06 Jul

Have you ever wondered what living on a sailboat full-time was really like? Check out an insider’s guide to the sailboat lifestyle!

“Being on a boat that’s moving through the water, it’s so clear. Everything falls into place in terms of what’s important and what’s not.”

James Taylor

What Is Living On A Sailboat Really Like

Living On A Sailboat Full Time

Sailing is the ultimate adventure – the wind in your hair, the power in your sails, the salt spray on your lips. You can spend one night moored up in an ancient city and the next on an uninhabited island, spearfishing your next meal. You can dance with the dolphins or nap in a hammock in the shade of a sail. 

But what is it really like to live on a sailboat and spend every day in a tiny floating home surrounded by a landscape so changeable? What are the key aspects that make this lifestyle so unique? 

After three years of living on board our 38ft sailboat, we’ve discovered the highs and lows of sailing life and what it’s really like to live on a sailboat. 

The Ultimate Freedom 

Living On A Sailboat Full Time

Many people would sum up freedom as the ability to sail away into the sunset. When you live on a sailboat, you have a huge amount of freedom, and it’s an incredible perk. 

If you get bored of the view, you can simply move anchorages. If you’re fed up with the winter, you can sail somewhere warmer. Don’t like your neighbors? Just sail away from them! 

Having a home that moves is the ultimate freedom, and it’s an incredible feeling knowing you go where the wind takes you. 

On the flip side, you’re tied to the boat. The day you move on board is when you inherit a huge responsibility, which can sometimes feel like the opposite of freedom!   

If it’s windy, then you can forget about going to the shore as you need to be on board, making sure the anchor doesn’t drag. If something breaks (something always breaks), then you’ll need to get it fixed before you can move on. If there’s a bad weather forecast, you can be pinned to one spot for days, or if there’s no wind, the same can be true. 

A Tiny Home 

cat living at sea on a sailboat

Picture a room in your house. Now imagine this room has to accommodate your belongings, kitchen, bathroom, and office. Imagine spending 24/7 in this space with your significant other or your family. And imagine a moat surrounds this room, and one of the biggest things people notice when they visit is just how small the space is. Compared to a house on the land, a sailboat home can feel a little pokey!   

Beds tend to be small and are often strange shapes. Having a double bed that you can climb out of on both sides is a true luxury that only the most expensive sailboats can accommodate.   

The headroom on sailboats isn’t great either. It’s common to crouch down to reach certain parts of the boat, and by the end of your first week on board, you’ll wish you’d bought a helmet for the number of times you walk into things. 

Another big thing to get used to when living in a sailboat instead of a house is the amount of storage available. Downsizing is key, and after a few weeks on board, you’ll find yourself prioritizing tools and food provisions over clothes and other luxuries. 

Safety First 

cat living at sea on a sailboat

When you live on a sailboat, the biggest consideration is always safety. It’s on the back of your mind no matter what you’re doing. All sorts of things can go wrong when you live in such a changing environment, from storms to fires. 

Sailboats are made to be safe, not homely! It’s important to stow things away when you’re finished with them. If you leave out that mug after finishing your cup of tea and a swell comes into the anchorage, you could end up with shattered ceramic all over your moving floor. 

Before every sail, you must perform a safety check of your engine and equipment. Carrying spares on board is a must, and chances are you’ll be performing surgery on your engine in the middle of a rocky sea more than once!   

If you have friends to stay it isn’t as simple as directing them to the toilet – you’ll need to show them how to pump out the toilet, for starters! But you’ll also need to give them a safety brief, showing them all the potential things that could go wrong and what you’ve got to prevent it! 

The Weather Rules 

boat life

One of the best and worst things about living on a sailboat is that you’re completely reliant on the weather.   

It’s incredible to feel so in tune with your environment after years of sitting in an office and not knowing if it’s sunny or rainy outside. You live outside, waking up with the sunrise and watching every sunset.   

You don’t realize how reliant you’ll be on the forecast until you live on board. If the wind is blowing a certain way, you might have to move anchorages to find shelter, or if there’s no wind, your plans to move on might be delayed. You can’t get off the boat if the wind is too high, so you might be stuck on board for days.  

A Simple Way Of Life 

living at sea on a sailboat

The sailing lifestyle is about slowing down and simplifying life, which can have an incredible impact on mental health. The fast-paced land life melts away once you’re sailing offshore with the wind powering you and nothing but dolphins to distract you from the sound of the waves. 

Everything takes longer, and you learn to appreciate that. It feels more like surviving, but somehow that’s a good thing! 

Water isn’t freely available. You learn to make it last a long time by washing in the sea or the rain and washing up in salt water.  To get food, you often have to trek an hour to a local supermarket, where there are limited food options, and then lug it all back in your rucksack, into the dinghy, and back on board.   

You learn tips and tricks to make your sailboat provisions last longer and get back to cooking from scratch every night without takeaways and ready meals at hand. 

Power is limited to what you can make from the sun or wind, which often means no freezer and limited time on devices.   

Suddenly, long, hot showers feel like a luxury. Having easy access to a washing machine is something you crave! And as bad as that might sound if you’re reading this from the comfort of your own home, it does make you truly appreciate the little things you used to take for granted. 

Immersed In Nature 

living at sea on a sailboat

One of the first days we had onboard looked a little like this…

We got up with the sunrise and drank our morning coffees in the cockpit, watching the kingfishers and gulls diving for jumping fish. Then we headed out for a sail and squealed in delight as a huge pod of dolphins danced in our bow waves. We arrived at a new anchorage and dived into Greece’s crystal clear waters to spearfish some dinner, which we later cooked on a campfire under the Milky Way. To end this perfect day, we took a midnight dip surrounded by bioluminescent algae. 

If you had told me this day wasn’t going to be a one-off, I wouldn’t have believed you. But living on a sailboat brings opportunities like this all the time, and you never get bored of it. 

Of course, the downside to this is the terrifying storms when you fear the boat may get struck by lightning or the days when it constantly rains and the hatches leak, and you can’t even turn the lights on.  

The summer brings a constant battle against mosquitoes and flies, and the winter greets you with freezing cold days under blankets. Somehow, though, as soon as you spot those dolphins, all the bad moments fade away. 

A Cheaper Way Of Life 

cost of living on a sailboat

You may be wondering whether sailboat living is cheap.

Sailboat life can be a lot cheaper than living on land. People assume that owning a yacht makes you well off when you can pick up older, smaller sailboats for next to nothing if you’re prepared to do a lot of boat maintenance to get it up to scratch. 

We spend most of the year at anchor, and marina fees in Europe for a 38ft monohull tend to be around £400 a month over winter. So we can get away with our ‘rent’ costing an average of less than £200 a month over the course of the year. 

If you’re determined, you can sail to new destinations, which costs nothing. You can row to shore in your dinghy to save on petrol costs. You make your own power from the sun and wind. 

The expensive side to owning a boat is the sailing gear you need to invest in to make life on the water more comfortable. There are many ways to keep these costs down if you’re determined, like buying second-hand and making do without modern luxuries. 

Testing Relationships 

boat life

If you want to put your relationship to the test, buy a sailboat! You’ll be sharing a small space with your significant other, often unable to escape for days. Having some space will consist of moving 10ft away from them and putting on a pair of headphones! 

You will be entirely reliant on each other, sometimes for your lives. That might sound overdramatic, but when you live on a sailboat, that can, at times, be the truth. When problems occur at sea, you will only have each other to depend on, and you’ll need to work as a great team to keep yourselves, your boat, and your relationship safe! 

The wonderful thing about experiencing this life with the ones you love is that it can bring you so much closer. You learn to work together quickly. You learn to communicate well and resolve arguments swiftly, and the memories you make together will last a lifetime. 

So What Is Living On A Sailboat Really Like?

It is, for us, a life enhanced. It’s the extremes. The pure joy you feel when you complete a difficult passage and drop the anchor in a calm bay, the connection to your food when you catch a fish that you know will sustain you for several days, the exhaustion you feel after a rolly, windy night.   

Living on a sailboat is thrilling and boring; it’s peaceful and challenging; it’s freedom and responsibility.  

If you’ve finished reading this and you still aren’t sure what it’s really like to live on a sailboat, then I guess you’ll have to find out for yourself! 

About The Author Of “Living On A Sailboat: What It’s Really Like”

Emily Nancolas is an adventure-seeking travel fanatic who ran away to sea with her boyfriend three years ago. Since then, they have sailed Sicily and Greece, been locked down in a boatyard, nearly sank the boat (twice), and adopted a Greek kitten called Tiny Cat. Emily loves to write about her sailing lifestyle for new sailors and has released a complete guide on ‘How to Run Away to Sea’, which has helped numerous others start a life of adventure on the ocean. 

I hope you have enjoyed this post and now you know exactly what to expect from living at sea on a sailboat.

Just before you go, you may also want to check out this article about van life: 7 THINGS I WISH I’D KNOWN BEFORE LIVING IN AN RV.

Thanks for stopping by!



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what it's really like to live on a sailboat full time


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