3 Lessons I’ve Learned Since Moving Aboard an Almost 40-Year-Old Sailboat

published Aug 5, 2022
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Sailboat on marina
Credit: TJ Butler

My husband and I began to reevaluate our future plans when I was unexpectedly downsized from a corporate career. We’d always enjoyed weekend sailing trips business-casual wardrobe. With the newfound freedom, we decided to upgrade to a larger sailboat and made the leap to move aboard shortly after. 

It’s no secret that housing costs and rents are increasing. A plus of sailboat life is that they’re surprisingly affordable compared to many houses — a good starter size for novices may be 32 to 38 feet in length, depending on how cozy you want to be. There are many solid sail and power boats available in this range for less than $50,000. (For those interested: Two popular for-sale websites are YachtWorld.com and BoatTrader.com.) 

The thing is, moving aboard was very different from weekend sails. But I’ve adapted well and I’ve learned some important lessons in the process — these are my top three takeaways.

Credit: TJ Butler

I needed a lot less stuff than I thought.

And I’m happier because of it. I no longer needed, or had room for, that shelf full of forgotten coffee mugs I’d been accumulating since college. The sailboat didn’t have room to entertain a dozen people so I was able to donate all my extra place settings. I pared my linen closet down to two sets of sheets and a few extra blankets. I do miss my bookshelves, especially today when every Zoom meeting has someone strategically seated in front of theirs — I’ve kept a few of my favorite books and the rest are in my Kindle library. 

I always heard people say downsizing was freeing. I assumed they just didn’t have any good stuff. When I did it myself, I realized how liberating it actually was. 

Credit: TJ Butler

My husband and I found out how strong our relationship is. 

Sailboats afford very little privacy. “Alone time” is almost non-existent. Living aboard, we developed ways to give each other personal space while still being able to see each other. We also found that the proximity didn’t bother us much. In our last apartment, which was only 500-square-feet, we usually sat close together. Sailboat life acts as a relationship accelerator of sorts; if your relationship is a little rocky, being so close all the time will probably begin to wear on both parties. If your relationship is strong, your bond will become unbreakable. 

Credit: TJ Butler

Sailboat life isn’t easy. I’m far more resilient because of it. 

Sailboats have water tanks that need to be refilled on a regular basis. We have a composting toilet that also needs to be emptied, as opposed to the more common sanitary holding tank that requires pumping out. I’ve survived nor’easters alone while my husband was working out of town and I’ve hauled my laundry down the dock in a foot of snow. 

However, for all the ways I can tell you it’s hard, I have another story about how gorgeous life is on the water. We dine al fresco most nights when the weather is nice. My marina has abundant nature and wildlife, and two great blue herons regularly hunt for dinner in the marsh nearby. The stars are visible overhead. For all these things, I don’t mind emptying the composting toilet or refilling the water tank, even when the weather is bad. 

Before we moved aboard I’d have said living on a nearly forty-year-old sailboat sounds like it’s going to be too hard, cramped, and probably not worth it. But not having a mortgage and being able to take vacations without ever leaving home? It makes it all worthwhile.