The Realities of Living and Working on a Yacht: Set Sail for Adventure!

Emily and Adam sold up their worldly belongings to spend their time living and working on a yacht.  Their courage has paid dividends and now they live a life that most of us can only dream of!

We’re really excited to bring you this awesome guest post from Emily, as she shares the realities of living and working on a yacht.  The good, the bad and the absolutely incredible…

‘We’re going to put a tack in’, Adam calls from the helm.  I jump to the genoa sheet, winch in hand, and prepare to put in the manoeuvre that will get us back on course.  As the compass swings round and the sails start to luff, I winch in hard and the boat begins to pick up speed again, crashing upwind through the waves and causing a spray of bio luminescent algae to light up our path.

A year ago I would have had no idea what any of these terms meant.  Learning to sail was an unreachable dream and living on a sailboat hadn’t even crossed my mind.  But the realisation that we were unhappy in the lives we had back in the UK forced my boyfriend Adam and I to seek something more, and chase a shared dream of sailing the world.

When you tell people you have quit your nine-to-five job and you’ve run away to live on a sailboat you are met with pretty mixed responses.

Mostly, people are jealous.

Who wouldn’t want to spend their days snorkelling in crystal clear waters and sunbathing on the deck, a gin and tonic in hand?

Then there are the slightly more realistic onlookers.  Those who think it through before they react. Their response is a little more cautious.

‘How do you live in such a small space?’, ‘Aren’t you really scared?’ and ‘How do you make ends meet?’

Just as responses were mixed, so if life onboard our yacht.  Nothing is without its fair share of challenges but, by far, the benefits outweigh all else.

We’re here to give you an honest rundown on what it’s really like to live and work on a yacht.

What is it Like to Live and Work on a Yacht?

So what is living and working on a yacht really like?  This is the ultimate question, and one that is really hard to answer truthfully.

Big sailing YouTube channels want you to believe that sailboat life is all sunsets and dolphins, whereas sailing blogs tend to detail all the boat work you will need to do, all the safety equipment you will have to buy and all the training you will need to undergo.

Neither tell the entire story of living and working onboard a yacht.

Before Adam and I moved onto our blue water sailboat (named Hot Chocolate) we had absolutely no idea what life was going to be like living on the sea.

We had spent the previous year doing up an old motor yacht that we lived in on the River Thames in England (we would have bought a house there but we aren’t premier league footballers or oil barons!)  We had survived living in a very small, very cold building site and had somehow managed not to kill each other.

By pulling apart the boat we became pretty handy, learning about bilge pumps and engine hoses and all the problems that come along with having a toilet on a boat!

When all was said and done though, we were still pretty clueless when it came to living at sea.

Now, having woken up on a sailboat every day for the last six months, I am in a position to explain exactly what sailboat life and work is like.

The Pros and Cons of Living on a Sailboat

There is no middle ground when it comes to sailing; there are extreme highs, and extreme lows and very little in between!  We have discovered that for every upside of sailboat life, there is also a downside.

Here are what I see as the main things to consider before setting off on a sailing adventure – the pros and the cons of living and working on a yacht!

Freedom

The Highs

Living on a sailboat gives you the freedom to choose where you want your home to be.

Don’t like your neighbours? Then move somewhere where you don’t have any!

Bored of the view of the mountains from the window? Move down the coast and find a sandy beach.

Living on a sailboat gives you control over where you want to live and gives you the option to live in a different place every day if that’s what you really want!

For some, seeking new destinations and exploring new places is what sailing is all about, but I think what many people don’t realise about life on board is that you don’t have to keep moving.  Adam and I arrive in a new place and if we like it there, we stay.  Sometimes a few days is enough before we get restless and leave, but sometimes we stay for several weeks and make ourselves at home.

We have stayed places because we have found lots of things to do there, or because we have met some incredible people that we want to spend more time with, or simply because there is a great chandlery nearby where we can buy up supplies and get some work done.

We don’t have to decide until we are there, and until we have seen what a place has to offer.

Having such freedom whilst sailing is amazing, there’s no denying it.

The Lows

The downside to this freedom is that you are sacrificing stability.

The liveaboard lifestyle means that friendships are transient, and you are saying goodbye just as often as you are saying hello.  We have met some incredible, interesting and inspiring people in the sailing community, many of whom we haven’t been ready to say goodbye to.

To live this dream we have had to leave close friends and family in the UK.  It is virtually impossible to leave the boat for long periods of time, unless you moor it in an incredibly expensive marina, which makes going home for occasions almost impossible.

In the six months we have been sailing for we have missed friends stag dos and hen dos, a family holiday, a baby shower and countless birthdays.

Internet is expensive so face to face calls are out of the question, meaning we miss watching our niece, nephew and friends babies grow up.

For some people a life away from loved ones would be a sacrifice too great, so you will need to consider this carefully before you ‘jump ship’.

Living Amongst the Elements

The Highs

I wake up to the sunrise and fall asleep under the stars.  I have watched dolphins dance beside the boat and pulled tuna out of the sea for my lunch.  I have explored caves surrounded by the bluest of waters and have been swimming in bio luminescent algae, and I have spent days surrounded by nothing but the ocean and the sky.

For me, living so close to nature is probably the very best thing about life on a yacht, and the main thing I would miss if I had to go back to living in a house.

The Lows

Sailboat life is entirely governed by the weather.  We are at its mercy in every sense; it has the power to completely destroy us and our home if we aren’t careful.

I now check the wind and weather forecast twice a day, and it dictates our lives. I talked about the freedom sailing gives, and in many ways it really does, but one thing I hadn’t thought through before we set off on this adventure would be the possible constraints.

If high winds are forecast there are only certain places we can anchor.  We might have to go back the way we came, or sail in a completely different direction to the one we had planned.

When it is windy, we need to be sure the boat is anchored safely, which will probably mean we can’t leave it for fear of the anchor dragging or someone else dropping their anchor over ours and pulling it out.

At present, we are waiting out some very high winds in a safe anchorage, and have been stuck on the boat for three days while the sea and wind whip round us, threatening to snap lines and drag out our anchor.  We have been out sailing in heavy seas and high winds, that weren’t predicted in the forecast and try our very best to avoid situations like that.  Things can get pretty nerve wracking for newbie sailors like ourselves! We also once sat through an all night thunderstorm, watching lightning hit far too close for comfort, and praying it spared our boat.

Life onboard a sailboat isn’t always easy, but it is worth the tradeoff.

Simplicity

The Highs

We live a very simple life on our sailboat.  I think even if you have a lot of money to spend, sailboat life still has its simplicities.

There simply isn’t room for a double wardrobe of clothes or a library of books.

Adam and I share a very small wardrobe (ok, I admit, it isn’t quite a 50/50 split!), we have a cupboard for our ‘tech’ (laptops, hard drive etc) and a cupboard for our cosmetics/toiletries, including a large stock of suncream! We have a sparsely stocked kitchen. And that’s it for personal items.

The rest of the things we keep on the boat are for looking after the boat. We keep spares for the engine, spare lines, spare shackles and blocks. We keep a handful of essential tools. We have a cupboard full of charts and pilot books, and a few cruising guides.

Surprising as it might be, I really haven’t missed anything travelling light.

There’s another positive lessons to be learnt regarding simplicity too.

Water is sparse.  We save every drop, so that we don’t have to go out of our way to fill our tanks.  Fresh water showers are a real treat (we mostly shower with cold sea water!), and we try to create as little washing up as possible.  Saving water so meticulously has taught me a lot about how much I used to waste in the UK.

The Lows

One of the challenges to living a more simple life is accepting that you can’t pick and choose.

Sometimes I would kill for a bubble bath, or I feel frustrated that we haven’t generated enough solar for me to charge my laptop.  These moments are few and far between, but can be really bad for morale on a low day!

Money

The Highs

We are incredibly lucky that Adam managed to secure a job for two days a week.  He works remotely from the boat for a start-up company, doing some techy stuff that I don’t really understand!  This, along with a small amount of savings, allows us to continue sailing in a boat that might not sink!

If you too are hoping to work from a sailboat then I have gone into more detail about how we make this work below.

Our shared income is very small, and where some might see this as a negative, we have found it to be a definite positive.

We think hard about what we really need before we buy it.  We have found we don’t need expensive clothes, or in fact many clothes at all!  We don’t need to eat out as we have access to delicious fresh fruit and vegetables and a perfectly good oven.  We don’t need the latest mobile phone or high tech headphones.

What we need is enough food to live on. We need to spend time exploring the world.  We need to spend time relaxing. We need to spend quality time with each other. And we need to spend our lives doing something we enjoy.

If you’d like to find out, in more detail, what a realistic budget looks like onboard, we recommend you check out our sailboat costing guide.

The Lows

Although we are very happy not buying material possessions for ourselves, we are not so happy about letting our shelter and our home fall apart.

Sailboats are incredibly expensive.

To find shelter from a storm in a marina can set you back £100 a night in high season.

Things fail constantly and need to be fixed, and safety equipment is not something we are prepared to scrimp on.  Without the money to fix things we could get into serious trouble, which makes living on a very tight budget a bit of a worry.

Is it all worth it though to live on our yacht?

For us, the answer is a resounding yes.

How to Make a Living Working on a Yacht as a Digital Nomad

Being a ‘digital nomad‘ is not unusual these days.  Many people work from their computers abroad, or from their sofas, but working from a sailboat is a little different.

Most people we have met who are working from their boat do so on an ad hoc basis.  They are freelancers who take on work when they know they have time to complete it, and they aren’t restricted to certain working hours or days.  We have found that, although this way of working would definitely suit sailboat life best, it is possible to hold down a ‘normal’ job and live on a sailboat.  If you have the option to work full time from home, then it is possible to work full time from a sailboat home!

Before we set off on this adventure we didn’t think that remote work would be a possibility for us.  We weren’t sure we would have time to sail and work, or that we would have regular access to internet and power.  Luckily, Adam’s boss was kind enough to ‘test the waters’ before he committed, so we were able to find out if it could work, and how it could work.

Adam works two set days a week, Monday and Tuesday.  Mostly because this works best for his boss, but we were surprised to find it also works best for us.  We make sure that by Sunday evening we are settled somewhere with internet access, and that the forecast for our anchorage looks favourable.  If the forecast is looking bad then we have to make sure we find a town quay to tie off to, so we aren’t worried about dragging anchor. We work to start the week and have the rest of it off to move on and explore/enjoy ourselves.

For anyone wanting to work on a yacht, this is what we have found.

What is Working on a Yacht Really Like?

Hard.

I bet before reading this post, you’d be thinking that’s not really true.

With that said, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have its definite perks.

Being able to have a 5 minute swimming break instead of a 5 minute toilet break speaks for itself.

But working from a yacht isn’t the same as working remotely on land, and there have been many different challenges that we have had to overcome to make this work.

Challenge #1: Sailing

Picture this.

You’re in the middle of an important conference call to your boss and co-workers.  You are about to pitch your winning idea when a loud alarm starts to sound. You are dragging anchor.  To keep the boat safe, you will have to get the engine on and reset the hook.

This ‘fun’ activity can take up to an hour if you get unlucky (or in our case up to three!)  Explaining to your boss that you won’t be at work for the next hour because your yacht in sunny Greece is about to float into the rocks is not an easy conversation to have.

To keep the boat safe, we need to be able to move at a moments notice and that’s pretty hard for people hard at work in an office to understand.

Keeping up with work commitments and keeping the boat safe has been hard to balance whilst working remotely on our yacht.

Challenge #2: The Internet

Getting internet while sailing is perhaps easier than we thought it would be, but still makes working from the boat a bit of a challenge.

There have been a few occasions when we have had to work from a cafe, spending money we don’t have on coffees, or leave a beautiful bay because we don’t have internet.

If you’re considering working from a sailboat yourself, you should check out our guide to getting the internet onboard a sailboat.

Challenge #3: Overtime

Perhaps it shouldn’t be, but it is a given that employees will work overtime when the need arises.  As a teacher, I have spent many a weekend marking and planning because I simply didn’t have time during the week.

It’s not going above and beyond, it’s an expectation.

If you’re working from a sailboat then the expectation is no different.

If something needs to be finished and it isn’t, then you’d better get it finished pretty quick.

Working an extra few days here and there is fine… except if there’s a storm you need to run away from, or you’re low on £80 a month data, or you’re running out of water!

Challenge #4: Self Discipline

I know, I know, nice ‘challenge’ to have.  But when you’re sat in a secluded anchorage, with the sun beaming down and the water so clear you can see the fish swimming at the bottom, it is incredibly difficult to concentrate on monthly targets and press releases.

Most of the people you meet while sailing have left work.  They slogged away for years to be able to afford to go sailing full time, and they are having the time of their lives.

You watch them swimming all day, or off exploring the pretty little towns, or drinking two bottles of Greek wine every evening and it is hard not to think you’re doing it all wrong.

Of course, this isn’t the point.

The point is that you’re doing it at all.

It’s obviously a million times better to be doing it, than to wait, and we spend a lot of time reminding ourselves just how lucky we are.  But having the self discipline to keep up with work commitments is certainly a challenge out here.

Should You Run Away to Sea?

As you can see, there is no easy way to sum up living and working on a sailboat.  When Adam and I talk about our adventure so far, and give ourselves time to really think about our new lives, we often go round in circles.

‘I can’t imagine not being able to move my home’, ‘wouldn’t it be nice to go for a walk and not even notice the wind picking up?’ ‘I wonder how bad I smell’, ‘Can you believe we’re eating tuna steaks fresh from the sea?’

Sailing life is simple and exciting and relaxing and terrifying.

It requires speedy problem solving and hours of planning, teamwork and the ability to be self sufficient, it causes anxiety and forces you to be brave.

Choosing to leave behind my ‘safe’ life back in England was the best decision I have ever made though.

If you are reading this now and waiting for ‘the right time’, as I did on countless occasions, then I’m telling you – it is possible, and the right time is right now.


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Living and working on a yacht is a dream for many. This guide talks through the benefits and challenges of doing so to help you decide if this is how you might want to see the world. Are you up for an adventure?

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