With more and more people aspiring to live the boat life and the used boat market booming, it’s a good time to stop and think about what to expect from this lifestyle and what it takes to enjoy being a liveabord sailor.
Many new cruisers quit the boat life after six months or a year, because their expectations didn’t match up with reality, things got too difficult, or they ran out of money.
Here’s what we’ve learned about the realities of boat life, after three and a half years of living on boats full-time. It’s an amazing way of life, but it’s not as easy as it may seem. This is what it takes to live the boat life and what we wish we knew when we embarked on this big adventure.
When living and traveling on a boat, you will need to constantly make decisions and many of these decisions will make a difference to your day-to-day life.
You’ll need to determine which anchorage to stay in, based on the weather, what to do in a storm, where to go for the off season, what boat projects need tackling urgently, what brand boat parts to buy and from where, and on, and on, and on.
There will always be something to consider and decide upon and you won’t always have all the information you need to make the best choice. Weather forecasts aren’t 100% accurate, guide books get out of date fast, and people’s advice is very subjective to their situation and preferences.
Things can turn stressful in these situations, but the uncertainty is what makes the boat life such an exciting way of living.
Being humble and ready to learn new things, anytime, is possibly the best way to stay safe at sea. The ocean can be a tough teacher, and if you become complacent, you may get yourself into trouble. We personally research how to approach new challenges and look at every angle and potential fallback. It takes time and energy, but it gives us the confidence we need to keep going.
On the surface, it may seem like boat life is a constant stream of golden beaches, sundowners, and stunning sunsets. There certainly are some perfect moments where you feel like you’re living the dream and feel full to the brim with gratefulness. However, things can go wrong and boat gear breaks all the time. This can make a dent into your cruising kitty, and your spirit.
Resilience is certainly a quality most liveaboards need to develop. When you feel like everything is going wrong, hang in there, take a break and then think of the next steps. Those postcard-perfect moments will make it all worth it.
Everything takes a long time on boat – doing laundry and food shopping often takes a full day. Finding boat parts or even simple household items and electronics can be difficult if you can’t afford to travel inland or to pay for import duties. You’ll need a huge amount of patience and a chilled out attitude. Luckily, these can be picked up along the way.
Plans change all the time for cruisers. With the weather, the seasons, the geography of the coast and your budget dictating what you can do and where you can go, you’ll need to be extremely flexible with your planning.
You can’t just do or go where you want, like you used to do on land. At times, this can feel frustrating, but it’s all part of living close to nature. You are surrounded by beauty, so you need to work around it.
Adapting to new cultures is also a great skill to have. Appreciating the local customs and food will pay back both in a richer cruising experience and in cost savings. For example. there is little point in complaining about how much Cheetos cost in the Caribbean – try plantain chips instead – they’re delicious and cheap.
There will be little things that annoy you on the boat. My personal pet peeves are phone and laptop charging cables breaking all the time and not being able to sleep in a rolly anchorage.
These things can add up and put you in a bad mood sometimes, if you’re not careful.
The best way to avoid this situation, which makes you feel equal parts exasperated and terribly ungrateful, is to be pro active. Recognising what annoys you and finding solutions that solve, or improve things, can make a huge difference.
A little courage
While everyone in good health can go live the boat life at any age and at varying levels of fitness, it does take a little courage to take the leap. It’s not just the pluck you need to leave your old life behind, it’s also the awareness that the sea could claim your life, or you may injure yourself while sailing. There are dangers involved in this way of life, which is partly why it feels so exciting.
Lots of preparation
If you watch lots of sailing vlogs, it may seem that we spend most of our time traveling to beautiful destinations and occasionally do some boat work, which takes an average of 15 minutes to complete.
The truth is that we spend most of our time preparing the boat to travel to new places.
In three and a half years of living on a boat, we have spent a total of 1 year and 11 months doing big boat work projects, either in yards, anchorages or marinas. This does not include the time we spend doing general maintenance and unexpected repairs, which we need to do at least once every month or so.
Our experience may be a little extreme, as we have refitted two old boats, but you may be surprised to hear that we have met various cruisers unable to go sailing on their brand new boats for months, because they had terrible manufacturing defects or the brand new systems were constantly breaking.
Boats need constant maintenance, and maintenance takes time. The good news is that you’ll be in lovely places while doing boat work.
No matter what size of boat you choose, you’ll need to downsize – there is no way that you can fit your land life onto a boat. A minimalist approach is usually recommended, so you won’t spend half your time looking for your stuff.
My personal advice, is not to be too precious about the things you bring onto your boat – stuff gets moldy, becomes smelly, rusts, and generally breaks. In the worst case scenario, it could get water or lighting damage. Whatever you bring on board could get lost, so bear that in mind when packing.
A strong relationship
A great, strong relationship with who you share the boat with is a fundamental requirement of boat life. Living in a confined space with little privacy will test the best relationships – any problems you may have will be magnified on a boat.
You often won’t be able to walk away from an argument and sometimes you’ll have to suck it up and be the supportive party when your partner is in a more negative mental state than yours.
If you’re going solo, you need to be comfortable with your own company and long stretches of being alone.
Strength of character
Needless to say, you will face many challenges when living on a boat – from bad weather, to the same gear breaking over and over again, to feeling lonely. Sometimes, you may even wish you lived in a house.
It takes strength of character and resourcefulness to stay. You may lose your income out of the blue, you may not be able to purchase the boat part you need, you may find yourself in the path of a hurricane. It won’t be easy, but you will grow from every challenge and if you love this lifestyle, like we do, you won’t regret anything.
Prepare to be uncomfortable
Finally, prepare to be uncomfortable. Once you move onto a boat you will likely experience rolling or pitching, constant boat movement underway, strong winds, extreme heat and cold, lack of sleep, eating long life food for too many days in a row, and more.
But after all, boat life is an adventure and adventure is never comfortable, easy, or relaxing. Adventure is a hazardous challenge.
The joy of overcoming those hurdles, the excitement of living a life where no day is the same, that delicious feeling of freedom, and the elation of experiencing those perfect days will pay you back a thousandfold.
Oh and by the way, Ryan and I lacked at least half these skills before we left our land lives to go live on a sailboat, so the learning curve was pretty steep. You can’t prepare for everything, and no sailing course will teach you how to be a cruiser, but if you’re ready to put in some hard work and learn a million new things, you will love the boat life. It’s an amazing way of living and it would be a shame not to try it out, if you think it could be for you.
Thanks for reading! We’re Elena and Ryan and we sail a Tayana 37 while working to make a living. We recently crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean and, as usual, we’re keeping it real by recording our boat life adventures as honestly as we can. Subscribe to our channel to watch us sail the world on a budget.
Below is the original video.