, broccoli, celery, pea pods and carrots. I ended up buying reusable bags that looked like a silicon version of a Ziploc as to cut back on the garbage. Buy the veggies at Costco, there is enough veggies to make three bags of each veggies to last Friday through to Sunday.”
“A word of warning! Cheetos or any other snack food with that orange color are not allowed on our boat. We had some guest’s kids leave nacho Dorito stains that took us months and months plus loads of cleaners to get off our beige seats.”
What Makes the Best Finger Food for a Boat?
I am sure you have plenty of your own ideas, and I would love to hear about them and possibly include them on this page.
The type of food that works best on a boat trip has to be simple and portable if you don’t have adequate refrigeration and storage. It should tick these boxes:
- Simple to make or buy
- Possibly doesn’t require a cool box or refrigeration
- Can be small enough to be eaten with one hand
- Doesn’t include grease or small crumbs
- Doesn’t include mayo, fish, or meat
- Can be packed tightly in a bag
- Doesn’t come with over the top packaging
- Contains protein and sugars for energy
I also recommend taking plenty of water with you. Keeping well hydrated is essential when on your boat.
Do You Need a Cooler?
Not all finger foods will need to be refrigerated.
Non-perishable food to take on a boat trip includes simple ideas such as fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, tinned meat spreads. Once you open up a can though, you should place keep it in a portable cooler.
If you don’t have a cooler box (and you can see my recommendation below), then why not freeze some sandwiches before your boat trip?
Handy Hint: If you freeze sandwiches with course-textured bread it won’t get as soggy once defrosted.
Cooler Box Recommendation
We have two cooler boxes on our pontoon boat. Whilst we do try to reduce the amount of finger food we take that requires being kept at cold temperatures, practically it’s not always that possible.
One of our cooler boxes takes our drinks, and the other one is where we keep our food cold.
We have a couple of 48-quart Igloo coolers, and that’s more than ample for a 5-person family spending a day boating. You can read the reviews and the latest prices on Amazon.
I recommend Igloo because it has UV resistance against the sun, can be drained via a plug in the bottom, is rust-resistant, has easy to carry handles, and the most important part; uses very good insulation to keep things cold (or warm).
You can also buy marine cooler tables that come with cup holders in the top. I’ve reviewed some of the best so click here to see a great selection.
Handy Hint: As well as these ideas, we’ve also put together some healthy options for boat rides.
Boating Food Safety Advice
In terms of a disclaimer, I am not a food safety expert by any stretch of the imagination. But I do exercise common sense and have done my own research online as to how best keep foods safe from contamination whilst boating.
The last thing you need is for someone to get food poisoning whilst on your boat. It’s virtually the worst place on earth something like this can happen, and I will leave it up to your own imagination as to why.
Here’s a quick overview of everything that I have learned over the last few years.
Tips on How to Keep Food Safely
As I said, the most important aspect is common sense. You should never take any chances with perishable foods as you could put you and your passengers’ health at risk.
Sun and sea or lake water is a potentially dangerous risk to food and can lead to cross-contamination and bacteria which is why how you store your food is so important.
Previously on Pontoonopedia I have written a larger guide to storing food on a boat, but here’s a more concise overview if you don’t have the time to read that in full.
- Perishable food like pasta salad, potato salad, and cooked meats need to be stored in a cooler box packed with ice.
- You can also use frozen gel packs here, but the key is to have a couple of inches of frozen insulation.
- All food should be kept away from sea or lake water and should also be kept in water-tight containers to stop contact with melted ice.
- Keep your cooler box and food out of the sun, leaving covered and in the shade.
The Final Word
And that’s that!
I hope you’ve found these ideas helpful, and if you do, please do share on social media as it takes me hours to put this information together so for me, knowing that I’ve helped more people makes it so much more worthwhile to me.
As I said, if you do have any of your own finger food ideas that you have taken on a boat and know to work well, then I would love to hear from you. Contact me via the contact page or via the usual social media channels.