Boat coffee makers – which one should you use?

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Not all coffee makers are suitable for usage on a boat. The liveaboard lifestyle and marine environment places specific demands and requirements on everything on board, including your coffee machine. Space, power usage, durability and easiness of cleaning are just a few aspects you need to take into account. How do the most common coffee makers rate for a life in the boat galley?

Filter coffee machine

image of filter coffee machineThe most common, standard drip coffee maker is not the best choice when you are living on a boat. The main disadvantages are:

  • The pot is usually made of glass. Anything glass usually doesn’t stay in one piece  is not a good idea aboard!
  • They need electricity which means they use precious power.
  • There are several parts that you need to clean: the pot and the filter holder need to be washed after each use and the water reservoir needs regular descaling.
  • They are often big and bulky and difficult to store.

Even though many liveaboards may initially bring their trusted filter machine on board, they very soon switch to a different solution when they realise how unsuitable they are aboard.

12 volt coffee maker

This is not really an alternative to the filter coffee machine, even though the smaller parts reduce some of the impact of the disadvantages. The main problem with a 12 volt coffee maker for boats is that it is incredibly slow – it can take up to 15 minutes to make one cup of coffee! Even if you don’t mind the wait, the demand on your batteries will be considerable. The amount of power needed to heat up the water for one coffee is roughly the same as the amount needed to run your fridge for one hour.


percolator-on-stoveThis type of stovetop coffee maker is usually made of aluminium or steel, therefore it will be able to withstand a couple of bumps and falls. They can be awkward to clean because of the lose coffee grind.

It can take some time to achieve the desired level of coffee strength, but it will be faster than for example a 12 volt coffee maker. As the percolator heats the water up the stove, you won’t waste precious battery power. The placement on the stove is however one of its disadvantages on a boat: if there is a lot of swell it can be dangerous to use a stovetop coffee maker.

French press

French press coffee makerAlso known as a cafetiere, or a coffee plunger, for a French press the heating of the water is not part of the coffee maker itself. This has the advantage that you can chose how to boil the water: by using a kettle on the stove, an electric kettle or any other means.

By design, you are in complete control over how long the coffee brews and how strong you make it. However, as the coffee ends up lose in the bottom of the beaker it can be messy to clean. By design most French Presses are made of glass which means they may not last very long on board.

American press

The American press is a variant of the French press whereby the coffee is contained in an enclosed, reusable pod. This makes cleaning it a lot easier. It is a patented brand and you won’t find cheap alternatives to the official design. The cost price could therefore be an issue for more frugal boaters.


One of the best solutions for brewing a cup of joe on a boat is the Aeropress. This is another branded products for which you won’t be able to find any cheap imitations. At one-third the price of the American press, this is definitely a more interesting option. The price is not the only advantage:

  • It is made of hard plastic which makes it extremely durable.
  • It is super quick to make a cup of coffee; the brewing time depends on your personal preference but it can be as little as 10 seconds. Pressing the water through the coffee grind takes a similar amount of time.
  • To clean out the coffee grind, you disconnect the two plastic parts and a simple tap on the press releases the grind into the bin. You rinse the press itself with a minimum of water.
  • To store, you push the two parts together and screw on the filter-cap. This compresses the entire product to 15 by 10 centimeters. Easy to store, even in the smallest of lockers!

aeropress - the best of boat coffee makersThe Aeropress comes with 350 filters which seems like a lot, but if you’re an avid coffee drinker they will be gone in a few months. Luckily it is easy to order more filters and because they are small, it is not a problem to store a few rolls when you are heading out cruising. You can also buy a reusable stainless steel filter. If you still happen to run out of filters, it is good to know that you can easily re-use them by rinsing them off with some water. This way you can use 1 filter as many as 5 or 6 times.

The best way to make coffee when underway

Although the Aeropress is a fantastic solution for making a cup of coffee on a boat, it may not always be a good idea to use it when underway. The balance of the unpressed tower of the 2 main plastic parts is easily disturbed, resulting in a mess of brown water and coffee grind on your countertop, or if you are unlucky, on your clothes. As a precaution, put the Aeropress in the sink while you wait for it to brew.

spilling coffeeWhen you are underway or you are experiencing a heavy swell at anchor, fall back to making coffee with the least risk and fuss: instant coffee. It is the quickest and the safest way to make a cup of brew and requires the least cleaning.

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