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Living on a Sailboat

Updated on August 8, 2013

Dream or Nightmare?

It was my dad's dream to live aboard a sailboat. For many years, he owned a day-sailer, a 22 ft. Catalina, on which I was often to be found sunbathing on the bow in a bikini. I never really learned the art of sailing, although many years later, when I acquired a sailboat of my own, I kicked myself mightily for never having learned to of handle a sailboat.

Living aboard a sailboat is not for the faint-hearted. You'll face storms, mechanical and equipment problems, running aground, and other challenges. Make sure you do a lot of research and look before you leap!

I Buy a Sailboat

A Boat Named Cameron

A few years ago, my dad passed away and left me a small inheritance. I thought it would be a poetic choice to buy a sailboat and live out Dad's dream. It was, in retrospect, a crazy decision. My family thought I had lost my mind. My practical thirty-something- year- old son told me, "Mom, you know another name for a boat?" I took the bait and said, "What?" His answer was, "A hole in the water that you throw money into."

He was right, of course, but at the time I was in love with an alcoholic ex-fishing boat captain who knew how to sail and fix boat engines, so I thought I had the bases covered.

Because my boyfriend and I planned on doing some international travel, I purchased a 39 ft. Hughes Columbia sailboat, built for ocean sailing. It was a lovely boat, although it needed a lot of work, but my new lover knew how to work on boats.

The boat almost bankrupted me. The relationship fell apart after a few months and I found myself the owner of a boat that I couldn't sail and couldn't fix and I had another decision to make: to sell or try to live on board and learn how to be a sailor.

Moving Aboard

I didn't want to give up my new dream without giving it a shot, so I hired a captain and moved my boat a few miles to a less-expensive slip. It was a nice marina with a nearby shower and rest-room. This meant that I didn't have to worry about connecting up the heads to water right away. It was kind of like camping out though. I put my mobile home on the market because I realized I couldn't keep up rent on the slip and the lot rent on the mobile home. However, I loved living aboard. Although it needed some work, it was a roomy and comfortable boat.

Life on the Water

I loved living aboard. So did my dog, Shadow. Every morning we would get in the dinghy and motor to one of the tiny islands in the intercoastal waterway. I would pull the dinghy ashore while Shadow leapt ashore, running along the sand spits barking at the sea-birds and then tearing through the trails chasing exotic scents. I would open my folding chair and sit and drink my coffee until she had done her "business". Then we would get in the dinghy and motor back to the big boat.

There's no doubt about it. I loved living on a boat. I loved watching the birds, especially the silly prehistoric pelicans, and watching the dolphins playing next to the boat was a complete joy.

Fixing Up the Boat

My son was right. Buying a boat is like buying a house. And if you buy a fixer-upper, it's going to be expensive to restore it to a liveable condition. One of the first things I had to do was get the boat to a boat yard and have and have the bottom painted.

If you don't paint the bottom every couple of years, barnacles affix themselves to the surface and this slows you down when sailing,

This huge machine hauls the boat out of the water so you can paint and do other repairs to the hull. This maneuver cost around $600 plus the daily cost of storage at the boat yard.

Unless you have mechanical skills, a good boat mechanic will cost you at least $75 an hour and if you have an old cranky diesel motor, go figure!

Selling the Boat

Much as I loved my boat, I finally had to admit that, considering my almost total ignorance of boat handling and mechanics, I was light years away from being able to handle a boat that big. Even experienced sailors would need at least one crew member for a 39 ft. sailboat. I thought about advertising for a boat mate, one who could help me sail the behemoth, but since my last sailing mate absconded with the depth finder, the GPS and a few other pieces of expensive equipment, I was reluctant to trust someone I didn't know.

Sadly, I decided to put the boat on the market. It had become home to me, but it was a lifestyle I couldn't afford.

The good news is that I managed to sell the boat for what I paid for it and I sold it to a couple who were experienced sailors and who planned to sail around the world. I was happy for Cameron. With her six foot draft, she was built for ocean sailing.

The Good Life

And now for the good part. Sailing is a wonderful, exhilerating adventure.

The fresh air, the wind in your face, the enchanting wildlife. I do miss seeing the dolphins diving and leaping alongside the boat on a daily basis.

And the people you meet! Sailing folks are wonderful people for the most part. They will help you at the drop of a hat. I wouldn't take back my sailboat experience for all the tea in China!

Should You Buy a Sailboat?

Things to Consider

It's a wonderful dream, but before you rush out and buy a boat, do your homework so you can hopefully avoid some of the mistakes I made.

Ask yourself the following question. Do I want a boat for day or weekend trips, or do I really want to live aboard?

I did some internet research before I made my unwise purchase, and found that some people claim living on a boat is a cheap lifestyle. Well, if you want to anchor offshore and motor in the dinghy to shore each day to run your errands, I would say that perhaps it may cost less than renting an apartment. You can have a generator and solar panels to run your batteries, as I did, so you don't have to pay the electric company. You can have a box on your TV and an antenna on the mast so you don't have to pay the cable company, but unless you like camping out or have a lot of money for a really great boat with all the conveniences, anchoring offshore will probably get old after a while.

A live-aboard slip will probably cost more than $500 a month and they are increasingly hard to come by, so it may not be a cheap lifestyle after all.

However, when all is said and done, it may be just the lifestyle you have always dreamed of.

If I Could Do It Over Again

Hopefully not everyone is as impulsive as I am, but at least I learned a lot from my living aboard experience. If I could do it over, I would not spend a penny on a boat until I had learned to be a competent sailor. I thought my boyfriend could teach me, but it turned out he was not a patient teacher and there was not enough time before the relationship self-destructed.

I would also take a class in boat mechanics. Even if I didn't get to be a world-class mechanic, I would at least understand what my boat needed in terms of repairs.

I would join a sailing club and make friends with some sailing folks. Had I done that, perhaps I would have found a compatible friend or partner to sail with. Seasoned sailors can give you a world of advice and keep you from making expensive mistakes.

The Realities of a Life at Sea

Here is a video by a brave soul who lives on her small sailboat. Her experience tells you what it's like to live in a small space. It really makes you rethink your priorities!

If You Love Sailboats...

You don't have to buy a sailboat, you can enjoy viewing them every day right on the walls of your home.

Model Sailboats

While you get ready for your big sailboat adventure, enjoy a well-made model and dream of the day you will sail your own boat to exotic places.


Living Aboard Activities

Fun Things to Do

Believe it or not, living aboard, just like any lifestyle has its tedious moments. If you are out sailing and the wind dies down, or you are anchored out and your first mate takes the dinghy to shore for supplies. You're stuck onboard. What can you do to pass the time? You've already swabbed the deck and cleaned the galley. You need some fun activities to pass the time until the exciting stuff starts again.

Here's a list of things you might do:

Bird and wildlife watching. Get a good pair of binoculars and watch the never-ending show. Fish, dolphins, birds, perhaps even a whale or two can provide hours of watching pleasure.

Kite-flying. A deck is a great place from which to fly a kite. Good breezes and no trees or power lines to get tangled up in.

Reading. Living aboard is a great opportunity to curl up and catch up on all the reading you've promised yourself. Get a Kindle and you won't have to find a library, as long as you are not too far from shore.

Play cards. I learned to play rummy during a two day storm when it was impossible to leave the cabin.

Kite-Flying from the Deck


Go fly a kite from the deck of the boat. It's lots of fun and you won't get your kite snagged in a tree or power lines.

Things to Do on Sailboats - Never a reason to be Bored

Whether you live on board or are just going for a sail, make sure you have stuff to do. You never know when you might run aground and have to wait for high tide!

Bushnell Falcon 10x50 Wide Angle Binoculars (Black)
Bushnell Falcon 10x50 Wide Angle Binoculars (Black)

Wide angle binoculars are great for seascapes.

Paradise Bird Kite
Paradise Bird Kite

I love this cool bird kite!

Saboteur Card Game
Saboteur Card Game

This looks like fun!


Sailboat Jewelry - Display Your Passion for Sailing!

My daughter gave me a beautiful sailboat pin for no reason - just because she knew that I love sailboats. That started me on a quest to find beautiful sailboat jewelry. And look what I found. Aren't they gorgeous!

Sailing Days Photos

I treasure the photographic memories while living on my sailboat.

Putting Up the Sails

Putting Up the Sails
Putting Up the Sails

Sailing Off Clearwater Beach

Sailing Off Clearwater Beach
Sailing Off Clearwater Beach

Dinghy Anchored Offshore

Dinghy Anchored Offshore
Dinghy Anchored Offshore

Have You Ever Lived Aboard a Boat? - Would You Like To?

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    • SavioC profile image


      5 years ago

      I was really enjoying reading your life story till the point where you actually sold it and I could not believe what I was reading so I started reading it all over again. You had lived your dream I must say that, not many people do that. It must have taken some amount of toll on you and today I want to salute that. Cheers .

    • Legenden profile image


      5 years ago

      Good lens. :)

    • Flowerchild1946 profile imageAUTHOR

      Carol Brooks 

      5 years ago from Florida

      Thanks for understanding! Only a fellow boater would know how it feels to give up a beloved boat and that exhilerating feeling of being on the water.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      @Lensmaster...The brave and independent life! You gave it a shot! Kudos! I used to own a small, dugout seat sailboat, about 13 feet long. My dog (at the time) Mick would sit on the bow and sail that way with me -- never knew how he hung on that waxed surface, but he never fell in the drink! Loved that boat, but it became impractical for me to keep it, so I know the pain of giving in that you experienced. Great trip, here!

    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 

      5 years ago from Europe

      I think renting would be for me, I could try it a while before committing, although I suppose if you jump in wholeheartedly you are more determined to make it work, if only for a while.

    • stephen downing profile image

      stephen downing 

      5 years ago

      Have a look at canal boats in the U.K. Still lots of expenses but can be safer than sailing out at sea. The most important thing would be to learn how to use a lock safely.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      6 years ago from Colorado

      Really excellent tips here. Once in a while I do have a fantasy about living aboard a boat. I would love to learn how to sail. Even if I don't buy a boat, or ever live aboard one, I do want to have some sailing experiences. Enjoyed vicariously experiencing your boating life.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great Lens! I just posted my first one with the help of my daughter inlaw. Its about our buying a 1965 57' Chris Craft Roamer. Ck. it out!


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