Sailing around the world is often depicted as romantic: nothing but you, your craft, the sea, and the sky. It’s relaxing, it’s beautiful – and it’s incredibly hard to do right.
Indeed, sailing the world was easily the best decision I ever made, but when people mention their interest in following in my wake, I try my hardest to dissuade them. Boat-based living doesn’t offer the same comforts as your roomy house and yard, and there are a surprising number of expenses that most new sailors don’t expect. While I get to see beautiful vistas in exotic places, I rarely get to see my family and old friends in person without a days-long trek across the high seas.
However, if you are hell-bent on moving onto a floating home, you should know how to do it the right way. Here’s my beginner’s guide to living on your boat.
First, Get a Boat
Acquiring a vessel might be an obvious first step to living on the sea, but that doesn’t stop most people from doing it all wrong. Not every boat is built for long-term inhabitance or travel across the deep ocean, and choosing wrong will make your life exceedingly uncomfortable at best and put your life at danger at worst.
Most boat owners who decide to make a break for the open ocean will not enjoy their trips on their current vessels. Instead, you should consider donating your existing boat and upgrading to a vessel better suited to life at sea. My favorite boating charity is currently running a promotion to give you a vacation for your beneficence, and I strongly encourage eager world boaters to participate. Using your sizeable tax deduction, you can afford to get the right boat for your lifestyle and voyages.
I make my home in a Bowman 57. This is the perfect vessel for me: It is large enough to provide the storage and living spaces I crave but small enough for me to handle with my small crew (my wife and son). The cockpit is ergonomic and outfitted with a hard dodger, so I am equally comfortable in Alaska and Puerto Rico. It has a hydraulic autopilot I can rely on, and a large-enough gas chamber to get me wherever I want to go.
Other boaters might require more or less space or different features – including a shallower draft to extend cruising range, additional generators for enhanced electrical needs, or other specialized equipment. You should troll boating forums, talk to boat sales staff, and spend some time on different decks to determine what’s right for you.
Next, Learn About Boating
Unfortunately, I can’t help you much with this step. Boating takes a lifetime to master, and those who lack any experience onboard might be better off retiring their legs to land. There are boating courses that will introduce any would-be sailor to the rigors of a life afloat, but you will need abundant practical experience before you are ready to brave the oceans alone – and I can’t give you that in this guide.
Protect Your Health
This is true of anyone anywhere, but particularly travelers and even more particularly travelers on boats: accidents happen. It is incredibly likely that you will have an experience that necessitates medical care. On my first voyage, which took me a hop and jump across the Atlantic to Iceland, I broke my arm, but I’ve heard horror stories of boaters suffering shark bites, heart attacks, and worse at sea. Before you set sail anywhere, your health should be in tip-top shape – and even then, you should have an international health insurance plan in case the worst happens.
Downsize and Minimize
The average American has more than 300,000 possessions – and barely a fraction of those will fit on a boat. For most, boat living is attractive primarily because it forces you to reduce your belongings, but you might be surprised by just how much you will have to give up. I travel with only about 10 articles of clothing, and my kitchen is equipped with just three forks, three knives, and three spoons. There probably won’t be room in your boat for your stand mixer, your shoe collection, or your heirloom blanket chest, so you will need a plan for the stuff you can’t take. The items I couldn’t throw away or donate for good, I lent to friends and family I trusted. You might rent a personal storage space or simply keep a small house or condo on land while you experiment with boat-based living.