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The 7 Worst Things About Living on a Sailboat

Living on a sailboat isn’t only wine, grapes and amazing sunsets. It’s also a lot of work and can be frustrating. Be sure you know the downsides beforehand!

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Our CT-41 sailboat from 1972 was a construction project for five years before we finally got to head on a longer cruising trip to Mexico.

While living on the sailboat, we’ve spent time without a shower, toilet, stove, heater, you name it. Slowly, Tom (my partner), put each system in place, turning the sailboat more into a tiny home.

When he first got the sailboat, he never dreamed it would take five years to turn the boat into an ocean going cruiser.

We’ve spent lots of time in boatyards or in marinas without a working sailboat. But amazingly, the good still outweights the bad.

Before you jump into living on a sailboat, I wanted to warn you about the worst things that come along with this lifestyle.

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.

Before you buy a boat to live on, it’s a good idea to know all the possible downsides. You don’t want to move aboard and then hate the lifestyle, right?

Here are the top worst things about living on a sailboat. If you’re thinking about living on a boat, maybe this will change your mind.

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1. The Projects When Living on a Sailboat are Endless

When Tom first bought our liveaboard sailboat 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 owner’s 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. Living on a sailboat takes so much work. They’re tedious. They break. It seems like they need endless time, attention, and maintenance.

Especially if you buy an older boat. However, I’ve heard of people with newer boats having tons of problems, too!

Sailboats just need a lot of love and dedication.

Through the last couple of years, I learned another adage of people say who live on a sailboat: “Fixing things in exotic places.”

And here’s yet another one: “B.O.A.T.: Bring Out Another Thousand.”

But Tom’s done an amazing job restoring this early 1970’s liveaboard sailboat, and I’m thankful he’s onboard to take care of any mechanical, electrical, rigging, self-steering, toilet, water pump, holding tank, any system that breaks.

I’ll stick to the cooking and cleaning and organizing while living on a sailboat, thank you very much.

Although I did learn how to tap a screw.

2. The Kitchen is Tiny When You’re Living on a Sailboat

living on a sailboat means a tiny kitchen like this one, with a two-burner propane stove, a countertop and a sink
Living on a sailboat means you have to get used to a small kitchen

Yes, the kitchen on our liveaboard sailboat is super cute and I’m very thankful to have a two-burner propane marine 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 while living on a sailboat, 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.

However, I do love cooking when living on a sailboat, especially when were are anchored out. The fresh air streams through the companionway and I feel so connected to the outdoors.

After three years of cooking on a liveaboard boat, I’ve learned to make great use of our tiny space. If you love to cook, this might take some adjusting when you first start living on a sailboat.

3. Living on a Sailboat Means Intense Lack of Space

Our liveaboard sailboat doesn't have much space, so you really have to downsizing when living on a sailboat

Our CT-41 liveaboard sailboat is 41′ feet, but that doesn’t mean there’s a ton of storage space on it. In fact, since the sailboat 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 while living on a sailboat, 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 two footstool/storage bins in my Chevy Astro van.

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 on a sailboat means you have to REALLY like and get along well with your partner.

4. You’ll Have to Deal with Poo When Living on a Sailboat

Our liveaboard toilet's white porcelain toilet
Yes, a toilet when living on a sailboat is much better than a bucket!

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 station 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.

However, when off cruising while living on a sailboat, you’re allowed to discharge if 3 miles offshore.

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5. Seasickness Does Happen when Living on a Sailboat

Our liveaboard sailboat heads to the Richmond Bridge in the San Francisco Bay
Sailing in the San Francisco Bay

If you’re prone to seasickness, living on a sailboat 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.

[You might also like: The best sailing clothing to wear on a sailboat]

Luckily, I’ve been able to handle the movement for the most part, except for one times when we were sailing 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!

6. You’ll Most Likely Have Internet Connectivity Issues

WiFi ranger perched on our hatch helps with connectivity when living on a sailboat
I use this WiFi Ranger, which has sadly been discontinued

Living on a sailboat often means you’ll have a tough time finding internet, especially if you rely on remote work, like me.

I’ve always had to piecemeal my internet connectivity, whether that means working in a coffee shop, using a hotspot or marina wifi.

Oftentimes, marina WiFi sucks, so I use an internet signal booster to give me more signal in the boat. When I’m lucky, it’s even good enough to stream video!

My favorite internet connectivity device is from Reliable Internet Solutions, which provides unlimited data through AT&T.

This service was expensive but imperative to my needs. I could work on this website and stream videos – and use as much data as I wanted!

If you need to work in the U.S. while living on a sailboat, I’d highly recommend Reliable Internet Solutions.

7) You May Have to Go Without a Shower

A showerhead with a hand holding it - showering while living on a sailboat is tricky!
Showering on a boat is not as easy as on land!

Our sailboat has a space for a shower, but we haven’t had a shower installed there for the entire time we’ve had the boat.

Right now, the shower drains down into the bilge, which isn’t a good long-term solution. So, the shower’s been our closet, or garage.

Eventually, we will have a shower there and Tom will need to plump the water to go overboard rather than into the bilge.

Not having a shower is definitely a pain. I’ve washed my hair in the sink and used washcloths on more occassions than I’d like to admit.

When we stay at a marina, I have access to a hot shower, but not when we’re cruising or anchored out.

And when we finally do get a shower, it will be very short. Showers and humidity cause mold, which tends to be a problem when living on a sailboat.

Conclusion about Living on a Sailboat

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.

Before you start living on a sailboat, ask yourself some tough questions.

  • Do you love fixing things?
  • Do you have mechanical aptitude?
  • Do you want to learn about diesel engines?
  • Can you handle living in a really tiny space with your partner?
  • Are you okay with cooking in a teeny sailboat galley?

I think people who put up with the downsides of living on a sailboat truly love life aboard. You become so much closer to nature, can explore distant ports, and can even cross oceans to wild and scenic islands.

Could you do that in an RV? I don’t think so.

Hopefully, in the next few weeks, our liveaboard sailboat will finally be out of the boatyard.

And living on a sailboat will once again be fodder for dreams.

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?

Other sailing stories you’ll love:

5 essential sailing books I love

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43 thoughts on “The 7 Worst Things About Living on a Sailboat”

  1. I live on the great lakes in a 37′ sailboat all year in the water. Might not be for everyone but taking it away from me would surely kill me. I would never go over 38′, just my personal preference for single handing the boat. Which is even smaller but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Reply
  2. Try scopoderm patches for sea sickness, they have to be prescribed in the UK, not sure in the USA. They work like a charm on my OH and you can use them either before hand to prevent or when motion sickness comes on.

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      • Try Dramamine AKA Meclizine it’s OTC/no need for prescription. They have both short acting 6-8 hour and my favorite 24 hours less drowsy. No drinking with this drug, but when you take it as much as I do (every time I fly or go on any cruise) eventually your body gets used to it and 2 drinks feels like 4 🤣

        Reply
      • I have used Ginger capsules for many years along with a few Soda Crackers. No drowsiness, no irritability, no stomach issues. Ginger Caps are available at any drug store, Plus, they’re inexpensive.
        My wife has been struggling with a Vertigo issue and she finds Ginger to be helpful too.
        Fair winds,
        Duke Lebold

        Reply
      • Hi Kristin!
        My fiance and I are just about to finalize the paperwork on our first sailboat. He grew up sailing with his dad, so he’s quite experienced, but I’ve never sailed before, although I adore being on the water.

        Anyway, I’ve been on many cruises, and someone told me about the SeaBands wrist thingies, so I bought a pair many years ago. Back in 2010, I was on a cruise that had to sail back through a pretty bad storm with gale force winds and 14 foot seas. Although the cruise ship was plenty big enough to handle it, many people on board were not. Around dinner time it started getting pretty crazy with the chandeliers swinging, and dishes and glasses wanting to slide across the table at dinner. I started getting a bit queasy, so I decided to go pop my SeaBands on. After about 30 minutes, the queasy feeling subsided, and although the storm continued to get worse through the night, I was up until 2 a.m. partying in the disco! Even though we could barely stand up because of the rolling and even being below deck and unable to see the horizon, I felt fine!

        I don’t have the strongest stomach in the world, and have always avoided rollercoasters and anything that messes with my equilibrium. But I absolutely swear by the bands after that cruise! Best thing is, they are inexpensive, and you don’t get that drugged, drowsy feeling that you get with most nausea meds.

        Anywhoo, my two cents, and hope you’ve found something that works!

        Anita

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        • Hi Anita! I’ll have to try those as we are going to start sailing down the California coast in November!

          Reply
  3. The seasickness would do me in. I think the parallels of mobility and minimalism between VanLife and SailingLife put us in similar situations, but I’m sure glad to be able get out of the van and see mountains and lakes, rather than being constantly hurtled around by water.

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    • I am also really tempted by VanLife because I SO love the mountains! We were just in Yosemite and that plays just slays me with its beauty. But then we came home to the boat and I was also so in love with the sea air. I just don’t want to travel places that take me away from the mountains for very long!

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  4. Wow, 41 feet! So jealous! That would allow me to finally get a bicycle.

    I live on a 34 foot Pacific Seacraft with my husband and golden retriever. It’s not terrible but it is challenging to be captain all the time. I’m the leading partner on our boat and my husband has found the learning curve quite steep.

    I find it exciting to be a 51 year old beginner. But he just finds it stressful.

    BTW, very thankful to have gotten rid of the pump outs. Installing a composting head was the smartest thing we ever did.

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    • Oh interesting! I know a lot of people do that in vans. Yeah the learning curve of sailing is hard for me, too. My boyfriend is the experienced one, but I am trying!

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    • I live on my ketch rigged Nauticat 33 and I love my composting toilet! Completely got rid of the “boat smell.”

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      • That’s so interesting to use a composting toilet. Luckily, our boat doesn’t smell at all, just the pumpout station is a bit gross, haah!

        Reply
  5. My husband and I live on a 42′ power boat in the summers in Chicago — I agree that pumping out and not having a “real kitchen” are hard to live with (props to you for living without refrigeration– we couldn’t do it!). I’d also add that we don’t use it as a boat when it’s our home (it sounds like you still do, which is awesome), we have loud neighbors (we live on a “party” dock), and having my stuff scattered among the boat, a storage unit, my parents’ basement, and my husband’s house makes me feel like I’m going positively mad when I can’t find something!

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    • The stuff thing is super annoying for me, too! Getting motivated to root around in my car for a nice outfit is challenging, lol

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  6. NIce list! I love living on my boat. My girlfriend recently moved on after I’ve been on it for 2 years. Another thing that sucks is bringing water to the boat. I think you may be at a dock? We are on a mooring about a 5-minute dinghy ride from our sailing club’s dock. The great thing about the small space is that it may get really messy in less than 5 minutes but it can all be cleaned in less than 5 minutes. Check out my blog too @ https://www.junglepirate.com

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    • I am so thankful we’re at a dock, at least for now. We have a couple huge water tanks so only have to fill every couple weeks or so. But yeah, having the hose is essential! Where are you guys located?

      Reply
  7. I lived on a 31 John Alden on Nantucket for a year- cheaper than any rent out there. Loved it. It does freeze in winter, so I emptied the water tank and lines. I worked on land and didn’t want to have the boat heated all day while empty. So I just carried a jug of water home every night. The Wallas diesel stove kept it super toasty warm when I was on the boat (and dry!). No problem!

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    • I LOVE heating the boat in winter, it’s so cozy! We use a kerosene heater, which is lovely. I’m almost excited for cooler temperatures and rain.

      Reply
  8. Hi Kristin,

    My partner and I are in the process of looking for a sailing yacht in the UK. We’re both done with pumping our hard earned money into the system to pay for some bosses Superyacht!

    A great tip to help prevent sea-sickness is to substitute your morning coffee with a cup of ginger tea or munch on a couple of ginger biscuits throughout the day. Basically, anything with ginger in it will help keep that nausea feeling at bay.

    Happy sailing!

    Reply
    • Thank you Alexandra! I’ve also heard the tip of eating green apples or sucking on a green apple jolly rancher…strange huh! I will try all these remedies soon.

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      • I have a 43 foot boat that was built in the late 1970’s. The work involved is just as you have described but I would rather be on the boat, slaving away than relaxing at home after a hard day at the office. There is nothing more gratifying.

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        • That is true, although after 2.5 years of constant work I think my boyfriend is ready for a break 🙂

          Reply
  9. Hi Kristin,
    I enjoyed reading this article and feel for you with the seasickness; not nice at all. Have you been out again to try some of the suggestions? I know a friend of ours uses the Sea Wrist Bands and they do the trick for her; even for flying in airplanes; take-offs and landings and driving in cars as she also gets car sick – perhaps the wrist bands are similar to scopoderm patches but yes, I have heard great things about ginger as well.
    I love the teak on your boat – simply beautiful. They do not make them like that anymore; mostly white and fibreglass – boring – do not have the same character and yeah, I know what you mean with the boat being cosy in the cooler climate; our boat was warmer this past weekend at night then our home.
    Oh, and wow – no fridge – that would be huge for us but goodonya for embracing that. I will check out your other article about that.
    Question about your stove – so, it comes with a small oven, too? What model is it? We have a fridge but no oven and we have not done any long distance sailing yet – longest stretch since Oct 2017 was 2 weeks and we are considering cruising longer term, but I think I will miss an oven for the occasional baked treat, but I also noted your post about the pressure cooker that is one of the 13 things you would not do without.
    Hope you get the fridge soon and some proper storage, too and that your seasickness goes away or you are able to control successfully.
    Cheers,
    Brenda
    Lilac Wine

    Reply
    • Hello! Thanks so much for writing! So, that stove is a Force 10 stove and is just amazing…..I bake things in it all the time! It fits a standard size baking dish or a large cast iron pot where I bake things. And after two years of no refrigeration….we are now getting it! The new refrigerator will arrive this month…crazy. But I’m glad we learned to live without. And yes, the pressure cooker is really awesome – my favorite thing. Happy cruising to you and thanks for reading!

      Reply
  10. I like all the information it’s very helpful as I am getting a 1972 Morgan 40 ready to live on and travel. At 55 I hope it won’t be too difficult finding a sailing partner,

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      • Saw a youtube video that showed how they made ginger candy for seasickness. I think it was “the good bad ugly” sailing
        couple. Worth a look. If like to try it.

        Reply
  11. Do you have a microwave?
    The microwave ranks right up there with the discovery of fire as far as I’m concerned with my cooking skills at least.
    I don’t think I could live on a boat if it didn’t have a microwave, refrigerator, and modern plumbing.

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    • Nope, no microwave. We don’t have anywhere to put it, haha. We do have a fridge and a toilet, though.

      Reply
  12. Thank you so much for this. I bought a 1916 65ft Dutch sailing boat and this is my third year. I have learned to do and done things I surely never wanted to. If I had known what I am doing to me buying this boat I would not have done it. I am happy I did not know! Was there even a life before the boat?

    Reply

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