Monday, May 07, 2012

Boat Galley: Stainless in the Galley

This week's Boat Galley article takes a deeper look at stainless steel on your boat...

Guest blog by Carolyn Shearlock
Carolyn Shearlock, author of The Boat Galley, appears weekly on the Daily Boater with tips for getting the most out of your boat's kitchen.

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /

You’ll find lots of articles in boating magazines, books and websites talking about different grades of stainless in boat parts.

Did you ever think about those various grades and how they apply in the galley?

Today’s Topic: Stainless in the Galley...

Stainless isn't all created equal, even in the galley...

In looking for some new stainless silverware, I started seeing a variety of designations for stainless. Now, for buying screws and bolts, I'm used to seeing designations such as 316 and 304. But flatware uses "old style" designations such as 18/10, 18/8 and 18/0.

Hmmm . . . what do these represent and does it matter for galley items?

In researching, I've discovered that yes, it does matter for the galley - just like everywhere else on a boat. And even if you're in freshwater - or using it ashore - it still matters.

The numbers aren't important for strength in the galley -- the thickness of the item in question will really determine the strength. Whether it's fork tines, spoon handles, or pans denting (or having hot spots), the thicker, the better. Yes, there are strength differences in the alloys that can be important in items of the same size (such as bolts) but for galley purposes, the design of the item plays a far greater role.

The numerical designation is important for rust resistance. What, you say?? Stainless isn't supposed to rust!  Believe me, I’ve got plenty of pieces of “stainless” that do have rust on them. And my research told me why.
In the two number designations, the first number refers to the percentage of chromium and the second number the percentage of nickel in the alloy.
  • Anything called "stainless" must have a minimum of 10.5% chromium, which provides some basic rust resistance. 
  • Nickel isn't "required" in the alloy for something to be called stainless, but it provides additional rust protection.
Stainless with nickel is considered to be in the "300 series" - 316, 304, 302, 301 - that we often see on marine parts, and it is not magnetic.

Stainless without nickel is in the "400 series" and is rarely found in decent marine equipment... and it's the stuff that is magnetic. Without the nickel, it has a much greater propensity to rust, particularly in a salt water environment. And this is the type of stainless that’s frequently used in kitchen items - particularly those that are less expensive.

Without going into all the details (I'll leave that to the boat mechanics), basically:
  • 18/10 stainless is very similar to 316 and has the greatest rust and pitting resistance -- important if you envision washing dishes in salt water. 
  • 18/8 is similar to 304, 302 and 301 -- they are all slightly different alloys. 
  • 18/0 would be part of the "400 series" and may rust and pit, particular in a saltwater environment just from salt in the air even if you do dishes in freshwater.
Of course, the more nickel, the more expensive. True 316 marine grade stainless also has about 2% molybdenum, which greatly resists pitting in seawater. In all my research, I haven't seen any references to this being used in any galley/kitchen products.

So, bottom line is that if you can find it and afford it, 18/10 will do best on a boat, particularly one in saltwater. 18/8 is probably going to be acceptable.

In reading lots of reviews on flatware, many people just buying for "homes" complain about 18/0 rusting, so I'd at least try to avoid it on a boat, particularly in humid climates with no air conditioning. It is, however, usually the cheapest "stainless."  I’m sure this is the “stainless” that I recently threw out because it was rusting.

While I researched this in looking for flatware, it's equally applicable to anything in the galley - pans, knives (although note that less nickel does seem to equate to a sharper blade), graters, strainers and more. Just one more thing to look at as you're buying!

For more tips on what factors to consider in equipping your galley, check out my article and comments on Buying Galley Equipment at

Carolyn Shearlock is author of The Boat Galley, with over 280 FREE articles to get the most out of your boat kitchen with galley tips, insights & equipment recommendations. A few recipes, too - plus an active Facebook community to ask questions and share tips with other readers!

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