DISH DUTY ON a heeling, pitching yacht, often at night, is one of the sport's least alluring jobs. Many would rather face half-a-dozen sail changes than the pot that held the spaghetti sauce.

Dishwashing on a boat can be messy, frustrating, a difficult business--even dangerous. In desperation, one of my sons developed what he calls "success through incompetence" and was banished from the galley for good.

Most boats, even the best designed, have inadequate dishwashing arrangements.. Boat washing is utterly different from land washing: no hot water, tilting surfaces, primitive disposal arrangements. Yet boat designers who have created functional tools of great beauty for the working parts of a sailboat have left the kitchen looking like a corner of a camp trailer--crammed with shiny gadgets of no use.

Few boats have adequate fiddles, the little bars that keep things from sliding off counter space. Few have foot-operated salt water (or for that matter fresh water) pumps. Few have fitted pot and dish racks to keep things put. Few have foot-fiddles on the galley floor to keep the washer from sliding out of control as the on-deck crew gaily flogs the vessel along.

But don't worry about the things boats don't have. Equipped with a little knowledge and the right tools, you can become the ship's favorite guest, the one who is always invited back. The secrets of this system were developed over thousands of miles of ocean sailing from Annapolis to Maine, from Scotland to Turkey, in boats ranging from 20 to 50 feet. It's not that I'm boasting. It's just that I've washed a mountain of dishes on top of salt water.

The basic tools are simple: A strong washing brush (no rags or mops) with a handle (brands are Lola or Hoan), a low container for soap solution (I use an empty one-gallon plastic detergent or anti-freeze jug cut to about three inches high), a three-gallon bucket, a Rubbermaid basin, a one-inch Red Devil wood scraper, liquid detergent (Joy is good, Prell shampoo is the acknowledged ocean champion, Amway Dish-Drops are another favorite). That's all. Usually I take the equipment along when "guesting" on another's yacht.

If you can survey the galley before leaving the dock or mooring, you'll have time to make adjustments. See if there is any place to attach or hook a cross-galley harness or a simple rope sling to hold you away from the galley on one tack as the boat leans and up to it on the other. Racing boats almost without exception have this device. But if there is no way to make a galley harness, it becomes even more important to deal with the floor.

Sailors of the "pretty varnish" school will shudder, but you should have two decent foot fiddles, made of half-inch stock, fastened to the galley floor with five-penny nails. Their usefulness on that sloping, slippery floor is so great that they are seldom removed. But if they must be for esthetic reasons, the small holes are easily plugged up, even on a teak and holly floor.

This is the right place for a word about paper plates. They have no place on a serious sailboat. They detract greatly from the beauty of the life, they create bad habits and bulky garbage, and they have caused innumerable spills during my galley career. A paper plate should appear only on a wicker plate holder. Enough said; the same goes for paper cups and paper towels.

Real dishwashers sneer at disposables. It is curious but true that an owner who spends $150,000 on a beautiful yacht would go to the five-and-ten for plastic or paper utensils and dishes. Heavy restaurant china, heavy mugs and bowls--that's ocean gear you can be proud to wash.

On to the wash itself. It's important to use as little fresh water as possible. Boat washing is really just a system of using water at the right time and avoiding wasted motions. Imagine you are about to attack the remains of a spaghetti dinner--perhaps seven plates, seven mugs, two pots and a coffee perculator (real washers laugh at instant coffee.)

Don't use the stainless steel sink that is inevitably the center of most modern galleys-- except as a good place to stack the dirty dishes. First scrape each plate carefully--this step seems obvious, but it is often ignored--into the garbage pail, which is fastened in place and lined with a plastic bag. After all are scraped, all are returned to the sink.

Next, make a soap solution with fresh water in your cut-off soap container, place it in a secure (leeward) position, and fill the bucket half full of sea water from the deckies. Then, dipping your brush in the soapy solution, deal with both sides of each plate, dipping each in the sea water and returning it to the sink upside down. (The bucket should be wedged securely on the floor or in the garbage can). Not only does this help drain the soapy dishes, but it also marks where the "cycle" began. Now, for the first time, put some fresh water (about half-a-gallon) into the Rubbermaid basin and one by one rinse all, starting with the cups and ending with the pots. You should end up with a sink full of clean, rinsed dishes. Inevitably, the rinse water gets "loaded" as it takes off more soap and salt, which is why the cups should come first and the pots last. You can always give the pots and percolator a salt rinse if necessary--it will only improve the flavor of the chef's next effort.

Don't dry the plates, or anything else. Just put them away wet. They will dry themselves, depend on it. The silverware, scooped from the bottom of the sink, should get its own rinse from the fresh water pump. But in no case should you use more than a gallon of fresh water in the whole process.

Some final tips: No scorch, no egg crust, no bean sludge can resist the tool steel edge of the Red Devil wood scraper. Be warned, though, that the little tool will cut aluminum, but not enamel or stainless gear. Another time saver: nail a half-bar of Ivory soap somewhere in the galley to hit with your brush for the small job, like the late-watch coffee mugs.

Always keep your tools visible and available for use. The dish brush and scrapers should have their hangers or pieces of Velcro, or shock-cord holders. Keep the Rubbermaid pan and soap container in the sink. These measures will go a long way toward making other galley slaves do it right.

One more thing: If you get seasick, forget all of the above.