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While there are many reasons why I love living on a sailboat, it also has its challenges. It’s not all wine and grapes and sailing into a beautiful sunset. It takes work. It takes dedication. It takes figuring out how to live in an itty bitty space, a complaint other sailors have as well. Here are the top 5 worst things about living on a sailboat. If you’re thinking about living on a boat, maybe this will change your mind.



1. The projects are endless

When Tom first bought his ketch two years ago, I had no idea boats took so much work. In fact, he said this phrase to me: ”

The best day of a boat owners life is the day he buys a boat, and the day he sells it.” At first, I didn’t know what he was talking about. Sell his boat? Why would he ever want to do that? But now, I know. Boats take so much work. They’re tedious. They break. It seems like they need endless time, attention, and maintenance. Through the last couple years, I learned another adage of boaters: “Fixing things in exotic places.” But Tom’s done an amazing job restoring this early 1970’s beauty, and I’m thankful he’s on board to take care of any mechanical, electrical, rigging, self-steering, toilet, water pump, holding tank, system that breaks. I’ll stick to the cooking and cleaning and organizing, thank you very much. Although I did learn how to tap a screw.

2. The kitchen is tiny and there’s no refrigeration

Top 5 WORST things about living on a sailboat

Yes, the kitchen on the boat is super cute and I’m very thankful to have a two-burner propane stove. When we first started living on the sailboat, there was a gaping hole where the stove is now. At first, I cooked on a camping jet-boil stove with a frying pan balanced precariously on top. Then, I upgraded to a plugged-in hot plate. Now, I have a real stove with real flames, and an itty bitty bit of counter space. It’s hard cooking in such a small space, and when we sail or are anchored, the gimbaled stove shimmies and sways, and I have to use pot-clamps to keep everything from crashing down on the teak floors.

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We also don’t have refrigeration…..yet. This means we keep all our cold stuff in a cooler with ice, and sometimes, no cooler at all. I’ve truly learned that most food can sit out for awhile and still be eaten, contrary to the popular uber-paranoid American belief that everything that sits out for thirty minutes goes rancid. I shouldn’t go into how many meals I’ve eaten the next day after they sat out on deck all night in my heroic effort to keep them cool. And I’m still standing. You can read more about what it’s like to live without refrigeration here: I have no refrigeration on my sailboat. Why I’m glad.



3. Lack of space while

The top 5 WORST things about living on a sailboat

The boat is 41′ feet, but that doesn’t mean there’s a ton of storage space on it. In fact, since the boat is undergoing a complete restoration, most of the lockers are crammed with tools of various types. I have a few shelves for food and pots and pans, but the rest goes to Tom’s endless supply of wrenches, hammers, electrician’s tape, rubber gloves, masks, white chemical suits, and God knows what else. This means I have one tiny locker above the bed for a select number of clothes, and the rest is crammed into my trunk. Yup, my trunk is my measly closet while living on the boat. My nice clothes are crammed into one suitcase, my workout clothes into another, and shoes and laundry into large Ikea bags. It’s hard to look respectable when rummaging though my trunk looking for that day’s outfit. I’m sure this will change when we go on longer cruises. Tom will (finally!) put his tools away, and I’ll get a little more space.

Another thing about living in a really small space is that you have to REALLY like and get along well with your partner, something I’ll write about in a future post.

4. Living on a sailboat always includes the pump-out station

The top 5 WORST things about living on a sailboat

So, as with the stove in the kitchen, I’m very, very thankful to have this toilet on the boat. It’s a brand new Raritan toilet that works like a charm, except it sounds like a heaving sea lion when I use that little pump handle thingy. Tom built this to not smell whatsoever, and so far, so good. The only really gross thing is that when you’re living on a sailboat in a marina, you have to visit the pump-out statio and use the little poo-poo vacuum cleaner. The nozzle attaches to a small hole on deck, and it charmingly has a little clear area where you can see liquidy brown goo being pumped out. This isn’t my favorite task in the world. I sit there, pushing the nozzle down, watching everything that went out…come up. Enough said. Ew.

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5. Seasickness

Sailing in the San Francisco Bay

Sailing in the San Francisco Bay

If you’re prone to seasickness, living on a boat is probably not that great of an idea. When we’re docked at the marina, the boat doesn’t really move at all, but she can bounce around quite a bit in boat wakes and currents when anchored. Luckily, I’ve been able to handle the movement for the most part, except for the one time we’ve been out in the ocean. We passed under the Golden Gate Bridge and everything changed. The small swells turned into long, rolling ones four to five feet high. When we were going into it nose first, I enjoyed the movement, but coming back, we were hit from the back, from the side, over and over again. My stomach balled into a knot and I had to concentrate on breathing and staring at the horizon. I’ve heard even the most experienced sailors get seasick, and I’m looking into ways to cut down on the nausea when out on the open waters. If you have any tips, that’s much appreciated!

The Conclusion

I don’t think living on a sailboat is for everyone, but I’m able to deal with the downsides. For me, the good outweighs the bad. I love the idea of being able to move my home around to explore distant ports, or just to change my backyard on a weeknight. Click here to read 5 Reasons Why I Love Living on a Sailboat.

QUESTION: Do you think you could live on a sailboat? And if you already live on one, what are the hardest things for you to deal with?

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