Living Aboard a Sailboat for the First Time

living aboard sailboat

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Lessons learned from the first three months living aboard a small boat – with some practical liveaboard boat life advice

After three months of living aboard my 26 foot sailboat, I’ve learned a great deal about the lifestyle and what works and what doesn’t. I thought that I would be able to move aboard sooner, but an inability to break my lease precluded that. None-the-less, I love it!

I like the solitude and simplicity that come with living in a space that’s somewhat less than 150 square feet. I like the enforced routine that a small space makes necessary.

Liveaboard boat life

sailboat liveaboardMinimalism and cleanliness are the watch words for this lifestyle. When describing it to friends, I usually say that I have a healthy disdain for comfort.

Land living allows a certain degree of disorder and delay in home chores. But on the water, there’s not enough space to leave clothes lying around. Additionally, if I don’t clean the dishes, I can’t use them for the next meal.

In general, I only have things on the boat that are absolutely necessary.

I keep my work clothes at work and only have a limited amount of clothing on the boat. My table service consists of a bowl, coffee mug and two spoons. The vast majority of my storage space is filled with tools, boat parts, or food.

boat decorI would add that I also have some decorations and pictures to alleviate what can be a somewhat Spartan existence. I’m also lucky that the boat has a v-berth separate from the living space. I think having the two spaces is important. With the decorations it makes for a certain “normality” that makes me feel less like a hermit.

Though everything definitely has its place, I will admit to trying to make sure it’s the right place. I’m constantly changing how I stow items, trying to help the trim of the boat. The water tank under the port-side settee, necessitates putting all other heavy items (tools, books …etc.) on the starboard side. Once I find a stowage plan that works, I’ll put it down on an interior diagram of the boat.

I’ve found that maintaining a work list and being dedicated to completing one project every month has been good for the boat and for me. I am kind of trapped there so I’ve decided to try and be productive. I just finished moving the head aft from the v-berth and am now tackling a better way to place the batteries for my engine.

I have additional ideas to add storage space, painting projects …etc. If I get even half of the list done before April, I’ll be pretty pleased.

marina liveaboardFor entertainment, there are a multitude of options. I’ve never been someone addicted to television, so being without it now isn’t really troubling. What I would suggest to someone is an Amazon Prime account. With Amazon Prime, I can download kindle books, movies …etc.

The only issue is the Wi-Fi signal, the perpetual bane of existence for those exiled to the “live-aboard docks”. As long as there is a signal, even a spotty one, a Wi-Fi booster can make it usable. There are any number of Wi-Fi boosters on the market. I went with the Alfa WiFi Camp Pro 2 Booster and it allows me to use multiple devices at the same time.

I’ve found that a gym membership is useful and the showers are better there than the marina, plus I have a good excuse to workout. It also gets me off the boat on winter weekends when I can’t sail. The ability for a sailor to become an anti-social loner should never be minimized nor encouraged.

In order to get mail, I chose to go with a virtual mailbox, rather than a PO Box. The concept is that I have a physical address that people can mail items to. I get an email notification when something comes in, with a picture of the outside of the envelope or package.

I can then either have it forwarded to a post office, work …etc. or I can have it opened, scanned and shredded. There are multiple virtual mailbox companies that offer this service for a fee. I use Traveling Mailbox.

So is this lifestyle for me? Yes and no. In the short term, the commute to work is too long. However, on a slightly larger boat when I’m retired, this is absolutely what I’m going to do. I love my life on the water!

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Tom Briggs

View posts by Tom Briggs
Tom Briggs is a competent mariner with experience on traditional and modern sailing vessels. He holds a Master’s license for power and auxiliary sail vessels of less than 50 tons on inland waters, plus his OUPV for near coastal waters. He has experience with traditional vessels including as relief and volunteer crew on the skipjack Claud W. Somers of the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum and the schooner Pioneer of the South Street Seaport Museum. He also has traditional rigging and maintenance experience on the Somers and the schooner’s Pioneer, Lettie G. Howard and Quinnipiac. Having acquired most of his sea-time on Florida’s Gulf Coast, he now makes his home in Reedville on Virginia’s Northern Neck. His boat is Tula, a Frances 26, one of the small sailboats that John Vigor has written can take you anywhere. Additionally, he is a reservist and Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.
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