If you are reading this article, chances are that you are dreaming of becoming a liveaboard. Maybe you are wondering about some of the things you should know before moving into a sailboat. You probably picture beautiful sunsets, crystal clear water, and a world full of adventures just waiting to be explored while you live aboard. Distant shores and endless possibilities might sound like a dream too good to be true.
In some ways, it is. In other ways, it isn’t. And how do I know that?
I remember when I was sitting in my house thinking these exact thoughts. Many days were spent reading adventurous sailing blogs and watching youtube channels where people seemed to live a very good life on their boats.
Eventually, I bought a sailboat, rented out my house, and decided to move aboard to try this alternative lifestyle. I still live onboard several years, many countries, and thousands of nautical miles later. Take a look here if you are curious about how it all started for me.
And I love it.
Transitioning from living on land to living in a sailboat can be quite challenging, but it is also a thrilling adventure.
In this article, I will share some things with you that is good to know before moving into a sailboat. Some of them might be positive surprises. Others are a little bit less thrilling. Let us get to it!
You probably have to get rid of most of your things
Even a big sailboat is pretty small compared to the usual condo, apartment, or house you might be used to living in. You won’t be able to take too much stuff with you because of the limited living and storage space.
Sure, you can bring your kindle, laptop, and favorite shoes. But the skis, bikes, big flatscreen, and dishwasher have to go. And so does many other things most of us take for granted. On the bright side, you will soon realize that you don’t need too much. Chuck Plahniuk said something that I find surprisingly accurate:
You will find that instead of enjoying the value of materialistic items, you start to appreciate nature and the people around you more. The freedom to move your home by the wind to wherever you want. To wake up to a different view whenever you see fit.
Living on a sailboat is a great way to disconnect from the consumer-oriented society we live in today. Before you know it, you may realize that you have spent a lot of time working to earn money spent on items you don’t need.
Now, living on a sailboat definitely costs money. But you might become more aware of your time’s value and what you want to trade it for. You don’t need a lot of things to be happy, but you need time to enjoy life.
While this doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone, I have put a lot of thought into it over the past few years while living aboard.
I made an article to help you figure out the best size sailboat to live on. This article is based on many factors and discussions with other liveaboard sailors, and I recommend you read it.
A sailboat is a constant project with repairs and upgrades
If you move into a sailboat and start cruising full-time, you will eventually become familiar with the fact that sailboats break. Whether you buy a new or old boat, you will become handy at regularly repairing and maintaining your new home.
The to-do list of maintenance, repairs, and upgrades gets two new points for every one you tick off. You might hate it or love it, or maybe even both. But that is part of living aboard and cruising. For those of us that sail in tropical areas, there is a saying:
“Sailing around the world isn’t a holiday. It is fixing your boat in exotic places.”
I heard the quote from several sailors before moving onboard, but I didn’t realize how true it was before I was a liveaboard myself. However, I really enjoy giving my sailboat Ellidah the care she needs. She may give me the adventure of a lifetime, but it doesn’t come for free. And you won’t get far unless you work for it. I think having to work for it makes the journey more rewarding.
Robin Knox-Johnston, who was the first person to sail solo around the world non-stop, said:
Of course, for a seaman, next to being actually at sea, the greatest enjoyment comes from preparing the boat for a voyage.Robin Knox-Johnston, A World of My Own: The First Ever Non-stop Solo Round the World Voyage
I get goosebumps of excitement just from thinking about preparing for the next voyage, and it is a great feeling I hope you also get to experience.
Weather forecasts are going to be the first thing you read when you wake up
And probably the last thing you read before going to sleep. When you live on a sailboat, you are at the mercy of mother nature 24/7. Especially when you are out there cruising and spending a lot of time at anchor. Keeping track of what the weather does is essential to keep yourself and your sailboat safe.
We can’t control the weather, but luckily modern technology has given us excellent weather forecasts. What you do and where you go will depend on what the weather has in store for you. Sometimes you may have to seek shelter somewhere else than you initially planned.
Other times you have to skip the night out and stay onboard and watch your boat to ensure the ground tackle is holding you firm. On the bright side, the weather also allows us to travel great distances only with the help of the wind. A great balance between effort and reward if you ask me.
Unlimited water is a luxury of the past
And so is hot water. Sailboats carry a limited amount of water. Unless you live in a port or marina, you will soon realize the luxury of having unlimited water in the tap. This is especially true on longer voyages or when you spend time in remote areas where water is a sparse resource.
Having a watermaker is a great benefit, but they do break. They also require maintenance and electricity to operate, which is another limited resource onboard. The term “salty sailor” is far more true than you may think and in more than one way.
Salty baths and dishwashing in seawater are pretty trivial once you get used to it, though. And with a watermaker and a bit of common sense with water consumption, it really isn’t a problem. Just another thing to be aware of that is greatly different from life on land.
Electricity is a valuable asset
You don’t need electricity onboard, and some sailors cruise around the world the old-fashioned way without it. However, most of us like to stay in the 21st century and enjoy the benefits of energy onboard to run our equipment, appliances, and lights.
Unless you stay in a port plugged into the shore network, you have to generate your own energy. Which is pretty cool. Being self-sufficient is a great sensation that I truly enjoy. There are many great ways to generate electricity onboard a sailboat, and I actually wrote an article about it.
No matter how many solar panels or wind generators you have, the amount of energy available onboard will still be limited. This is another thing to be aware of that many dont think about before moving into a boat.
Luckily, electricity onboard is like water. When you learn to manage the consumption, you will find that even if energy is limited, you still have enough for your needs.
Get used to sleeping in what sometimes can feel like a rollercoaster
Life at anchor is great in most situations. As long as your anchorage is well protected and you don’t get swell rocking your sailboat around like a roller coaster. Especially if you have a monohull! Sometimes the anchorage can be completely calm when you go to bed.
Then you wake up in the middle of the night and find yourself wondering whether you are still on a boat or have somehow ended up inside a tumble dryer. It has happened to me countless times and will probably happen to you as well if you become a liveaboard.
Also, on a sea voyage, the sleeping condition may sometimes be somehow turbulent. Your normal cabin bunk may not always be the most comfortable spot to sleep. You learn to get creative when everything around you is moving while you are trying your best to get the necessary beauty sleep.
And you learn to appreciate a good night’s sleep when the conditions are pleasant.
Expect beautiful world-class sea views
One of the best parts of living on a sailboat is the beautiful views. The cockpit is your balcony where you spend a lot of your time onboard, and the world-class view you get to experience is nothing less than excellent.
Whether it is a gorgeous sun shining day with crystal clear blue water or an impressive lightning storm, it is something I never thought I would enjoy as much as I do. And the night sky with stars bright as candles on a passage far away from land accompanied by the sparkling algae in the sea and occasional whales or dolphins.
Words actually can’t describe the magnificence of nature around you when you live so close to it on a sailboat. It may be one of the reasons why some stay onboard longer than they had planned. Others never move back on land.
If you get tired of a place, you just move on to the next
No matter how great a place is, you may get tired of it and ready to move on to the next. When you live on a sailboat, it is pretty simple. Just wait for fair winds and good weather, and off you go. How far you travel and how long you stay is entirely up to you.
With a few exceptions like Visa and weather conditions, of course.
Most of us move into a sailboat to get the freedom to move ourselves and our home around to visit and explore new places. Now, while this point might seem pretty obvious, there is a bit more to it.
You get to know people and learn about places you never heard of. Suddenly, your plans change, and you are on your way to a hidden little paradise with new friends you just met. The unknown and unexpected is the key to true adventure and is where stories are made. This brings me to the next point.
You will get a lot of new friends and become part of a great sailing community
Sailors are interesting creatures. Often full of salty stories about massive storms, distant islands, and other exaggerated adventures. We are also social and love to get together to help each other and socialize.
As a consequence, the sailing community is great. No matter where you come from or where you are, you’ll eventually stumble upon the community and become a part of it. Sometimes it feels like cruisers are one big family out seeking the same adventures, but for our own reasons in different ways.
If you get in trouble with your engine or anything else on your boat, there will most likely be a fellow sailor around to give you a hand. And you will offer yours to those around you since that is what communities are all about.
You’ll meet like-minded people with similar interests and values even if you decide to go sailing alone. Speaking of sailing solo, if you’re already convinced to become a liveaboard, have a look at this article about how big of a boat you can handle by yourself.
There is a big chance that you are going to get a love/hate relationship with sailing
We have already established that sailing and cruising are great for the most part. However, the downside is the wet and uncomfortable journeys. The battle against the elements. Too much or too little wind. Days and weeks of waiting for a decent weather window.
Equipment breaking at the worst possible times. Clogged toilets and leaking hatches. Cruising and living on a sailboat isn’t always sunshine and flowers. Getting a love/hate relationship with sailing and cruising is easy.
What is great about challenges and uncomfortable situations is that you learn and gain experience with each and every one of them. And at the end of the day, you get rewarded with the positive sides and benefits.
Ask a sailor:
- Have you ever been in a situation where you decided to quit sailing only to change your mind later?
You will get many “Yes” and probably some impressive stories.
You will learn about things you didn’t even know existed
Electronics. Mechanics. Plumbing. Sewing and stitching. Navigation. Nautical Terms. Living on a sailboat will introduce you to a variety of categories, and will require you to learn about things you didn’t even know existed.
Eventually, you’ll become knowledgeable and handy in dealing with whatever issues that arise on your boat. You might even find some weird things interesting that you would never pay attention to unless you lived on a boat.
Like talking about toilets (called head on a boat, by the way). Bring the topic up amongst other cruisers, and you have a conversation that can last for hours. That wouldn’t happen in the “normal” world. But since it eventually becomes an unpleasant maintenance task for every liveaboard, it is a surprisingly interesting topic.
And that is only one example of a million!
Most of your time is going to be spent outside along with mother nature
This is one of my favorite things about living on a sailboat. You spend most of your time outside with nature. Whether it be at sea sailing with the wind and surfing across the waves or on land exploring a beach, island, or interesting city.
I didn’t realize how much time I used to spend inside the four walls of a house before I moved onto my sailboat. Since I come from Northern Norway, the weather and low temperature had a big impact, though.
After moving onboard I spend most of the time outside. Especially since I’ve been cruising in the Mediterranean and Caribbean with pleasant climate. But when the lifestyle you are living is at the mercy of and in close correlation with nature, being outside becomes a natural part of it. And it is great!
The positives of living on a sailboat outweigh the negatives by far. But it isn’t for everyone and it takes hard work, endurance and a lot of learning if you want to go cruising.
Your boat may be tiny compared to a house, but you benefit from having the entire world as your backyard. Available to be explored by you, your sailboat and the crew you pick up along the way!