Have you really thought through this decision to live on a sailboat? This is a legitimate question. Our answer happens to be "yes," and the truth is there are just as many reasons not to do it as there are to do it. We have tried to cover most of these below, which is kind of the point of this FAQ. If you're contemplating a similar lifestyle, perhaps this will be helpful to you.
Why live on a sailboat?
You only live once and approximately 70% of the earth is covered by water. Living aboard and exploring this big beautiful planet and encountering people and different cultures is a dream we have been planning for years. Sure, it’s unconventional but many families have done this and are out there doing it right now. Time is too short not to live your dreams.
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover." - H. Jackson Brown
Family time We have three daughters. While it may be hard to understand why we would take them along on this journey, they are our biggest motivation to go now. We want to make lasting and unique memories together during our children's formative years, ideally before they head off to college. It's not just a matter of quality but quantity of time. Bonding deeply and learning together as we experience the many thrills, successes, and failures along the journey will instill confidence, adaptability, and indelible life lessons.
Cost of living The ongoing cost to live aboard is significantly less than the cost of living on land, which allows us to save more of the money we make. The biggest difference being that our dirt-dwelling friends are stuck in one place, living most of their lives experiencing only a fraction of the world and with husband and wife working full time to finance their life. A very nice, blue water capable 45-50ft sailboat with three staterooms (bedrooms) outfitted for world cruising costs $150-250K US. Once your floating home is paid for, there are minimal fixed costs, no property tax (depending on state/county of residence), and far fewer utilities. Based on conservative estimates, our cost of living is ~66% lower.
Travel! There is simply no better, more cost effective way to travel than by sail. Also there is no need to stop for potty breaks on long trips. We can anchor and explore places most people only see on a screensaver. We'll have small beds but a grand back yard!
"When a man comes to like a sea life,
he is not fit to live on land." - Dr. Samuel Johnson
Voluntary simplification simplification in today's world is typically the result of a sudden, unexpected hardship. In our case, it's a conscientious choice. Living on a sailboat, by definition, means less space and that means we have to reduce our "stuff" down to what is truly essential. The interior of our floating home is less than 500 sq ft. Living modestly also has the benefit of reduced cost. Truth be told, we find this a little scary but also liberating - we appreciate how it might give others a full-on panic attack. To each his own. While we have been moderately successful, we've never been deeply materialistic people, primarily because of our faith and Biblical world view. Things, including houses and boats, are temporal. Souls are forever.
Education and perspective gained from being immersed in different cultures, geographies, being required to improvise, developing new skills, etc. Not only will it awaken us to a world beyond the normal 20 mile radius of the weekly commute and grocery run, it will inevitably give us a greater appreciation for life, our fellow man, and our Creator.
Youth while most of our time will be spent lying at anchor, occasional ocean passages, night watches, and working on a wet deck are activities more easily navigated by a person at the top of their physical and mental game. So why put it off, especially when we know our health is fleeting? Our children are growing up quickly and we don't want to look back and realize we missed an opportunity we can never get back -- as the old saying goes, "time and tide wait for no one."
Freedom to stay or go; home is wherever our anchor drops. Freedom from the constant invasion of digital media that distracts us (and our kids) from experiencing the actual world and engaging with people and each other genuinely. It's freedom from the routine and the things that rob our time, energy, passion, and resources like excessive consumerism, eating out too much, the daily commute, 30 year mortgages, cars, yard work, etc. A boat needs constant maintenance and attention but the overall cost is a fraction when you have few bills, no debt, and your home is also your primary mode of travel.
Less closet space Let's face it. We all have way too much clothing, shoes, and sundry apparel. While our family routinely purges at the end of each season, we seldom wear 75% of the clothes we own. We keep a lot of it "just in case." Add to this endless socks, belts, ties, and accessories -- most of which become completely obsolete while living on a boat. A simple wardrobe will be sufficient as clothing in general. Less is more. Light weight cotton and performance wear helps avoid the aggravation caused by humidity and salty air of tropical climates. This translates to less laundry, less fuss, and fewer wardrobe worries.
New skills Everyone has a job and important role to play when living on a sailboat. Kids learn valuable life skills while we sail, navigate, cook, fish, explore, clean, maintain our floating home, engage with other cultures, provision, live simply, overcome challenges and fears, etc.
Slowing down and taking the time to savor time with God, to meditate on His word, be with our family, get away from the rat race, and experience and marvel as we appreciate the best and perhaps, at times, a little of the worst of God's creation.
What about all the reasons not to go?
Do you know what you're doing? More than some, less than others. Seriously, it's a bit like parenting. No matter how prepared you think you are, you can't prepare for every possible situation. You just have to expect the unexpected. Murphy loves boats...if it can go wrong, it usually will. We carry spares for just about everything and we've done our best to take practical steps to prepare ourselves and our boat.
What about your income/ careers? This isn't retirement; it's just a different lifestyle. The age of technology makes working remotely, from literally anywhere, more possible than ever. Ben will continue to work remotely full-time. Our boat is equipped with the latest tech to make this possible (see more below). Life afloat definitely requires a bit of creativity and self-reliance! Since we have have very few bills, we can live well and save money while we travel. We own our boat, we produce our own electricity and fresh water, and our only significant expenses include: boat maintenance, insurance, mobile hotspot and phone service, diesel, food, and basic necessities. We expect to return to land-based life after a few years, but we're just taking things one day at a time.
What about the kids? Are they on board with your plan? Our kids were practically born sailing and they are just as excited about this chapter of life as we are. In fact, keeping the "family secret" has been quite the challenge. We made sure our kids were part of this decision and planning from the outset.
What about the kids education? Amber has a bachelor's in early childhood education and has always been a gifted teacher. She has been homeschooling now for >10 years. As the older girls are in middle school and high school, I will be more able to be involved in their education throughout the day as a result of this lifestyle. And what better way to educate our girls than to travel the world experiencing new people, languages, cultures, geographies, science, and world history in person? They might emerge with greater resiliency, perspective, and appreciation as a result.
How will you cope with such a small living space? It will be an adjustment, but we're confident we'll be fine. Keep in mind, we will have a grand backyard and we won't be on the boat all the time, just like you're not stuck in your house all the time. There will be times we need to recognize times when we need to give one another some extra space. The fact that we can't take all of our "stuff" on this journey is part of the appeal. It's an intentional simplification. All in all, we expect the experience to bring us closer together as a family.
Do you just have sails? (biting nails) No. This is a common misconception; nearly all sailboats of size have an inboard diesel and/or auxiliary power from an emergency outboard. This is both for safety and convenience as it isn't especially practical or prudent to be without one when navigating narrow channels, tight anchorages, or possible emergency situations, although we understand some people make this work. Hats off to them. We'll take our chances with our 60HP Beta Marine diesel.
How will you deal with bad weather? It's true, there will be all kinds of weather and much of our lives will revolve around it, but we're not Capt. James Cook on an expedition to chart the seven seas. 95% of our time will be spent tucked into an anchorage, not offshore. Thanks to modern technology, we know more about weather, tides, currents, and ocean topography than at any other time in history. Our boat is also equipped with multiple GPS units, mobile and satellite, AIS, depth sounder, radar, VHF, and...oh yeah...charts (digital and print). In other words: with a bit of prudence, know how, and patience, we can avoid getting into harms way. Just like on land, we will do our best to avoid bad weather, stay informed, and respond to what happens the best way we know how. Also, unlike most people whose home is stationary, we can change our climate and scenery any time we want. If we want 80-85 degrees year round -- no problem.
How did you afford to buy a yacht? This is going to sound crazy, but it took a lot of hard work, delayed gratification, and discipline to save. You have to live below your means for as long as it takes. Saving money, buying clothes at thrift stores (you would be amazed at the nice, new, designer brand clothes we find). Also, sticking to your budget and a bit of prudent investing, will all pay off in time.
What about...internet? We have equipped "Koinonia" with a high powered wireless signal booster that allows us to stay connected, even up to 20 miles offshore!
For our primary internet service in the US, we have a true unlimited and unthrottled hotspot data plan through Viper Broadband on the AT&T network. We use a dedicated, unlocked NETGEAR Nighthawk M1 LTE router, which is capable of delivering internet speeds up to 1Gbps and support up to 20 tethered devices. It's also super portable and can run off of battery power for up to 24 hours, so we can have internet almost anywhere with speeds that rival land based cable. Combined with our WeBoost mobile signal booster and Wilson omnidirectional marine antenna, we have dependable internet most of the time.
Redundancy is key because staying connected is not a "nice to have" for us; it's essential, since Ben works from home, so we also have GoogleFi as our mobile phone provider, which acts as a backup to our primary internet since it dynamically swaps between Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile. Fi supports hotspot tethering for up to 10 devices but throttles data speeds once you reach 20GB for the month.
If/when we decide to venture off the beaten path, we also have an IridiumGo, which runs off of a satellite-based subscription service and allows us to make/ receive phone calls, texts, emails, and even download the latest weather reports from literally anywhere on the planet. It also runs on the best satellite network in the world. Pretty sweet!
What about your mail? We subscribe to a mail forwarding service called Traveling Mailbox. This service allows us to have a real physical address while we travel and live aboard our boat. They simply scan all of our envelopes and upload them to our account where we can decide whether or not to open the mail or have it forwarded to our current location. If we want them to open the envelop, they scan the contents and upload in PDF form. They will even shred our mail or deposit checks at our bank!
What about doctor's visits and medical emergencies?
For everyday medical needs, prescriptions, and specialist care, we leverage the VCU Health telemedicine for our doctor's visits and pediatric care. This is applicable for scheduled visits as well as urgent care.
For medical emergencies, we carry special emergency evacuation insurance through a highly reputable company trusted by cruisers and world travelers called DAN Boater. In the unlikely event we needed their services, they can evacuate us from anywhere in the world, by land or sea. We also carry extensive marine medicine and first aid supplies, including those for dental emergencies. We also have certifications in CPR and First Aid. We have a 6-person offshore survival raft, a ditch bag, an IridiumGo, and an EPIRB (Emergency position-indicating radio beacon) and we know how to use them, although we pray we never need any of this stuff.
What about sea sickness? It's a real issue and it effects everyone differently - no matter who you are, it's no picnic. It is usually most problematic on long passages or when the sea conditions are poor. But keep in mind, we won't be at sea all the time or even most of the time - we'll spend 90% of our time in anchorages and exploring on land. That said, we know the prevention and coping strategies for sea sickness, so we'll have to employ them, whenever the need arises.
What about sharks, sandbars, pirates, and other dangers? There are a lot of dangers in and on the ocean. Our biggest concerns are fixed structures like reefs and sandbars and large floating objects like steel containers, and other vessels. We have a Vesper XB-8000 AIS receiver and transponder, sonar, radar, depth sounder, chart plotter, bilge alarms, and most importantly, experience and common sense, to stay informed about potential dangers. Situational awareness is key, regardless of life on land or sea. There is no such thing as a risk free existence.
What about life after the voyage is over? This isn't our forever plan. After living afloat, we will transition back to life on land with a whole new perspective and a new set of skills and experiences. We'll continue the voyage as long as the crew is thriving and the Lord gives us the health and means to continue our journey. When it's over, we'll sell the boat and begin the next chapter.