So, let’s hear it – what is it actually like living on a sailboat full time?

Post updated April 28, 2018

This is a question I had myself when Josh and I were first looking at buying a sailboat on which we could do just that!

He already had a good idea of what living on sailboat was like, having grown up with a father who was addicted to “water sports”. As a kid, every summer was spent on their Grampian 30-foot sailing boat on the Great Lakes in Ontario, Canada. I, on the other hand, had absolutely no frame of reference for even BEING on a sailboat… let alone living on one!

As of this writing, we have now lived full-time on our 42-foot sailboat for eight months; not very long in the scheme of things. However, our liveaboard experience began in the hot summer and we are now deep into a good ol’ Canadian winter (which has its own unique challenges that I write about here).

So, to my mind, the variety we’ve experienced so far has been a good taste of life aboard a boat full time. Plus, I wanted to write about our experiences while life on land was still a fresh memory!

Think condo, only smaller… and floating

The closest I can liken being a liveaboard to is living in a condo. In a condo of, say, 400-600 sq.ft. you’ll likely have one of everything: one bathroom, one kitchen, one bedroom, one living/dining room. And the floor space allotted to each area will be modestly sized.

On a sailboat? Picture the same thing, except even SMALLER (what I call “efficiency-sizing”, LOL!)

We’re talking tiny homes here

Though we haven’t measured it, I would estimate it is like living in a 350 sq.ft. condo. Yup, pretty small.

The weird/amazing thing, though? We have TWO bathrooms (called “heads”), TWO bedrooms (aft stateroom and the V-berth), a kitchen (called a “galley”), and a living room/dining room (the “salon”).

Everything is smaller, yes, but it feels so much different on a boat. It doesn’t feel like I’m living in a small space. Having lived in a 600 sq. ft. condo, which I found small-yet-comfortable, I worried that I would for sure feel the tightness of a space 1/2 of that size!

After 8 months, though, I don’t feel cramped at all.

In fact, the rush I get when I step onto the companionway and into the main salon is the same as when I was a kid… stepping up from a makeshift ladder and into the neighbour-kid’s tree fort in her yard. There’s this giddy novelty to inhabiting a space that is unlike what we usually understand to be “a place to live”.

In our salon, just like in that kid’s tree fort, we have a 360 degree view… except instead of a backyard, I only see ocean. It’s like I’m living out a childhood fantasy! 😛

Our sailboat is our Tiny Home and our spaceship: in it, we can live minimally and go anywhere!

Shopping for a “home”

Because we would live here full time, one of my checklist items when we were shopping for our sailboat was something that I could feel at home in.

That is to say, a place that made me feel relaxed and comfortable. I’ve lived in condos before, as has Josh, of all shapes and sizes. For those of you who are ‘in the know’, you’ll understand when I say it isn’t so much the size of a place that counts – it’s the layout.

With a well laid-out interior, any space can turn from cramped to cozy… and that is what our boat feels like to me. (Psst… you can take a video tour of our boat here!)

It’s the size, er, space that counts!

Sitting in our airy pilot house salon with its incredible views and awesome amount of light, I get this immense sense of space and freedom.

Though our galley is the smallest kitchen I’ve ever had, it has everything I need to cook many delicious meals. The bed in the aft stateroom (what some would call the ‘master bedroom’) is sized somewhere between a double and a queen, and comfortably fits both Josh and I plus our 45-pound German Shepherd/Collie.

And what was most surprising of all, coming from a physical house to a boat, was all of the storage space (relatively speaking, of course).

It’s actually quite amazing how many places are kitted out to be discreet stowage. Case in point: at one time, Josh had two studio monitors and SIX… yes, I said 6 GUITARS on our boat! Now tell me that isn’t impressive… or crazy, ha ha!

Actually, it might be more like an off-grid cabin in the woods… except floating

There are some interesting changes that I did have to become accustomed to when we moved aboard. The biggest (to me) being our use of electricity.

Unlike a typical house or condo where you can run tons of high-wattage appliances at once and it’s usually never an issue, we have to be a bit more cognizant when we use “household” appliances.

Rule 1: Don’t blow your transformer!

I never used to pay attention to voltage/amps/wattage before, but now I have to. If we run even two standard household appliances simultaneously (which, in our case, might be an electric heater and an espresso machine) we will likely cause our transformer to click off. Basically, it’s like tripping a circuit breaker. No more lattés for us. 🙁

Of course, we only use the transformer when we are connected to shore power. If we’re just boating around, we run off of our battery banks. And these we do try to conserve by NOT using energy-guzzling appliances.

However, if we’re just plugged in at a marina, we can relax a bit more. The good news? At the marina we’re currently staying at, we don’t pay extra for electricity. It’s included in our moorage fee. The less-than-good news? Even with shore power, we only have a 30-Amp connection.

Become an amateur electrician… it’ll help

So, I’m no electrician (probably an obvious statement, but hey), so my piddly understanding of what a 30-Amp connection means is simply this: low amps = less power draw at any given time.

Personally, I don’t think this is necessarily a “bad” thing. I find this kind of makes the boat feel like a cabin in some remote woods somewhere, lending a rustic air to living here. And when we add a couple of luxuries like espresso machines in the mix, it feels all the more special to be able to use these appliances when we DO pull into a marina.

As I said before, we can use our inverter to power our appliances from our batteries. And by understanding our battery setup better – i.e. power draw versus power replenishment versus charge state of the batteries – I would feel more comfortable using these appliances when not on shore power. I’m just not there yet.

It’s all about what you enjoy… and how you enjoy it

I suppose it helps that I’m a minimalist at heart (as is Josh).

We LOVE camping and roughing it and keeping our living conditions as simple and hassle-free as possible. Which is funny, because many people would say that camping and roughing it equate to MORE hassle than the conveniences we enjoy in our on-grid, wifi-ready, modern homes.

It’s true, I won’t deny that the conveniences of dishwashers and washing machines and electric appliances are wonderful things! And I do have more lazy days than I care to admit where I miss those things terribly.

But another part of me is glad for the “inconvenience” of washing my dishes by hand as soon as I’m done using them. Or of going without a microwave or television and – instead – heating food on my propane cooking stove while laughing at one of my hubby’s ridiculous anecdotes. It all seems so earthy and antiquated, I’m sure, but in a weird way these activities allow me to feel more grounded in the present than I can ever remember being. It’s a good vibe. 🙂

Glamping on a sailboat!

I think, in the end, living aboard a sailboat full time is somewhere between condo/cabin-living and camping, depending on whether we are secured and plugged-in at a marina, or anchored somewhere remote in the wilderness.

That said, there’s something very special about the boat that will one-up a condo or cabin or tent-in-the-woods every time… the freedom-factor. Our sailboat is both our tiny home and our spaceship: in it, we can live minimally and go anywhere!

I’ve heard the term “glamping” thrown around before (to mean luxurious camping), and maybe that is the perfect word for this. It is a rustic-yet-luxurious way to live and see the world at the same time.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment or ask questions below – would love to get a dialogue going with you.


  – Morgan