Why would anyone want to leave everything behind and move onboard their own boat?
There are a variety of reasons, but for me the reasoning behind trading life ashore for another one on the water can be summed up with one word – freedom. In my opinion, liveaboard boating offers those who take the leap a lifestyle that is far more free than any other in the modern world.
The liveaboard lifestyle allows you the freedom to travel anywhere you want to go and bring your home with you – much like the vanlife or RV living trends. The difference is that you aren’t limited to the roads and highways. Instead you can go anywhere that is connected to the sea. Rather than stopping for the night at expensive campgrounds or Walmart parking lots, you can anchor up for free in beautiful, isolated bays. Instead of filling up the fuel tank every day with polluting and costly fossil fuels, you can harness the winds and currents to travel the world for free.
By living aboard your own boat, you don’t need to buy plane tickets to travel to far off destinations, and you don’t need to lug around your suitcase from one place to another. Once you find a place you like, you can stay as long as you like, and when you get bored you can pull up the anchor and move on to the next destination.
Thanks to new technology, it’s now possible for anyone to navigate across the ocean with just the smartphone in your pocket and a couple of inexpensive apps. No more struggling with celestial navigation and unreliable sun sights to figure out your latitude and longitude.
Best of all, you get to spend your days enjoying the beauty of nature and the sea. And for those who are able to earn a living along the way, you can truly go wherever you want, whenever you want without worrying about returning home to work.
Today, as more and more people are able to live and work remotely, and internet access becomes easier to obtain even in the most remote places in the world, the appeal of living on a boat and traveling around the world (or the harbor) is greater than ever before.To put it simply, there has never been a better time to cast off from life ashore and live aboard your own boat than today. As you will learn by reading this guide, living on a boat is far more doable than most people would think.
Lots of people daydream about moving onto a boat and spending their lives sailing wherever the wind blows them. But few people actually take the leap into the unknown that is required to live aboard.
In this guide, we will explore some of the most important considerations for anyone thinking about living on a boat. We will begin with living at a marina, on a buoy or at anchor, move on to work and financial aspects, and finish with some questions everyone wonders about but nobody dares to ask, like how to go to the bathroom on a boat, or how to handle your laundry.
We will explore the ideal liveaboard vessel setup and food and water considerations in the next two articles in this series, “The Ideal Liveaboard Boat” and “Food and Water for Liveaboard Sailors”.
So what are you waiting for? There are uncrowded anchorages with plenty of space for your boat and palm fringed beaches awaiting your shadow.
Taking the First Step – Living Aboard at the Marina
For most new liveaboard sailors, the first step towards living the full time cruising life is to move aboard your own boat at a marina. Living aboard at a marina offers quite a few significant advantages to a new full time cruiser, like being able to keep much of your normal life ashore while making the move to live full time on your boat.
Many boaters would love to jump aboard our boats and sail for Tahiti tomorrow. But the reality is that most of us need time to work and save up our money, refit and equip our vessels, and get our lives in order before we can sail into the sunset in a responsible manner. By first moving onto our boats at a marina, it’s possible to bridge the gap between living the normal day to day rat race and sailing the seven seas.
I have spent many years living aboard at marinas, and I have countless wonderful memories from that time of my life. Marinas are an easy place to meet other full time sailors and get to know other people who have similar boating interests as yourself. You have the option to go out for a weekend sail to the other side of the bay, but you can still drive home and visit your family without worrying if your boat is dragging anchor the whole time you are away.
Most marinas include services like pump out stations, bathrooms, showers, and laundromats, so you don’t have to worry about figuring out how to handle all your needs on the boat right away. Few regular sized cruising boats are equipped with things like a washer and dryer, so it’s a nice convenience to have these luxuries nearby. It’s also an underrated luxury to have endless water and electricity right there at your slip. Once you leave the dock and cruise full time, you will quickly appreciate the struggle of hauling jerry jugs full of water and running the engine to keep the batteries topped up.
Another nice convenience for boaters who live full time at a marina is there are usually supermarkets, restaurants, gas stations and other stores nearby. You don’t always have to worry about cooking every meal onboard when you get home late after a long day at work – if you live at a marina, then there’s always the possibility of ordering food or running to a nearby restaurant. You can save your time for more important things – like studying charts of the Caribbean or installing a new chartplotter in your nv station.
The most important advantage to living at a marina for many cruisers is having everything you need to refit your vessel right there. Most marinas have facilities for getting boat work done nearby, so you can make the best use of your time living there to ready your boat for greater adventures further down the line. For me, this was always a huge consideration when choosing the right place to moor my boat.
It’s important to pick the right marina to keep your boat in, especially if you plan to live aboard full time. Some marinas are like living at a five star resort, while others are a nautical version of being stuck in the Trailer Park Boys TV show. It’s a good idea to spend a bit of time at any marina you are considering moving to and get to know the location and other boaters in the area before moving there full time. I would recommend renting a slip for a one month trial run, prior to moving there full time.
The Freedom of the Hook – Living Aboard at Anchor
Marinas are great for their secure moorage and offering the comforts of land life to boat dwellers, but for most liveaboard boaters there is nothing better than being at anchor, or “living on the hook” as it’s called among cruisers. Once you leave the marina behind you lose a lot of the conveniences that are part of landlubber life, but they are replaced with the freedom of life at anchor.
Life on a boat that’s anchored out in a secure harbor is like living on the edge of society. You can row into town to visit the library or meet some friends for drinks at the bar, or you can relax on your boat and enjoy the fresh air and views over the water. You can stay just about anywhere that has a reasonable depth for anchoring and enough protection from the winds and seas to keep the motion down and the boat in one place.
Of course, it’s important to check out the local laws regarding anchoring and living aboard – in some places you must first obtain permission to anchor from the harbormaster, while other places have a time limit on staying anchored in one place.
Living on a boat at anchor is totally free. It also is away from the noise and problems of having your nearest neighbor just a few feet away, like most people who live in apartments or marinas. There are usually few bugs or pests out on the water, and even a light breeze will keep the dreaded mosquitoes away.
If another boat happens to drop their anchor a little too close to yours or you get bored of the location that you are at, you can pick up and move to another spot nearby, the next bay over, or another country, if you like. The possibilities are endless. Liveaboard cruisers who spend their time at anchor have literally millions of bays, coves, harbors and islands to choose from to make their home at any one time. There is no other mode of living that offers more free options for places to stay, all while taking your home and all your belongings with you.
If you choose to anchor out, it’s very, very important to have the right anchoring gear, and to learn how to use it properly. For a 30-45 foot cruising boat, I would recommend carrying at least two heavy anchors connected to 250-300 feet of all chain rode, along with at least one light spare to use as a stern anchor or for emergencies. Smaller boats can use a part chain, part rope rode, but an all chain rode will always hold better in stronger winds. The chain rode should be deployed by a heavy electric windlass, but you should carry at least one long nylon rode to use if the windlass fails. This line can double as a sea anchor or drogue deployment line if you ever sail offshore down the line.
Most of the time I choose to drop the hook on the outer edge of an anchorage, making sure to give myself plenty of space from the other boats. That way, if any of the boats drag anchor, I have plenty of space to deal with things before any potential collision. There is nothing worse than waking up to hearing another boat bang into your hull because they didn’t properly secure their anchor.
While choosing a location to drop the hook, I always consider the wind and current direction and take note of where the boat would move if the anchor drags. No matter how well you set the anchor, if you live aboard full time you are bound to drag anchor at some point – just like running aground, it happens to everybody eventually.
While preparing to drop the anchor I always use the same simple procedure. Before entering the anchorage, I move up forward and lower the anchor down a foot or two off the bow, letting it hang off the windlass but keeping the chain secure. Once I enter the anchorage, I find the place that I want to anchor, keeping in mind any obstructions or other boats, as well as any lee shores (the land that is located downwind of your position). If possible, I try to anchor so that if the anchor drags the boat will move into deeper water rather than onto a lee shore or beach.
I then position the boat a few boat lengths upwind from where I want the boat to rest at anchor and drop the hook. It’s helpful to have your chain marked with a different color paint every 25 feet, so that you always know how much rode is out. Typically, I put out three times the water depth in rode for normal conditions, and five or more times the depth in rode if I plan to ride out a gale. More scope means better holding power, but also a greater swing radius, so be aware of any nearby obstructions.
For my boat, which has a five foot draft, the ideal depth for anchoring is 15 to 25 feet, but I can anchor in anything up to 100 feet of water if needed.
It shouldn’t need to be said, but don’t forget to secure the end of the chain to a strong padeye on the boat. I have seen more than one expensive anchor lost when the windlass failed and the chain ran all the way out, taking the anchor along with it. Secure the bitter end!
Once the appropriate amount of chain has been deployed, let the boat swing around so the bow is into the wind and then put the engine in reverse. Let the boat pull against the anchor until your speed stops to zero while going backwards – your anchor is now set. If the anchor doesn’t stop the boat’s reverse movement after a few boat lengths distance, then raise it back up and try again in another spot. Sometimes it takes a few tries to properly set the anchor.
If the anchor has not been set properly, never leave the boat unattended. It could drag at any time. Sometimes, inexperienced boaters simply drop the anchor and let the boat swing without setting it. The boat may stay in place at first, but if the wind comes up, it’s likely to drag.
Once the anchor has been set, you can now leave the vessel and go exploring ashore, but I like to keep an eye on the boat as often as possible. I tend to worry about the boat if I haven’t checked on it recently, and like to check back on things as often as possible.
There are a few ways to use anchor dragging alarms and GPS apps to make sure your boat is staying where she is supposed to be, even while you are back ashore enjoying yourself. Some sailors use an old cell phone along with a GPS tracking app (the kind that parents use to keep track of their preteen children) to watch their boat while ashore, and I have used my Garmin Inreach tracking function for this purpose as well. It’s smart to experiment with different techniques and find what works best for you.
We will cover different types of anchors and anchoring techniques in our upcoming piece – “The Ultimate Guide to Anchoring”. If you plan to be spending a lot of time at anchor while cruising, then keep an eye out for this article!
The Best of Both Worlds – Living Aboard on a Buoy
For many sailors, living on a mooring buoy offers them the best of both worlds – the space and freedom of life on the hook, combined with the security of a permanent moorage with no need to be concerned about dragging anchor.
There are many advantages to living aboard a boat that’s tied to a buoy, if you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to moor to one for a long period of time. Almost always, using a mooring buoy is much cheaper than renting a marina slip. I will soon be moving my own vessel from a marina where the monthly rent is over $400 to a buoy just a few miles away that costs just $66 per month. The annual savings is about $4,000, which can now be used to upgrade my electronics, buy a new set of sails, build a new dinghy, or take an extended cruise up the Inside Passage (see the section below about low budget cruising).
Tied to my buoy, I don’t have to check my position every hour to make sure I’m not dragging anchor across the bay, but I can still enjoy the privacy, the constant breeze and natural beauty of life at anchor. Living aboard at the hook is, for me, a perfect situation right between marina and anchoring life that offers many of the benefits of each and few of the negatives.
Of course, life on a buoy isn’t always perfect. On a buoy, unlike at a marina, you are subject to the winds and currents, and at times life can be quite bumpy. If this bothers you, or if you are prone to seasickness, then living on a buoy might not be your best choice.
In some places, keeping your boat on a buoy is seasonal, and it becomes dangerous or impossible to keep your boat there through the winter time. Many areas have fantastic summer weather where it’s perfectly safe to leave your boat out on the buoy for months at a time, but when the winter gales blow through it becomes another story entirely.
As long as you are using the proper technique to tie to the buoy, with strong lines and chafe protection, it’s perfectly safe to keep your boat there through a gale – if it’s a protected harbor. If the buoy available to you is in an exposed area, you will want to carefully plan for what to do with your boat once the weather turns bad.
The greatest downside to living aboard a boat moored to a buoy is the challenge of finding the buoy in the first place. Unless you own land that is adjacent to a protected harbor, it can be difficult to go through the legal process and obtain permission to set your own buoy. Finding one to rent is not always easy either – in most places they are used for private use and are rarely rented out or sold.
If you are looking for a buoy to rent or buy, ask other boaters nearby who use them, put up a posting online, or check in with DNR (the Department of Natural Resources) to learn more about the process of installing your own buoy. If you are able to pull it off, the security, freedom, and savings will make it well worth the effort.
The Contemporary Vagabond – How to Live Aboard a Boat for Free or Near Free
I often hear boaters complain about the high expense of keeping up their boat. Marina fees, maintenance, fuel costs, boatyard labor, and the high cost of eating out at overpriced restaurants in can all bring down the fun factor for living on your boat.
When I hear things like this, I remember all the wonderful cruising I have been lucky enough to enjoy free of cost. I have spent plenty of money while cruising – it’s true – but I have also sailed for months without spending a penny, I have left home for a three month cruise with $140 and returned with $300. I have traveled around the world for almost a year, visiting seventeen different countries with only $5,000 to my name and I still returned home with money in my pocket.
How is this possible, you ask? What’s the catch?
The catch is that you have to radically simplify your life in order to live aboard for almost nothing. You must leave behind certain luxuries and embrace adventure, and you must always keep your eyes open for opportunity.
A few years back I took a summer cruise to British Columbia on my Truant 33 sailboat. I already had the boat filled with food, because I always keep her stoked up with basic necessities in case I ever have the urge to sail away for an extended period of time. The foods were all very basic – cans of soup or vegetables, pasta, tuna, rice, sprouting seeds for fresh vegetables. I stocked up on cheap or free foods other people didn’t want and always had plenty to eat.
The boat carries more than 100 gallons of diesel, and I kept that at least partially full, just like the provisions. By sailing when the wind came up and keeping the motoring down I returned three months later with the tank more than half full.
I had $140 to my name when I left my home port, which saw me through the entire voyage quite comfortably. I bought simple provisions from discount stores a couple of times and also purchased snacks with friends on other occasions. I used coins for showers when I didn’t want to wash in the cockpit and to wash my clothes at a laundromat. I also spent a bit of the funds on “extras” like a couple bottles of wine, which I enjoyed with friends in the city. I always anchored out rather than staying at a marina, which I prefer anyway. For fun I hiked around islands or the cities of Nanaimo and Vancouver, and rowed around the bays for exercise. I had an extra sail that I sold to another cruiser for $300, which topped up my bank account near the end of the voyage.
I enjoyed myself much more on this low budget adventure than I have on other trips where I blew through more than $1000 in a matter of days. If you are in the right mindset, then you can have a lot more fun living for essentially free on your small boat than the couple anchored next door on their $5,000,000 yacht, who are quite likely spending thousands of dollars per day to fly in their mechanic to fix the engine and arguing with each other because the satellite TV isn’t working exactly like it said in the brochure.
Another time I traveled for 11 months around the world with only $5,000 in my bank account. First, I flew to Adelaide, Australia, where I delivered a boat to the South Island of New Zealand through the Southern Ocean. This took three months. Then I traveled around New Zealand for a few weeks, which I really enjoyed but found it more expensive than I would have liked. I flew to Bali, and spent a few months in Southeast Asia, volunteering and backpacking around Indonesia and Timor Leste. I ended up flying from Thailand to Japan to join the first Chinese boat to attempt to sail through the Northwest Passage, and sailed with them as far as Alaska. I then crewed on a large motor catamaran as far as Kodiak Island, and then flew to Hawaii to join my friends on a delivery from Honolulu to California. I arrived back in Washington State with more than $1,000 left of the original $5,000.
Most full time liveaboards spend between $3,000 and $10,000 per month on marinas, fuel, eating out at expensive restaurants, taking organized tours in every port of call along the way, and flying back home every few months to visit family or handle their affairs. This can be loads of fun, no doubt, but there are ways to live aboard for far less expense.
Some investments with a high initial cost can end up saving you a lot of money in the long run. Buying solar panels and a wind generator for electricity can be quite expensive, but they will end up saving you a lot of money and worry by keeping your batteries topped up for years to come. By using the sun and wind to generate all your electricity, you won’t have to worry about firing up the engine to charge the batteries, nor the fuel that would be wasted by doing so. You’re also helping the environment.
The same can apply to watermakers – they have a high initial cost, but the self sustainability, not to mention the freedom of never having to go to the dock for water ever again, means that the investment could very well be worth it if you live aboard your boat full time.
There are boats cruising the world today that are equipped with an electric engine, watermaker, and electric stovetop – all powered by the sun and wind. This means they can sail indefinitely without once needing to go to a fuel dock, a marina for water, nor to have to search for a bottle of propane for the stove. The only need to go to shore is for food or for fun.
As these types of technology become more popular on cruising vessels, more and more boats will be able to cruise for nearly free forever, after an initial investment in equipment.
By buying a smaller boat, living without many of the luxuries that most boaters take for granted and doing all the maintenance work yourself, it’s still possible to live aboard for very cheap. But you have to take a lot of sacrifices, comfort will often go out the window, and it will always be an adventure.
For me, it’s well worth it. The price of freedom doesn’t have to cost a thing.
Bringing Home the Bacon – Finding Work While Living Aboard
Of course, not every boater is interested in sacrificing so many comforts in order to live on a boat for free. But not everyone wants to wait around until retirement to finally live aboard full time, and I can hardly blame them. What’s the point of working and saving money for so many years, just to finally go cruising when it’s more difficult to fully explore the places you visit, and with potential health issues an ever present concern? I have met some cruisers in their eighties who still complete offshore passages, but that’s no easy feat in your golden years.
Thankfully, you don’t have to wait that long, if you play your cards right. Today, with all the options available for remote working and long distance communication, it’s more easy than ever to make a living right on your boat, no matter what corner of the globe you happen to be exploring at the time.
Rather than remain stuck in the rat race or avoid all luxuries in order to sail the world for free, more and more people are taking the middle route – working as they go.
Today, the list of jobs that are available to full time sailors is longer than ever. In any South Seas anchorage you may find doctors, lawyers, nurses, sailmakers, mechanics, CEO’s and many, many other professionals working onboard as they travel.
I have made money in various different ways while cruising and living aboard. First and foremost, I have done yacht deliveries, taking time off from my own boat to jump on other vessels and deliver them all over the world. I have often earned income as a writer by selling articles to various publications based in the United States and Canada. I have hosted charters and taught sailing lessons on my own boat in various destinations along the way. For a time, I offered my boat up on Airbnb for guests to rent while on vacation. I have found work along the way in landscaping, and worked for a short stint in a restaurant. My wife sells knitted clothing and goods and runs an online spanish tutoring business.
At this very moment, I’m writing these words while anchored up just a stones throw from the Golden Gate Bridge.
For most remote workers living on their boats, communication is their number one concern, and thankfully better access to the internet in the past ten years has opened up most of the world to remote workers. As technology like SpaceEx’s Starlink expands, it may soon be possible to get an internet connection through a normal cell phone anywhere in the world. For sailors, this will be both a blessing and a curse – but as far as remote work is concerned, the benefits will far outweigh the negatives.
Today, most long distance liveaboard cruisers use a cell phone for most of their online communication needs. By turning on the hotspot, it’s possible to also access the internet on other nearby devices like cell phones and tablets. When they arrive in a new country, they purchase a new sim card, along with a data plan that meets their needs for that area.
I use GoogleFi service, which gives me ‘unlimited’ data in almost every country in the world for $80 a month. This isn’t the cheapest option in the world, but it sure beats having to buy a new sim card every time I enter a new country.
When I am on an offshore passage or cruising in an area away from cell service, I typically use my Garmin Inreach satellite messenger to stay in touch with work. If I need to send more than a short text can cover, then I use my Iridium Go, which connects to my cell phone via bluetooth and allows me to send and receive full length emails as well as make voice calls to any phone.
I tend to do as much work as I can before any ocean passage, and then catch up again when I make landfall at the other side. Since most of my passages are less than three weeks in length, I am able to plan around them and still get the work done that I need to in order to keep my jobs running smoothly.
In short, there has been no better time than today for cruisers to live and work on their own boats and enjoy the freedom of life on the water simultaneously. By taking advantage of modern communication technologies, it’s quite rewarding to work and sail the world at the same time.
Laundry, Showers and the Head
How do you take a shower or do laundry while living on a boat? What about the toilet? For most boaters, the answer depends on the boat you have.
If you live on a 200 foot megayacht, chances are you have a washer and dryer onboard, along with various showers, jacuzzis, and maybe often even a pool.
On the other hand, if you cruise full time on a 15 foot dinghy, your options are more limited. On a vessel of this size, a bucket typically serves the purpose of washing machine, shower, and toilet (In this case, it’s important to use different buckets for each purpose).
Most liveaboard cruisers fall somewhere in between these two examples. Some have showers on their boats, some don’t, few have a washer and dryer onboard, although many new catamarans come equipped with them. Most have their own marine toilet (called a head among sailors), equipped with an onboard holding tank, much like a trailer or RV.
I’ll start with the head. The vast majority of cruising boats are equipped with a head that uses salt water from the sea to flush out the waste. Some flush with fresh water, but that’s impractical for most boaters who are trying to save water. The head is “flushed” by pumping a lever by hand, or in some boats with an electric pump.
The waste can either be pumped to a holding tank that is later emptied at a pump out station, or directly into the water, if you are in an area where it’s legal to discharge waste over the side. Before you begin your cruise, check the legal requirements for handling waste in the areas you plan to cruise, so you are always in compliance with local regulations.
Marine heads are far more easily clogged than toilets ashore, because the pipes are much smaller and the force of the water is much weaker. That’s why it’s important to be careful what you try to flush down the pot. On my boats, toilet paper goes into a wastebasket on the floor, and nothing gets flushed that you didn’t already eat. Even a small hank of hair or a paper matchstick can clog a marine head, and there are no plumbers at sea.
Every liveaboard sailor has had to dismantle a clogged head at sea at one time or another, and most of us would rather face a force twelve hurricane than repeat the procedure. The best way to make enemies on another sailor’s vessel is to clog their toilet while over for dinner.
Some boaters choose to install a composting head, which eliminates the issue of clogging and is actually more clean than you might imagine. Composting toilets have a vent that keeps foul odors from accumulating down below. After each use, you add wood chips or ash to cover the waste. The toilet is emptied every few weeks. Every boater I have heard from who installed a composting toilet on their vessel has been very happy with it. I have yet to use one on any of my boats, but if I built a new boat today I would seriously consider it.
The next challenge for sailors is how to shower. Many cruising boats are now equipped with a small shower in the head that uses either shore power or recirculated engine cooling to heat the water. This can work quite well, but unless your vessel is set up with a watermaker, you will need to keep a close eye on the amount of freshwater that is used. Taking a daily shower can quickly drain the water tank.
For liveaboards without a shower, there are various solutions to stay clean while out cruising. The simplest technique is to simply heat up water on the stove, mix it with cooler water until you get the ideal temperature, and take a bucket bath. There are also various camping shower solutions like using a 5 gallon portable solar shower, or a propane fired instant water heater for your showering needs. Other boaters simply find showers ashore, either at a marina, campground, or at the house of a friend or relative. Some boaters join a gym just to get the access to a shower they can use every day.
I use different techniques to keep clean depending on the circumstances at the time. My boat has a hot water tank that uses the engine cooling water, but I only end up using that after I have been motoring for a long period of time, which I try to avoid. I have a solar shower, as well as a garden sprayer that has been repurposed as an off grid shower.
When I’m at a marina I make use of their showers, and I often find a campground or hot spring to wash up along the way on a cruise. Sometimes a new friend I meet along the way offers up their shower at home.
One thing is for certain, at the end of a long passage, there is nothing better than a long, hot shower to wash away the salt.
Just like showering, there are many ways to handle laundry while living aboard your own boat. If you are staying at a marina much of the time, you can simply do it there. Most marinas have a laundromat for their guests to use. Out on the water, cruisers can either wash their clothes themselves in a bucket of fresh water, or wait until they get to the next port to take care of it there.
It’s pretty easy to wash a small load of laundry in the cockpit. I just fill a bucket part way with water, add some detergent, toss in my clothes and wait overnight. The next day I rinse them out with salt water, then give them a final rinse using fresh water. I hang the clothes up on the lifelines to dry and voila, I’ve got a set of clean clothes.
This becomes less practical when you are washing for several crew members, or you have many weeks worth of clothes to clean. In this case, I tend to wait a little longer and do my laundry at a laundromat ashore. I always keep a supply of quarters and detergent for trips to the laundromat, just in case.
Taking care of your basic needs like showering and laundry is all very doable on your own boat, it just takes a little more planning ahead. By keeping things simple and developing a strategy that works for you, you can live aboard your own boat and never miss out on important luxuries like clean clothes or a hot shower.
The Family Car – Choosing a Dinghy for Liveaboard Sailors
For cruising liveaboards, your dinghy is like the family car. Most liveaboard boaters need to use their dinghy multiple times per day for a variety of tasks – from ferrying your groceries from the store back to the boat, to commuting to work and back, to heading out to an isolated reef for a few hours of snorkeling time. Your dinghy needs to work for you, every day, in all types of weather conditions.
It’s also a great bonus to have the dinghy double as a backup lifeboat, in case of emergency, although it is no replacement for a real certified liferaft.
Just like cars of the four wheeled variety, there is a lot of variation in what makes for the ideal ride, depending on who is behind the wheel, or in this case the tiller.
Most dinghies can fit into one of two distinct categories – rigid or inflatable. Rigid dinghies are more popular for cruisers who like to row or sail, and inflatable dinghies are more often used with an outboard motor. Inflatable dinghies offer the advantage of more buoyancy and stability, while rigid dinghies move through the water with far less effort. Some inflatable dinghies can be deflated and stowed down below in your cabin or lazarette, although more and more are now built with a solid floor, which limits the options for stowing it on smaller vessels.
I like a good solid rigid dinghy. While inflatable dinghies tend to be more popular for cruisers along the coconut milk routes, many cruisers who venture farther afield end up going with a rigid dinghy like me, because they row better, they sail better, and are more pleasing to the eye than their inflatable sister ships.
I have used many different dinghies over the years, from El Toros, to kayaks to Avon inflatables and everything in between. Last year, I finally bought the dinghy I’d been searching for for years. She cost me just $200, plus the cost of gas to motor across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to pick her up.
She’s a nesting Chameleon dinghy, ten and a half feet long, and built from carbon fiber over marine plywood. I modified the boat to take a small mast and sailing rig, and added improved stowage in the bow. She can be hauled up on even rocky beaches without worrying about the bottom getting damaged, and she can be taken apart into two pieces to fit a smaller space for stowage.
I ended up buying the Chameleon nesting dinghy because I wanted a rigid boat that could row and sail well, carry three or four people when needed, and could also be stowed on the deck for passages. The deck space on my Truant 33 is relatively small, so it was important that she was under six feet long when stowed. The Chameleon dinghy fit these criteria perfectly, and the price was right. I put a few weeks of work and a few hundred extra dollars into her and ended up with just the right boat for my needs.
I prefer a rowing and sailing dinghy over a motorized inflatable boat for a few reasons. I enjoy rowing, and like to row around the harbor as exercise while on a cruise or at the marina. I don’t relish the expense, high maintenance, smell and noise of outboard motors. And most importantly, they are always breaking down just at the moment they are needed the most. It’s embarrassing how often I have seen boaters stranded in their dinghies, even though they had oars onboard, because they aren’t comfortable rowing a small boat.
I have never had a problem getting to shore under oar power in all my years of cruising, although at times it takes a little extra effort. The benefit to a dinghy with an outboard is the ability to get places fast, and to use the outboard as emergency propulsion if your vessel’s main engine dies.
A nice compromise between rowing and combustion engine outboard motors is equipping your dinghy with a good solid electric outboard and a pair of oars for when it dies. Then you have the silence of electric propulsion along with the speed and ease of a motor.
Living the Good Life – Life is Better on a Boat
I truly believe that living aboard your own boat offers more freedom and enjoyment than any other lifestyle. You can choose to enjoy the luxuries of land by staying in a marina, or you can anchor up in a remote bay and enjoy the peace and solitude of a life in nature, with all the comforts of home inside your cozy cabin. The possibilities for locations to live and work are endless, limited only by the edge of the sea and the navigable waterways that are connected to it.
By choosing to live aboard your own boat, you are free to make anywhere on the water your home, which means two thirds of the planet becomes yours to explore and enjoy.
After living on boats for much of my life, I quickly become claustrophobic whenever I have to live on land for more than a week or two. Once you become accustomed to the freedom of life on the water, living on land feels chaotic and boring at the same time.
A few weeks ago, I took a trip into the city to meet with a potential sponsor for my upcoming world record voyage across the Pacific Ocean. My wife and I had been living at anchor in a remote bay in Washington State, so we had become accustomed to being surrounded by nature for quite a long time. For much of the Covid-19 pandemic, we had taken advantage of the social distancing guidelines to spend as much time as possible at anchor in remote bays and isolated islands. We were enjoying spending more time with the birds and the seals than with our fellow humans.
When we got to the city, the sun was blotted out by all the pollution coming from a series of factories lined up along the waterfront. People were rushing around everywhere, and they all seemed angry at each other.
The business meetings seemed to go on forever, and when it was finally time to head back home, our taxi crashed on the way to the airport. We missed our flight, bought new tickets, and then the second flight was delayed.
All I wanted was to be back on my boat, swinging in the breeze and watching the sun go down from the cockpit. To keep myself from becoming too frustrated, I tried to remind myself that we would be back on the boat soon, enjoying coffee at sunrise in the cockpit and evening rows around the harbor to check our crab pots and say hi to our favorite family of seals.
Eventually, we made it back to Washington State and returned to our boat. I hoisted the sails and headed for our secret anchorage right away. When we got there, I heaved a sigh of relief.
“You know”, I told my wife, as I dropped the hook. “Living on land is for crazy people. I don’t care if I never set foot in that city ever again. I’m glad to be back on the water. I’m glad to be home.”
Making the decision to live aboard a boat requires a solid understanding of boats and the sea. Whether you are a power boater out fishing for the weekend or a world adventurer preparing to sail around Cape Horn, SailAndProp.com is the place to go for all the information you will ever need to know about boats. We will be publishing new articles every week, so don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter to get all our latest content sent directly to your inbox.